Sunday, December 30, 2012

Vann Nath Tribute

Vann Nath viewing his own painting of himself at S-21
An exhibition dedicated to the artist and S-21 survivor Vann Nath will take place at the Bophana Center in Phnom Penh from 12 January to 12 February 2013. The Vann Nath Tribute will be an exhibition of works by various Cambodian and international artists, as well as testimonies, texts and articles by those who have been touched in one way or another by the artist who passed away on 5 September 2011. The exhibition will open at 6pm on Saturday 12 January - all are welcome. Please support this very worthy cause.

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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Academy visit

With the PPCFC Academy boys just before kick-off
Saturday morning was spent in the glare of the hot sun watching the Phnom Penh Crown Academy boys in action. Tim has seen the youngsters perform on a previous visit, when Fabio Cannavaro was in town strutting his stuff. Today, the boys were up against the Civil Aviation team who were at least two years older and who gave the Academy a few scares before the home team ran out 2-1 winners. Its a tough task finding quality teams to match-up against the Academy, they are simply too good for boys of their own age, 14 and under, so they have to play against older-aged players who are physically stronger, taller and more robust. It's a learning process for the Academy who have to defeat the opposition with skill and teamwork rather than brute force.

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Friday, December 28, 2012

Luk Luk-ing

The Luk Luk expeditionary force: me, Rumnea and Tim (in blue)
Continuing our eating extravaganza, Tim joined myself and Rumnea tonight at Luk Luk for his first taste of suki soup, with Rumnea in charge of the soup-making process and Tim and me mainly responsible for the eating part of it. Luk Luk is the highly popular street restaurant owned by friends of mine, who have done so well in the few months that its been up and running, that they will soon open the doors of a new branch in Tuol Kork. Quality food at the right price seems to be a winning formula for Tima and Sam and their team including the legendary Auntie Vourch. She will even have her To Cambodia With Love-famous chicken curry on the menu at their new location. Now that will definitely be worth the trek to get there. Tim fell in love with her homemade soya and sesame sauce and took a bottle home with him, but kicked himself when he realised he'd left it with the motodop, who had disappeared into the night. Not to worry, we have a good excuse to return sometime soon.
Rumnea and myself just about to be hit by the fumes from the suzi soup

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Top drawer Topaz

A definite tick in the box for Topaz. One of Phnom Penh's better dining establishments has always avoided my radar until tonight when Tim and I were invited for a meal by a close friend. The restaurant oozes class, the lofty prices reflect its fine dining tag, as does its extensive wine list but where it counts, the food, is where Topaz came up trumps. Everything from the fresh bread and my salmon appetizer to my succulent steak was top-drawer. You may pay top whack for the food, but its excellently prepared and tastes as it should - bloody good. Tim had snails, our dining partner had frogs legs, and they gave the thumbs up too. And its deserved reputation was rewarded with a full dining room of customers. Oh, and the service was spot-on too. Hats off to Topaz. I may not be back until I've saved a few more riel in my piggy-bank but if money is no object, I recommend it without hesitation.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Bro arrives, early

As is usually the case, Tim blagged his way onto an earlier connecting flight, arriving at 10am this morning instead of later this evening, which gave him the opportunity to get some much-needed shut-eye whilst I was beavering away at work, on xmas day. Which would be unheard of back in Blighty but is par for the course over here. He's in fine fettle, after his recent health scare, though he related a long tale of woe and frustration with the medical profession, eventually self-diagnosing whilst in hospital for a few days, to which the consultant agreed and gave him a clean bill of health. A right palava, or is it palaver. He quickly fell back into the Cambodia routine, cursing tuk-tuk drivers, that sort of thing, and we had a late xmas day dinner at the Aussie pub around the corner before heading off into the night to meet some friendly locals.

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Monday, December 24, 2012

Meet and greet

Ratha and some old geezer she dragged in off the street
On a brighter note, this is my colleague Ratha, who is the meet and greet face at our office, and what a lovely face it is too. We were discussing our respective Christmas Day plans, which involve work, work, and more work. No peace for the wicked.

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Without permission

Click to enlarge
I took this photo of a bunch of happy kids in Wat Stung Meanchey in March 1998 and its been on my website pretty much ever since. So imagine my surprise-then-anger when I opened the Phnom Penh Post today and saw the photograph being used in an advertisement for Kotra, the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, who have that ugly glass building next to the Phnom Penh Trade Center. Did they ask my permission to use my copyright photo for commercial purposes? Did they my arse. I'm often asked to allow use of my pictures in school publications and such like and if its not commercial, I willingly agree. But for a bunch of Koreans to break such basic professional ethics and use the photo without asking for my permission (its called theft), which I would've refused point-blank, stinks. And the Phnom Penh Post are party to this foul-smelling misdemeanor. The story is compounded as the advert is showing off Kotra's Corporate Social Responsibility Award - what a joke! I've written to both parties and expect an apology and removal of the photo from the advert. Fat chance. Grrr.
Update: Kotra apologised and agreed to not use the image again. They said they couldn't find the owner of the picture. Bullshit but I accept it. As for the Post, their national sales director told me to shove it unless I had proof it was my picture and that they merely print artwork given to them by clients, so they aren't liable and are simply neutral in the whole matter. What a shower they are. Am I surprised; not in the slightest.
Page 15 of today's Phnom Penh Post

The evidence Your Honour

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

On his way

Typical Tim at our hotel in Surin on one of our many trips around the region in Oct 2009
The power of positive thought. With a fair wind and no flight delays my brother Tim will arrive on the evening of the 25th in Phnom Penh. He's just been given the all clear and released from hospital after he insisted on MRI and MVR scans. He can be a belligerent so and so when the mood takes him and he wasn't standing for any crap from the medical peeps who wanted to close down for Christmas. Fat chance with Tim around. He got the job done, the results were positive and he'll be on his way, business class of course, in a couple of days. Looking forward to two weeks of celebrating.

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Riverside rock

Srey Thy and Cambodian Space Project belting it out at La Croisette
With a packed dancefloor area in front of the stage, the newly-refurbished La Croisette restaurant on Sisowath Quay played host tonight to the Cambodian Space Project who were returning to the scene of their debut exactly three years earlier. Talk about a tight-knit band, they were literally standing on each others toes, though Srey Thy was not to be denied her trademark moves in about five inches of space. They played their usual two sets to a good crowd and a posse of dancers as the riverside came alive to Sixties Khmer rock.

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Coming up

This Saturday (22 Dec) is looking a mite busy. Phnom Penh Crown's Academy boys are playing at 8.30am in Tuol Kork, then I have a lunch date with guests from the States at FCC from 12 noon and that's followed by the Crown senior team's friendly game with the Senate Secretariat at 4pm, again out at Tuol Kork. My evening entertainment is a toss-up between the Phare Ponleu Selpak circus show at the Beeline Arena, where they will be performing Phsong Preng - though that's a tough ask as its a 6pm start - or I see Dub Addiction will be hitting the stage at Equinox later that same evening. I've missed the last couple of DA shows, so I should get off my fat arse for this one.
My brother Tim is due to arrive in town on Christmas Day (that's next Tuesday) though he's just told me doctors have identified the reason for his recent headaches is a blood clot and they are assessing what to do about it. All I can do is cross my fingers and send him positive thoughts. It's in the lap of the gods and hands of the surgeon.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

End of the world

The Cambodian Space Project, who I missed at a private party this week as I was unavoidably detained, will get the chance to impress me, as usual, on Friday (21 Dec) at the revamped La Croisette restaurant on Sisowath Quay, from 9pm, and as usual, its free. I think the world is supposed to end a few hours later, so get your fun while you still can.
A new website that you may find of interest has been set up to promote the Season of Cambodia events that are taking place in New York in April/May of 2013. Click here for more information. This is a major happening and will open the eyes of many to the arts of Cambodia with the Royal Ballet and Khmer Arts Ensemble performing, as well as a host of contemporary dancers such as Belle being involved, not to mention Dengue Fever and Kong Nay. Visit the website to find out more.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Murals at home

Em Riem's distinctive mural
I popped into Nick Sells' home today, aka Kampuchea Party Republic and the So Shoot Me Studio, and couldn't miss his wall murals by Em Riem and another collaboration by Peap Tarr and Lisa Mam. Very smart and a great addition to anyone's white-washed walls. I might have an open house session to brighten up my apartment walls in the future.
The reason to visit Nick's home was a medical emergency for my closest friend. It quickly brought home to me how little I know about first-aid or anything medical, having never been taught a jot at school and never bothered to find out more as an adult. I've broken my legs, arms, dislocated both shoulders, suffered concussion at football, and yet I know nowt. I've always said learning to swim and the basics of first-aid should be taught at schools as part of the curriculum, yet I've done bugger all to educate myself, especially as far as being slightly better prepared than a headless chicken in a medical emergency. Watching my closest friend in a deep sleep/coma quickly brought it home to me. It's never too late in life to learn.
A collaboration between Peap Tarr and Lisa Mam on Nick's wall

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Dining in style

Restaurant Le Royal at Raffles Hotel Le Royal
Whilst on the subject of food, Robert Tompkins wrote a piece for my To Cambodia With Love guidebook about his dining experience at Raffles Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh, a tad more upmarket than the Luk Luk BBQ methinks. I repeat it here, just in case it tempts you to pop into Raffles one evening to enjoy a similar experience.

Robert Tompkins dines in le royal style
We were met at Restaurant Le Royal with smiles and the folded palms and slight bows of the traditional sampeah greeting. Chandeliers hung from the high recessed ceilings, which were creatively painted with a floral motif. The lighting was subdued and enhanced by candles. There were eleven tables, spaced far apart to provide privacy. Only five were occupied by other couples.
While sipping an aperitif, we perused the ten-page menu, which featured international (predominately French) and Khmer cuisine. A separate menu listed the special five-course “Degustation Menu” to which I succumbed, while Doris, whose appetite is far less rapacious than that of her husband, ordered à la carte.

The tasting menu began with an appetizer of cucumber parfait wrapped in a beetroot coat and topped with caviar-laced sour cream—preparing the palate for the following course of goose liver ravioli served with an artichoke essence. Sharing brought further dimension to our meal, as Doris’s generously portioned starter of melt-in-the-mouth pan-fried goose liver complemented perfectly the rhubarb compote.

Poised delicately between our starter and entrée, an amuse-bouche of duck carpaccio was served to Doris to coincide with my course of salmon confit, which was matched with a slightly tart calamansi-and-lime butter sauce and presented on a bed of lightly spiced eggplant. Then came the high note. Paired with chateau potatoes and sautéed French beans, Doris’s entrée of duck à l’orange was moist and delicately flavored, while my oven-roasted veal mignons were basted in a tamarind–port wine sauce and accompanied by braised cabbage with glazed sweet potatoes.

Although dessert would indeed be excessive, we surrendered to the temptation. For me, the tasting menu concluded with a wild-berry-and-chocolate charlotte. Doris yielded to the waiter’s recommendation of deep-fried port wine ice cream with red pear compote. This final gustatory indulgence left us sated and attempting to aid digestion with cognac.

Throughout our meal the muted background music featured Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and the unmistakable vocals of big-band-era singer Jimmy Rushing. Service was well honed and flawless. Our needs were anticipated and attended to unobtrusively and smoothly, and for just one night, a sense of time and place seemed to slip away. We were no longer in twenty-first-century Cambodia. The real world dissolved into a surrogate of comfortable illusion.

We left to a chorus wishing us a good evening along with a replay of the smiles and sampeahs that had greeted us two and a half hours previously. Wrapped in a cozy postdinner lethargy, we sat on our balcony at the hotel. The sultry night was frangipani scented and echoing with cricket calls. Surrendering to the serenity of the moment, we drifted in Le Royal’s lost-in-time version of Phnom Penh.

Restaurant Le Royal, Raffles Hotel Le Royal, 92, Rukhak Vithei Daun Penh (off Monivong Boulevard), Phnom Penh. This copyright article by Robert Tompkins appeared in the guidebook, To Cambodia With Love, published by ThingsAsian Press in 2011.

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

In the soup

The soup was really hot!
This evening I made my first return visit to the Luk Luk BBQ restaurant, on Street 118 near Samaki market, since July. The restaurant is owned and run by long-time friends of mine, who I've known for a decade and more. Luk Luk is their latest venture, they're already running a restaurant in Prek Leap and the Silver River Hotel in town. Tonight, Luk Luk was literally bursting at the seams. They've added a lot more tables and at this rate they'll be looking for bigger premises soon enough. The lady behind the food preparation is none other than Auntie Vourch, who gets her own meritorious mention in my To Cambodia With Love guidebook for her magnificent Khmer chicken curry. My other friends, Sam and Tima, were both there, busy as bees as a non-stop procession of people filled the tables. When my brother Tim arrives in town on Christmas Day, I'll make sure to take him along to enjoy the suki-soup option at Luk Luk. He's not been here for a while, so I'm sure there'll be a lot of late nights in store for us both.

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Name change for hobbits

Bai Ling in a touching moment from the multi-named movie
A court has ruled that the Age of the Hobbits, a film that was shot in Cambodia a few months ago, cannot use that title on its release in the United States. Instead, it will be called Clash of the Empires. Not that anyone surely gives a toss. There are rumours that the film, which stars Christopher Judge and Bai Ling, will be released in Cambodia soon under the title The History of Mankind. The fuss is because Peter Jackson's Hobbit movies aren't keen on the association, and who can blame them. This cheap imitation, known in the trade as a mockbuster, will in their eyes sully the reputation of the bona fide big budget Hollywood film by trading on its global publicity. These mockbusters are usually straight-to-video and rely on the punters to be half asleep when buying or renting them. B-movie hottie Bai Ling, who was robbed whilst in Phnom Penh making the movie, has said of her time making the film: "it's fun and moving, they say I am so good in it, totally a action hero, kicking ass through out the whole film fighting with all the huge fun strange creatures to save the little people we call the hobbits." Will I be watching the movie, whatever the title is? No.

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Murky world

The Duryodhana statue (left) and its sister statue, Bhima, which is on display at the Norton Simon Museum
The New York Times takes a look at Douglas Latchford, a Khmer art collector who has been implicated in the recent court case involving the Duryodhana statue that was removed from the Koh Ker complex and which Sotheby's are desperately trying to keep from being returned to the Cambodian government. A ruling is expected in several months time.

Claims of Looting Shadow Expert in Khmer Art - by Tom Mashberg (The New York Times).
For decades Douglas A. J. Latchford, an 81-year-old British art collector, has built a reputation as one of the world’s great experts in Khmer antiquities, one whose generous return of treasures to Cambodia garnered him knighthood there in 2008. But last month Mr. Latchford, who lives in Bangkok in an apartment brimming with Asian artifacts, was depicted less chivalrously in a civil complaint filed by the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan. The federal lawyers said Mr. Latchford, identified in court papers only as “the Collector,” bought a 10th-century Khmer warrior statue in the early 1970s knowing that it had been looted from a jungle temple during the Cambodian civil war. The lawyers are trying to help Cambodia recover the artwork, a 500-pound sandstone statue, which Sotheby’s in New York still hopes to sell for millions of dollars on behalf of its current owner. For Sotheby’s and the federal government the court case is the latest pitched battle over what is fair and appropriate when regulating the sale of global antiquities. For Mr. Latchford, who denies ever having owned the work, the case has brought unwelcome attention to a long career in the tangled world of antiquities collecting, where the tenets of private property, cultural preservation and national patrimony often clash. “If the French and other Western collectors had not preserved this art, what would be the understanding of Khmer culture today?” he asked in an interview.
Mr. Latchford, well known here as a bodybuilding impresario who runs national competitions, has spent more than 55 years amassing one of the world’s finest collections of Cambodian antiquities, many of which once decorated his second home in London. He has donated many others to institutions, including the National Museum in Phnom Penh and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Experts cite his three books on Khmer treasures, written with the scholar Emma C. Bunker, as crucial reference works. "His gifts are very important because these artifacts teach the Cambodian people about their history,” said Hab Touch, the Cambodian government director-general of the Department General of Cultural Affairs. “We hope his generosity will set a good example for others.” The United States government lawyers, though, said his conduct regarding the Sotheby’s statue, known as the Duryodhana, was less praiseworthy. Its pedestal and feet were found in the ground in 2007 at a sacked temple site called Koh Ker, and in court papers the lawyers assert that Mr. Latchford (who acknowledges he is the unnamed collector in their complaint) bought the statue from a Thai dealer who, they say, had gotten it from an organized looting network. They say Mr. Latchford then helped to get the sculpture into Britain by assisting with export licenses that were meant to conceal what was actually being shipped. The London auction house Spink & Son sold the statue in 1975 to a Belgian man whose widow is the current owner. She approached Sotheby’s to sell it in 2010, but the sale was suspended when the Cambodian government objected. Sotheby’s is fighting the United States government’s effort to seize the statue on Cambodia’s behalf, arguing in court that there is no evidence that the statue was looted or is the property of the Cambodian government. It is not clear from the court papers what evidence the government has to support its depiction of Mr. Latchford, who is not a defendant in the case. The United States attorney’s office declined a request for an interview. Mr. Latchford said that the government lawyers, desperate to seize a high-profile antiquity, were “weaving together suppositions” to inflate his role. “This is somebody’s imagination working overtime,” he said. He said he had once hoped to own the statue, which he said he did not believe was looted, and that a Spink representative in Bangkok had purchased it on his recommendation from the unidentified Thai dealer. But he said he had never bought it. He acknowledged that, as a matter of record keeping, Spink appears to have listed it under his name in its files. Internal Sotheby’s documents appear to back up his recollection. In one 2010 e-mail Mr. Latchford told a Sotheby’s official that he had once owned the statue, but he corrected himself a few weeks later, long before the sale of the statue had become an issue for Cambodian officials or American lawyers. “I have checked my records and notice that I had the guardian figure on reserve from Spink’s in 1970 but never actually bought it,” he wrote. Mr. Latchford similarly denied any role in procuring export licenses. “I never conspired with anyone,” he said.
A judge is expected to rule on the government’s effort to seize the statue in several months. Sotheby’s said Cambodia could not lay claim to a statue “that was abandoned to the jungle 50 generations ago.” The government maintained in court papers that the statue was still Cambodian property because the “state has never transferred the Duryodhana to any private owner, whether by sale, gift or otherwise.” Born in Bombay and educated in Britain, Mr. Latchford, a believer in reincarnation, said two Buddhist priests once told him that “in a previous life I had been Khmer, and that what I collect had once belonged to me.” He bought his first statue in Thailand in the mid-1950s, he said, for $700. His collecting became more focused in the 1960s, when stone and bronze antiquities and ornaments from the Khmer dynasty began appearing in Bangkok’s old “thieves market.” When asked about those days Mr. Latchford spins tales of bumping his Jeep along makeshift roads in the jungles of Thailand and Cambodia, exploring vine-entangled temples and the shattered outposts from a 1,000-year-old fallen empire. He and other well-known collectors, he said, would buy and trade what became available without fretting over the provenance details that govern modern antiquities transactions. They were rescuers, not plunderers, he said, pointing out that he and others have restored, protected, cataloged and donated artifacts that might have been broken into pieces or lost or neglected. A few of these items fill his sprawling condominium here, alongside modern art, wooden Buddhas, and stone and bronze Siamese and Burmese objects. Tall and hale, with short-cropped gray hair, Mr. Latchford is convivial, greeting guests in his slippers and offering tea and biscuits. He made his fortune, he said, in pharmaceuticals and property development in Asia and is president of the Thailand Bodybuilding Association. Mr. Latchford said he hoped to obtain Cambodian citizenship and planned to retire to an area near the temples of Angkor. In 2008 he helped raise $195,000 for lighting for the National Museum. He said Cambodian cultural officials often referred to him as lok kru (respected teacher) and bong (elder brother). Some skepticism, though, had arisen toward Mr. Latchford long before American officials became involved. Anne LeMaistre, who directs the field office in Phnom Penh for Unesco, an agency that promotes cultural heritage, said that although Mr. Latchford had donated artifacts, she was bothered that his books featured so many lavish photos of Khmer masterworks that are owned privately by anonymous collectors. One of the books, she said, is pretty much “the inventory of the missing cultural patrimony of Cambodia.” She and others fault him for not telling Cambodia where the items are. Mr. Latchford said it would “not be appropriate” to reveal the names of anonymous collectors. Asked about the propriety of owning or knowing the whereabouts of so many extraordinary Khmer relics, Mr. Latchford said the items were in better hands than if they were somehow returned en masse to Cambodia. “What is the monetary cost to Cambodia?” he asked. “Who is going to pay for repatriation? Where will it wind up? Rotting in some storage house? Who will pay for the conservation?” Asked whether he would consider donating more of his collection in coming years, Mr. Latchford said he had promised as much to Cambodian officials. But he said, “While I’m alive I intend to enjoy what I have.”

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Nara gets the nod

I know, I know, its football again, but at least one of the nice guys has been recognised for his efforts. Prak Sovannara is one of the best coaches in Cambodia, and a gentleman. So its a positive move that he's been handed the task of revitalizing Cambodian football with the national team head coach hot-seat. The football federation, as is their wont, have given him two months and a bit to whip a team into shape to play in the AFC Challenge Cup in Philippines, which is obviously a mission impossible. Especially as the domestic Cambodian football season starts in a week or two and it has a choc-a-block early season programme with cup and league matches. But then again, the federation don't worry about small trifles like that. He's got the job for a year, so will be in charge for the SEA Games at the end of 2013. It's not his first stint in charge of the team either, as he did the job for a year in 2008. I wish him luck, he'll need bags of it.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Diaspora come home

Finally meet with Ronnie Yimsut after years of emails
Sat in the row in front of me at this evening's screening of Two Shadows was Ronnie Yimsut, an email friend for half a dozen years and a contributor to my To Cambodia With Love book, and of course the author of his own memoir, Facing the Khmer Rouge. It was great to finally meet up, face to face instead of through emails, after the screening and to catch up over a bite to eat. He's in Cambodia for a few weeks to continue the great work he and his team are doing in building, brick-by-brick, the community-based Bakong Technical College in Roluos town, just outside Siem Reap. His passion for the project is all-consuming. Meanwhile, the film itself, Two Shadows, by Greg Cahill and starring Sophea Pel in her first full-length feature debut, looks at the American-Cambodian diaspora through the eyes of a returnee looking for lost relatives. Pel's character goes on a frustrating search, road trip if you like, for her long-lost, and possibly dead, siblings, via Phnom Penh, Kompong Cham and Kompong Thom, in particular, the ruins at Sambor Prei Kuk. She finds her sister but doesn't reveal the family connection until an emotional ending, as she tries to shield her wayward sibling from the fatal actions of a lover's jealous wife. It's a happy ending, and the feel good factor kicks in with a ride into the sunset for the reunited family members. Plot-wise the film chugged along pretty well, acting-wise it was clearly a 1st-time movie role for many of the cast, with cameos from Arn Chorn-Pond and Pou Khlaing, though Lida Lang was assuredly confident and definitely easy on the eye. As for Sophea Pel, her fragility as an out of her depth returnee was amusing and I am really looking forward to her portrayal as Ros Sereysothea in the full length version of The Golden Voice sometime soon. Now that is a story that people want to see told, and done well, it could catapult her into stardom in the country of her birth.
Ronnie pens a dedication in his memoir, Facing the Khmer Rouge

Sophea Pel (left) and Lida Lang in a screen shot from Two Shadows

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Comfortably Lost

I managed to get along to one of the many films being shown this week as part of the Cambodia International Film Festival. It was my 1st visit to the Cineplex at Sorya Mall this evening to see Comfortably Lost, a road movie that was shot for a month in Cambodia in late 2010 on Bokor Mountain, at Knai Bang Chatt hotel and on the Tonle Sap Lake amongst other places. It was a feel good tale of an American photographer who naively wanders around southern Cambodia before attempting to head up to Angkor on a moto. He never made it, instead ending up in a family house in the middle of nowhere and choosing to enjoy the simple life amongst the rural villagers rather than his high pressure job in New York. The mainly-Cambodian audience enjoyed the sight of an innocent foreigner, who didn't understand even the most basic Khmer, stumbling around their country. The staged photos of the villagers was a bit weird, but visually compelling nonetheless. As a film it didn't take me anywhere that I haven't already been, and was pleasant enough without being memorable. Tomorrow, I'll return to the Cineplex for a film I've wanted to see for a long time, Two Shadows by Greg Cahill.

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Diary dates, and they're free

Dates for your diary. Friday 21 December at La Croisette on the riverside. The Cambodian Space Project will be back from a flying visit to Java and will be entertaining the masses at the opening party of the new swanky looking restaurant, La Croisette. It will start at 9pm and there's a dress code - Barbarella style, whatever that means. Highly-sexed and looking like Jane Fonda might do the trick.
However, before the CSP gig, this coming Sunday (16 December) there will be a one-off special Comedy Club Cambodia show at the Doors, #18 on Streets 47 & 84. Aidan Killian is touted as Ireland's premier political activist comedian, with numerous credits to his name. The show is free and starts at 8pm. Free 60's Cambodian rock, and stand-up comedy, not to be sniffed at.

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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Football, but only briefly

FIFA coach Fritz Schmid alongside asst/coach Bouy Dary at training today
Occasionally, football finds it way to this blog from my dedicated football blog here but not often. It has to be a special occasion. I think a first-time friendly match between my club, Phnom Penh Crown and a visiting team made up of Korean and Japanese League players is worth a mention. The Korea All Stars Union team are in town for one game, a brief holiday on the beach and then back to Korea to prepare for their own season. Korea is currently regarded as the best football nation in the whole of Asia and with the visitors playing in the top divisions in Korea as well as Japan, its going to be a tough test for Crown tomorrow (Sunday). The match kicks-off at 3.15pm at the Olympic Stadium and is being televised live. Also fresh off the boat so to speak, is Fritz Schmid. A FIFA instructor for twenty years, he's also the number two with the Austrian national football team and is here for two weeks in order to impart some of his vast knowledge to Crown's coach Sam Schweingruber and the team. He met the squad at training yesterday afternoon. In order to improve Cambodian football, we need to learn as much as we can from people like Fritz.

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Friday, December 7, 2012

In the blink of an eye

The pool and the gorgeous blue sea at Knai Bang Chatt
Two and a half hours, door to door, took me from my office to Kep's Knai Bang Chatt hotel this morning. The blue sea was calm, the sun was at its hottest and the hotel looked great, except for some green netting at the back of the property where a man with a hammer was shattering the silence. Known for its designer rustic flavour, Cambodian-style, with rooms set in art deco influenced villas, KBC is a private haven on Cambodia's south coast. However, the builder's are in, and currently adding five more rooms but have outstayed their welcome. Original deadlines have been overshot and though it's all due to end in eight days time, the waves lapping at the sea-wall are being drowned out by the carpenter's drill. Unfortunately, its an all-too-common problem, where being on time isn't the virtue it is elsewhere. I had a bite to eat at the sailing club next door, before calling in at three more hotels on my whistle-stop visit to chic Kep. There's been a mini-explosion of guesthouses and hotels as the seaside resort revisits its glory days of old, though on this particular Friday afternoon, it was all pretty quiet along the skinny strip of beach. I also popped into the villa that used to belong to the royal family, which is now a flower nursery, for a quick nose around but the rooms have been stripped bare, most of the floor tiles have disappeared and there was no way up to the roof. The road between Kep and Kompong Trach is a dust-bowl with road widening taking place, slowly of course, and after another three hours on the road, I was back in the office, answering my emails.
The pool and the green netting, hiding the building work, but not the noise

One of the most photographed of Kep's ruined villas - oft quoted as belonging to the King's mother

The rooms were bare and the only tiling remained on the stairs

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Everything is Golden

Ambassador Sichan Siv returns to Monument Books this coming Saturday (8 Dec) at 11am and will be launching his latest book, a series of personal poems that he has written over the past thirty-six years, entitled Golden Words. And they come in a variety of languages. Thirty pages and printed locally, with a prize for anyone who can spot the clue in each poem. The Ambassador is of course already the author of an international bestseller, Golden Bones, published in four languages and telling his story of an escape from Cambodia in 1976 and resettling in Connecticut as a refugee with his mother's scarf, an empty rice bag and $2 in his pocket. He went onto become a United States Ambassador to the United Nations between 2001-2006 under President George W Bush. From 1989 to 1993 he had served under the President's father, George H W Bush as deputy assistant at the White House and as deputy assistant secretary at the State Department. Now that is a story worth telling and the success of Golden Bones is testament to how well the story is told. In the private sector, the Ambassador has held positions in social services, education exchange, financial management, and investment banking. Currently, he provides global strategic advice and gives motivational speeches as well as holding a Master Degree of international affairs from Columbia University. The cover of his book of poems shows a hand-stitched canvas by Pacita Abad called Sichan between Two Worlds. And my favourite is Forever, on page 29. The book will be available at Monument Books on Norodom Boulevard.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sam's Signs from Kratie

All smiles from the author Sam Roberts at tonight's launch
It's a dangerous past-time walking into Monument Books on Norodom Boulevard. This evening, I went along for the launch of a new book by Sam Roberts - Hand-Painted Signs of Kratie - which is the culmination of two years searching for hand painted street and shop signs in and around the riverside town where he's been based with VSO, and ended up spending too much money on new books. It's always the same. I leave Monument with far less money in my wallet. Sam did a slide show presentation at his book launch and the idea worked well, because of course his book is about visual signs. It's self-published and about a topic which is more common than you might think. Another book of shop signs in Cambodia was published in French only last week. Robert Joiner released a book on the same topic in 2005. Sam's is set in Kratie, though similar signs to the ones he found, and collected, appear all over the country. In his book he also offers up more background on the painters themselves as well as a wealth of photographs of the signs he's encountered on his travels. I added a copy of his book to my own library, as well as picking up Ronnie Yimsut's Facing The Khmer Rouge, which came out in paperback earlier this year, and has had great reviews, and Colin Cotterill's novel, set in Cambodia, called Love Songs From A Shallow Grave.
Sam signs his life away

The proud author with his new book

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Bora's 3.50

Filming 3.50 in Phnom Penh
Cambodian filmmaker Chhay Bora, who had great success with Lost Loves, his country's official entry into the upcoming Oscars' best foreign film category, and also an entry into the prestigious Palm Spring Festival in the US, has been around town in recent days filming his next movie, a joint-production with a Singapore company. The film is to be called 3.50, a thriller inspired by real events in Phnom Penh’s sex trafficking industry. The film focuses on a documentary filmmaker who braves the seedy underground of Cambodia’s virginity trade to save a young village girl sold into prostitution. The film started shooting last month in Phnom Penh with cast and crew from both countries and is slated for release in the middle of 2013. Former Miss Singapore Universe, actress and former MP, Eunice Olsen stars as the filmmaker. She says she hopes to shed light on the issue of sex trafficking which she first encountered upon meeting a survivor while working as a Goodwill Ambassador for World Vision in 2005.

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Monday, December 3, 2012

CSP at FCC

Don't miss this upcoming opportunity to celebrate their 3rd birthday with the Cambodian Space Project at the FCC this coming Friday (7 Dec). Earlier the same evening, they'll be performing an original soundtrack to the classic Une Voyage Dans La Lune at the opening of the Cambodian Film Festival at the Legend cinema.

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Red Wedding

A scene from Red Wedding
Breaking the silence of forced marriage under the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, which affected as many as 250,000 women who were forced to marry against their will, is the subject of Lida Chan and Guillaume Suon's film Red Wedding, which was released in 2011. The film looks at the emotional roller-coaster faced by Sochan Pen, then a sixteen year old, who was raped by her new KR cadre husband. The film has just won an award for the best documentary at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam, which comes with a cash prize and incentives. Another film to be rewarded for its excellent quality is Kalyanee Mam’s documentary, A River Changes Course, which will have its world premiere in January at the US-based Sundance Film Festival in Utah in the World Documentary category. The film addresses the issue of land rights and follows the story of three Cambodians affected by this countrywide hot topic.

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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sam's the man

This week will see the launch of Sam Roberts' book, Hand-Painted Signs of Kratie in two forms. On Tuesday (4 Dec) there's a month-long exhibition starting at the Cambodian Living Arts offices on Sothearos Boulevard, with a talk from Sam and book signing from 6pm. The following evening, again at 6pm, will be the official book launch at Monument Books on Norodom when Sam will be talking at length about his new book. He'll also be doing a quick-fire talk at Nerd Night the following Monday. Roberts' fascination with hand-painted street and shop signs that he enjoyed in the riverside town of Kratie where he worked for VSO for two years, drove him to publish his favourites in his self-published book. Flying pigs, retro hairstyles and hand grenades are among some of the 170 images in this celebration of the art and craft of hand-painted advertising. Roberts' research not only helped him uncover the history of the signs and the stories they tell, but he has also tracked down some of the men who paint them. Their story is also told, with particular emphasis on that of Sai Sokheang, Kratie’s leading artist producing hand painted signs, who crafted the book's front cover. Read more here.

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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sign here please

Roland Joffé signs his life away - click to enlarge
I'm the one with the double chin and stripes! Roland Joffé does the honours and signs my copy of Phnom Penh Noir at last night's book launch at the FCC. Thanks to Soma Norodom for the photo.

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