Saturday, August 31, 2013

Preah Vihear re-visited

A new book entitled Preah Vihear - A guide to the Thai-Cambodian conflict and its solutions will be released at the end of September with a book launch at the FCC of Bangkok on 30 September. The Thai-Cambodian relationship in recent years has been shaped and reshaped by domestic factors both in Thailand and Cambodia and with overlapping territorial claims in the areas surrounding the Preah Vihear temple, or known in Thai as Phra Wihan, this has led to a series of clashes between the two countries' armies, from 2008 to 2011. The border dispute has re-opened the question of ownership of the Temple of Preah Vihear which compelled Cambodia to call on the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to reinterpret the ruling of 1962. The authors of the book are Cambodian Ambassador Pou Sothirak and Thai scholars Ajarn Charnvit Kasetsiri and Dr. Pavin Chachavalpongpun.


Friday, August 30, 2013

The Pulse story

A few snippets from a recent interview with David Hinds, the ever-present frontman for the reggae band Steel Pulse for the past 35 years. The interview was in the online magazine World-A-Reggae. David was asked about a new album. "Yes, we've been working on a new album for about 3 years now to be honest with you but like I said, tour commitments and such. We are also working on a documentary that will look at the entire 35 year career of this band. The hardest part is getting hold of people who helped shape the history of the band to tell their story for the film... This film you will see police and riots and punks, you know, we came from a concrete jungle. I think we should be ready by December... Our last album African Holocaust came out ten years ago. So its been ten years since we put out a proper studio album."
You toured with Bob Marley...what did you learn touring with Marley? "We learned it all. This man performed every show like it was his last.... Very disciplined. His energy and drive doing what he did was relentless... This is what we took home with us. A level of discipline that we never had before. I mean we had some, but learning from the master we stepped it up. It really had a profound effect on us as a band."
The documentary Steel Pulse - The Definitive Story should be out sometime soon, as well as that long-awaited studio album. I can't wait. You can read my own webpages on Steel Pulse here.

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Patio's pool a plus

The roof-top pool is a big plus at the new Patio Hotel
I was expecting the Patio Hotel to open sometime soon in front of Flavours Restaurant on Street 51 in BKK1 area of the city. However, construction work continued behind green sheeting and it seemed everything was well behind schedule. That's when it clicked that the Patio Hotel was already open and it was in fact located in an alleyway off Street 51 and sitting behind the buildings under construction. D'oh! So I paid a visit today and though the hotel is open, it'll be another month until everything is topped off and cleaned up. On the 7th floor is their restaurant and bar and above that is their roof-top swimming pool. The views from the pool and restaurant look out across the city skyline and are a big plus. The rooms, of which there are 45, are stone-washed, much like a few of the newer style boutiques, comfortable enough without being flashy or pretentious. In fact they could do with some wall decoration to infuse a bit of colour. Some have tiny balconies but the lower floors look out on to neighbouring apartments so I recommend 4th floor and above.
One of the deluxe rooms with balcony at the Patio

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Forced migration

The ossuary or the bone pagoda of Phi Lai at Ba Chuc 
A little known story was revealed at Meta House tonight, as part of his research studies by Philip Taylor, where the Khmer Rouge stealthily invaded a small corner of Southern Vietnam and returned back over the border with 20,000 people in tow. It happened in April 1978 and coincided with the massacre at the village of Ba Chuc, where some 3,000 men, women and children were slaughtered. The 20,000 were all Khmer Krom, the Khmer ethnic grouping that inhabit the Mekong Delta. They lived in villages close to the Cambodian border, as is Ba Chuc, and were likely targeted by the Khmer Rouge, primarily to use as a labour force. The forced migration took place over a matter of days and of the 20,000 that were taken, only half of them were still alive when the Vietnamese pushed the Khmer Rouge out of Cambodia nine months later. A fascinating story but at the same time, one that raises many questions including why the apparently same Khmer Rouge forces decided to annihilate everyone in Ba Chuc; yet in villages close by they ordered the inhabitants to follow them back to Cambodia. Philip Taylor's studies and interviews with those involved continue and more of the story is sure to come to light in the future.

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sopheak shines

Krom's Christopher Minko and Sopheak Chamroeun
What a fabulous voice Sopheak Chamroeun has. She took the lead on three songs at last night's Krom gig at the Doors - I think all three are from their new album Neon Dark, that will be out next month - and she was superb. We already know how good her sister Sophea is, but last night it was the turn of Sopheak to shine. The haunting quality of both of their voices, which are showcased on the new album I'm told, will make it a must have in my opinion. Also lending his considerable presence to the evening was the iconic chapei master Kong Nai and his son Boran, who joined the band on stage for a few numbers. Jimmy B's sax was exquisite too. There was a large crowd in attendance, the gig was part of the Vibe Music Fest, but I found myself constantly distracted by the loud noise level from the diners at the back of the venue. Not their fault, they were there to eat and enjoy but to really appreciate the quality of the voices and the musicianship with Krom, there needs to be minimum background noise. It's a tough call as Krom have a great relationship with the Doors and will be back there again on Saturday 21 September, to celebrate the release of Neon Dark.
Legend Kong Nai (center) joins Krom on stage last night


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Rough cut

Director Kulikar Sotho is hands on with one of the film's main characters, actress Dy Saveth during rehearsals
I enjoyed a rare opportunity this afternoon. To watch a director's cut of a feature movie and then to give my feedback to the director herself on the spot. How often does that happen? Debutant Khmer film director Kulikar Sotho is in the final editing process with The Last Reel - a story of modern-day Cambodia seen through the eyes of one family - and wanted some audience views on the latest rough cut of the film. It was fascinating to listen to her and the film's story-writer as they responded to the comments and questions from the small invited audience, with a mix of Khmer and foreign members. All I will say at the moment is that it's a fascinating story and the characters are an interesting mix, with a great performance from the film's main star. The editing process will continue with a target of submitting the movie to some of the most prestigious film festivals around the globe in the near future.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Stepping into the unknown

Ros Mony (left) and Sang Malen, hoping to walk the red carpet in Venice next week
I spent a couple of hours with two young Cambodians who will hopefully get a taste of the spotlight next week, if they can get the necessary travel visas to join the Venice Film Festival in Italy. Ros Mony and Sang Malen are the young stars of the feature movie Ruin, which will have its premiere release at the prestigious festival. The festival committee has invited them to walk the red carpet and enjoy the glamour of this major international event but its whether they can get what is known as a Schengen visa or not, over the next few days. Mony is an old hand at visiting China and Japan while Malen has been to Vietnam and Laos, but Europe is a totally different proposition. They are both graduates from the Royal University of Fine Arts, with Malen coming from a circus background and Mony from dance and drum-playing (with Sovanna Phum) before they were picked to be the two main stars of this made-in-Cambodia love story. Mony has made other films such as Wish You Were Here and is involved in The Last Reel, which has just been completed, but for Malen, Ruin, which was known as Om Tuk whilst it was being filmed, is her first foray into acting. They are torn about visiting Italy, as it's far from home and the paperwork is bewildering but it's also exciting and a step into the unknown. Fingers crossed for the likeable pair of young actors.

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Temple fees

Sokhom standing on the causeway at a completely empty Preah Vihear in 2002
A colleague visited Preah Vihear temple the other day and related a few nuggets of information that will be useful for anyone venturing to the temple in northern Cambodia, sat snugly on top of the mountainside, flush against the border with Thailand. With the gate closed to the Thai side, the Cambodian military are still firmly in control and exact a price for anyone visiting the temple. Cigarettes are the currency they prefer but they'll take anything you are prepared to give them. But buy the cigarettes before you arrive as the price the vendors are charging is just silly money. There's also a charge for taking the ride from the bottom of the mountain to the top in a pick-up truck, costing $25 a pop and it can take eight people. Or you can go by motodop, if you fancy the adrenaline rush, for $5. The climb is vertical in places. Oh, and don't forget your passport, as the military types want to see it before they allow you to visit the temple. Just to make sure you aren't Thai. The views are still stupendous, the temple is pretty good but any visit I make today will never compare with my Preah Vihear debut. These are a couple of pictures from Preah Vihear from my March 2002 visit, which was my first, with my trusty sidekick, Sokhom. The border was closed at that time as well and we were the only two visitors over the two days I was there, mainly because we had to climb the bloody mountain to get there. There was no road at that time. It was the hardest thing I'd ever done up to that point. But it was also the most exhilarating. Having the temple to myself was a magical moment I will never forget.
After climbing the mountain we had to walk through the freshly demined path to the temple

This was the main track to Preah Vihear back in 2002. We went on the back of Sokhom's trusty Daelim.

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Flying through the trees

Ziplining isn't something I've tried yet so I'd better get my arse up to Siem Reap and get my fill of the new zipline course through the forest that surrounds the Angkor temples. They opened a couple of months ago but the full course of ten ziplines, tree-houses, sky-bridges, an abseil to finish and some actual gibbons in-situ, have just been unveiled. Its costs $99 per person (cheaper if you are Khmer or a resident expat) for a 2+ hour experience and you get fed as well. The full course includes the longest zipline of some 300 metres, and you are 50 metres off the ground. Not for the faint-hearted, but they take safety very seriously so enjoy it with confidence. If I can manage a microlite flight then ziplining should be a piece of cake, shouldn't it?


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Need a larf?

The next Cambodia Comedy Club is booked for Tuesday 27 August at Pontoon with American comic Bob Kubota and the return of Tommy Dean, a resident of Australia, plus three local expats. $8 entry tickets, 8.30pm start. I'll take a look at YouTube to see if the main protagonists are likely to tickle my funny bone.

The Cambodian Space Project next show in Phnom Penh is at FCC on the riverside on Saturday 7 September (not 6th as previously advertised). Following this last show, the band head off to tour in Indonesia and Australia but should be back by Christmas.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Legacy under threat

Really pleased to see the plight of Vann Nath's widow, Kith Eng, is captured for more people to read in Friday's 7 Days magazine of the Phom Penh Post. Here's the story (copyright remains with Phnom Penh Post).

Tuol Sleng painter's legacy under threat - by Claire Knox 16 Aug 2013.
Sometimes, Kith Eng will turn around and, from the corner of her eye, catch a glimpse of her late husband, the famed painter, human rights activist and S-21 survivor Vann Nath. It could be a tuft of his snowy hair, a freckled nose, creased brow or his almond-shaped, onyx coloured eye. The comforting ghost of Vann Nath lingers in their home, she says. Eng spends much of her time in the gallery that the artist used in the years before his death. He named it after his wife. The vast restaurant flanking the gallery was once a lively space – tourists, NGO workers and locals would visit Nath, who would patiently recount his experiences under Pol Pot’s brutal regime, perhaps purchase a print of his work or a postcard, and eat bowls of amok or bai chaa that Eng and her team would whip up behind the scenes. Nath opened the gallery in 2008. The room was draped with huge, vivid canvases of forced labour sites, shocking images of torture at Tuol Sleng, the skulls of Choeung Ek – some of the most important historical artefacts from 1975-79 Cambodia. He’d fallen critically ill in 2005, diagnosed with kidney disease, and though he received donations from patrons and friends worldwide, he continued to paint and sell his work to pay for his treatment. Today the restaurant is but a whisper of what it was – on the day we visit, a lone policeman sips on an iced coffee, and Eng says she averages a couple of customers per day ordering drinks. She has closed down the kitchen, but keeps vigil in her chair beside the gallery’s entrance, in the hope that a tour group will drop by. September 5 will mark the two-year anniversary since Nath’s death. Yet while Eng, her three children, their partners and children will use the occasion to fulfill one of Nath’s final wishes – the translation and publishing of his autobiography into Khmer, which was finished and sent to the printers this week – the moment will be bittersweet.

A year shy of 60, Eng herself has been plagued with mounting medical bills to treat her high blood pressure and diabetes. With the restaurant income they had survived on seeping away, last week, she sold one of the family’s three last original oil paintings of Nath’s for, at just $1,000, a price Nath’s friends and curators have said was well beneath the portrait’s worth. “I feel a sense of emptiness now. We have to pay $1,000 in tax every year. We didn’t get much help when my husband was ill … but now there’s nothing. He worked to the day he died. He painted, painted, painted, to sell and support the family.” Eng says she would often watch as Nath created his work – he’d confide in her the fears and images seared into his memory. She can remember talking intimately to him about the two paintings that remain: one, a startling picture of an S-21 cell, crammed with emaciated figures being hosed, gasping for water, the other of Nath hauling a gilded Naga across a tempestuous ocean, from France to the temples of Angkor.

Figures such as Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, and Yvon Chalm, the president of the French-run Vann Nath Friends Circle, have sounded alarm over the fact the family’s legacy of Nath’s work is being sold at a reduced price and have suggested the family sell the paintings through a gallery or curator. Chalm says years before his death works of Nath’s fetched, at Hong Kong gallery Chancery Lane, up to $10,000, and that they could be worth double that now. But for Eng, the thought of the work leaving the space her husband spent his last days in is unbearable. “If I just had an income of $300 a month, then I could keep everything here,” she says. For Nath’s youngest son, Narong, keeping at least some of Nath’s originals within the family is of huge importance. “It is just important that his work is seen. I think it was important for him to have the gallery at our home. My dream would be for it to be set up more professionally. I am happy many people see his work at Tuol Sleng though." Fourteen of Vann Nath’s original artworks hang at the site. Eng receives 25 per cent from all of the 23 paintings, photos, sculptures and poems by eminent Cambodian artists inspired by Nath sold from a tribute to the man held in January, organised by the Vann Nath Friends Circle, along with a cut of profits from the group’s book dedicated to him.

Nath, who died in 2011 at 66, was one of seven known survivors of the torture prison. His life was spared after guards, and Duch, discovered he could paint and he was put to work depicting Pol Pot. After the Khmer Rouge’s fall in 1979, Nath painted poignant images of what he had seen. He’d grown up poor in Battambang, and had after a short stint as a monk trained under a local painter, eventually setting up a business creating posters, billboards and album covers of 1960s Golden Era starlets and the films of the late King Father Sihanouk. Eng clutches a photograph of the pair on their wedding day – assembled in a traditional pose, the beehived, bejewelled bride lights a cigarette for her new husband. “We met at a traditional ceremony, it was very crowded, and when I came out I stepped on his toes and he screamed in pain. I looked up and, well, fell in love,” she remembers.
After the fall of Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975, Nath and Eng were ordered to toil the rice fields in the outer reaches of Battambang. He was arrested by soldiers on December 30, 1977 and eventually transferred to S-21 on January 7, just over a week later. “He was forced to leave us before he was arrested, they said he was going to Pursat to cut bamboo. I thought he was dead. When the Vietnamese came through [in 1979] he came to find me in Battambang. Of course I had thought he was dead. When he appeared, I cannot describe the shock I felt. I fainted. I thought he was born again!” Two of the couple’s children perished under the regime. They later had three more.

Chalm says the purpose of the organisation he fronts is foremost to preserve Nath’s memory and work: This has manifested in an extensive, detailed catalogue of the legend’s work – locating and photographing each painting or sketch (so far they’ve documented 120), talking with the buyer about its history, noting its condition, title and worth. Chalm had worked on the catalogue with Nath for years, and talks of the artist’s painstaking attention to detail. For Chalm, the sale last week was distressing: He doesn’t know where the painting has gone. “What we have is impossible to re-create. It was an important task and mission for him. Most buyers had bought six, seven or eight pieces, mainly ECCC lawyers, NGO workers. He had a big input. One of his chief concerns was the truth – when he sold work he was very fastidious and concerned with the date of the painting, the exact title – he was an exact man … so we worked on this together. I would like to see people that know the history, that have an attachment, own them. Like Rob Hamill – his brother [Kerry, a sailor from New Zealand] died at Tuol Sleng. [Rob] met Vann Nath during the trial, they become close and Robert asked him to paint two paintings of his brother.” Yet Chalm thinks the Khmer edition of Nath’s memoir could provide the injection of cash the family may need to revive the restaurant and gallery.
Lon Nara married Nath’s daughter Chansiman in 2003. He worked closely with Nath typing out his Khmer script and had learnt a great deal about the artist. “We started in 2008, at first he was a figure of authority, as all father-in-laws are, but I got to know him and he inspired me greatly. A person who believed so strongly in freedom, a huge heart.… His clothes didn’t look noble, but he was a man of distinction in every way. By 2011 most of the text was almost complete – but there was an additional 10 pages about the first day he read out at the [ECCC] trial, about being uneasy and nervous. He decided he didn’t want this in the book though.”

Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center founder, film director and Cannes Un Certain Regarde winner, Rithy Panh, who was friends with Nath for 25 years, says he was incensed that Nath did not receive more support from the government and the ECCC. “When he was alive nobody helped him! Bou Meng, Chum Mey – the same.… This is something I cannot understand – so many people say we need to preserve memory … the tribunal – these people are that memory and nobody takes care of them.” He hopes that DC-Cam may one day keep the paintings in a private museum. “S21 needs to be reorganised. There needs to be more educational tools and material,” he said, citing the Holocaust Museum in New York and Japan’s Hiroshima Museum as examples. The director of S-21 said the collection of Nath’s work on display at the museum was invaluable, but added there was little chance Tuol Sleng could be enlarged or renovated. “Phnom Penh municipal has officially given the land nearby the museum to the people who lived there. We have no ability and money to make the museum to become bigger.” Meanwhile, Sam Thida, deputy director of Phnom Penh’s National Museum, said there was currently no space to present Cambodia’s more recent history. Chhang, of DC-Cam, thinks that needs to change. He is spearheading a joint DC-Cam and government project, the Sleuk Rith Institute, which will include a museum, school and research centre on the former Boeung Trabek detention centre site, along with exhibitions at 24 provincial museums, a museum in Siem Reap, an archaeology museum and the 100-year anniversary (in 2020) of the National Museum.

Chhang would like to see the original floor plan of the National Museum realised (with extra display rooms to the left and right) to house more recent historical objects. “People, when they first re-entered Phnom Penh, after the Khmer Rouge, had so many things with them: cameras, letters, documents. You’d be surprised by how much is still out there – so many primary documents. “I think if an actual museum opened, it would prompt people to come in and donate, or sell the documents – that woman that gave me the photographs [last year, the largest ever collection of black-and-white photographs from S-21 (1427 of them) were given to DC-CAM] thought they were a living spirit.” For Eng, the spirit of her late husband lives on through the few works that still line her walls. “He spoke about his experiences – this painting, of the [Tuol Sleng] showering scene, he’s inside there, you know. Of course I would rather keep them than sell them,” she says, voice a quiver. At Nath’s funeral, a serene photograph of the artist at work sat atop his coffin. In the picture, Nath is dressed in white, etching into a metal plate in RUFA’s airy Char printmaking studio – creating the prints now for sale at Eng’s gallery. It was the last image of Nath ever taken – he died just over a month later – and is a living reminder of the painter’s calm, determined strength.
Additional reporting by Molyka Rom
Copyright © 2013 The Phnom Penh Post. All Rights Reserved.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

From Om Tuk to Ruin

Malen, one of the two main actors in Ruin
A film - now known as Ruin, though originally titled Om Tuk - and made almost entirely in Cambodia will debut at the prestigious Venice Film Festival at the end of this month. 
Garry Maddox of the Sydney Morning Herald broke the story recently.

On a train between Venice and Rome two years ago, after a successful screening of their film Hail, Australian filmmakers Amiel Courtin-Wilson and Michael Cody changed their plans. Instead of a trip to Cambodia to research a film, they would make one there. ''I was just going to go there and take some photos and make some notes,'' Cody says. ''Then Amiel came and being an extremely motivated type of chap, things sped up. We found ourselves writing two scripts. ''Within about a month, we'd met with 200 people for research purposes, started casting, found a local private investor and decided to start shooting.'' Now they are heading back to the Venice Film Festival with the result of that ambitious exercise.
Ruin, a touching love story shot for less than $1 million with a Cambodian actor and an acrobat in the lead roles, is part of the strongest Australian representation at the prestigious festival in almost two decades. ''This year's Venice selection represents the biggest for Australia in 18 years and marks a growing relationship between our country and the world's oldest film festival,'' Screen Australia's head of marketing, Kathleen Drumm, says. The big surprise was Ruin given it was shot in the Khmer language by two Australians who do not speak it. They relied on translators during long scenes with improvised dialogue. ''We fashioned a very simple notion of a love story/road film, looking at the way love can temporarily transcend trauma,'' says Courtin-Wilson, who is best known for the documentaries Catch My Disease and Bastardy and the feature film Hail. ''It's a fable-like story focusing around violence, trauma and love.'' Ruin was shot in two blocks a year apart. ''It was an experiment and an exercise in sheer will to see if we could will this thing into being,'' Courtin-Wilson says. ''And it's paid off.'' The two filmmakers, who are still finishing Ruin in a Lane Cove post-production house, are delighted by the Venice selection. ''You couldn't really hope for a better launching pad for a film like this that's an art-house gesture,'' Cody says.

Ruin (aka Om Tuk) was Hanuman Film's first full co-production and was made in collaboration with Australian production company Flood Projects. A collective of seasoned practitioners whose work has been selected for Cannes, Berlin, Venice and Sundance, Flood's team includes an academy award nominee. With Kulikar Sotho at the helm as Executive Producer, Michael Cody as Director and Amiel Courtin-Wilson as Producer, the production was filmed in only three weeks after a careful casting selection process and rapid pre-production period. Due to the nature of the film the majority of the shoots were at night in and around Phnom Penh. Other locations included the floating villages of the Tonle Sap Lake and the temples of Angkor. The blurb from the official website for the film,, says the following:
RUIN is an impressionistic fable - the story of Phirun (Ros Mony) and Sovanna (Malen) - two lovers inexplicably drawn together who escape a brutal and exploitative world of crime and violence in modern day Cambodia. Fleeing Phnom Penh after a murder, they travel deeper into the jungle. As their vulnerable love ebbs and flows along their journey, they wake from the trauma of their former lives and unleash a violent rage upon the world. Love and death intermingle as they travel deeper into the abyss- their world strangely transforming around the two young lovers on the run.

Hanuman Films' first full production, The Last Reel, is currently in the editing phase with the final cut expected to be ready within the next few weeks.
The two key actors in Ruin, Mony and Malen, soon to debut at Venice

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

The first director

Ung Pech's pictures on the walls of Tuol Sleng, the museum's first director
In the first of John Pilger's programme's on Cambodia in 1979, Year Zero, he interviewed one of the survivor's of Tuol Sleng, Ung Pech (pictured above), whose life was spared because of his skill as a mechanic. Arrested in Kompong Som in 1977, he was sent to S-21 and survived. He went onto become the first Director of Tuol Sleng when it opened to the public as a Genocide Museum on 7 January 1980, a year after its liberation. In the interview he described how he lost his wife and five of his children to starvation and how he himself was tortured. Ung Pech remained as Director until the early '90s and traveled with Mai Lam (a Vietnamese colonel assigned the task of converting S-21 into a genocide museum) to France, the USSR, and Eastern Europe in the early 1980s to visit museums and exhibits memorializing the Holocaust. Pech passed away in late 1996. A couple of months ago, a German Rolleiflex model camera from the 1930s or 1940s was handed into DC-Cam by Pech's only surviving son, Ing Veng Eang, after years in his family’s possession. He told DC-Cam that his father used the camera to document Khmer Rouge crimes, including mass graves in the countryside. “This camera was kept by my father until 1996 when he had to travel to the US for heart surgery. I just kept it in a box and never used it because there was no longer any suitable film. I never thought of the camera’s importance [until now],” Veng Eang said. You can see Pech on the    group of survivors photo that was taken in 1979, when only seven survivors had been identified. They were: [RtoL] Chum Mey, Ruy Neakong*, Im Chan*, Vann Nath*, Bou Meng, Phan Than Chan* and Ung Pech*. Only two of those pictured survive today - Chum Mey and Bou Meng.
The 7 survivors pictured in 1979. Pech is on the far right.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Briton murdered at S-21

Middle: The John Dewhirst picture on the wall at S-21 in 1997 - now its completely disappeared
On my most recent visit to Tuol Sleng/S-21, I read a few pages of John Dewhirst's biography/confession that he gave to his Khmer Rouge interrogators during his incarceration at S-21 in late 1978. I've never seen these before. Here are two copies of the first page, one in Khmer and one typed into English. I've also posted above a picture I took on a visit to Tuol Sleng in 1997, showing a bearded man in the middle of the three photos. That is John Dewhirst. That same picture has never resurfaced, disappearing in the S-21 ether. He was the only Englishman known to have been murdered at Tuol Sleng. You can read more about John Dewhirst at this link. And you can read the whole of John Dewhirst's confession in English amongst the court docuemnts at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal at
A hand-written version in Khmer of John Dewhirst's biography/confession 1st page - click to enlarge

The typed version in English of John Dewhirst's biography/confession - click to enlarge

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Looking back

Navy Ung-Lancaster has penned a look at Cambodia during the period 1969 to 1982 and at the same time, woven amongst the historical facts, the story of her own father, who was close to the major players throughout that time period. A Nation to Ruin - Cambodian Republic - Silent No More is a self-published account, some 430+ pages in length and available on Amazon. You can visit her own website at

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Tom's tuk-tuk

As I walked out of the gates of Tuol Sleng yesterday, I was tapped on the shoulder by none other than Tom, who was my motodop for a couple of days on my January 2005 visit. At that time we took a trip out to Kien Svay and another one to his home village a long way south of the city along the Bassac River. Seems like yesterday. He's had his own tuk-tuk for a long while now and can be found outside the new Frangipani Hotel near the Royal Palace or where he found me, outside the gates of Tuol Sleng. Safe and reliable is Mr Tom. If you need his services, contact him on 092 678 077 or by email: 

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Anger and questions

With the self-portrait by Vann Nath at S-21 - click to enlarge
I spent this afternoon at Tuol Sleng/S-21 with Rumnea. She'd not been there since she went with her school about eight years before. This time around she could understand it all much more clearly. If you have been to Tuol Sleng you will have seen the paintings that recreate some of the horrific scenes that took place at the prison, painted by Vann Nath, who managed to survive exactly one year at this factory of murder. Behind me in the photo above, is his own self-portrait that hangs in one of the rooms, alongwith more than a dozen of his pictures. Both Rumnea and myself spent time with Vann Nath's widow earlier this week so his artwork was particularly poignant for us. One of the exhibits I've not seen before are reproductions of some of the confessions of the westerners that were tortured and killed at S-21. These include the final statements from John Dewhirst, David Scott, Kerry Hamill and Rovin Bernard. I'd never seen these before and will post them here over the next few days. Rumnea came away from Tuol Sleng with a lot of anger and questions, probably much the same as many Cambodians who realize what this group of Khmers did to their fellow countrymen and women.
Rumnea sitting in one of the interrogation rooms at S-21

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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Jungle Sophea

I don't post a lot of videos on my blog but this one caught my attention. It's by a group called Indradevi who will release their first album later this month. Step Away, the song on the video features the vocals and performance of Sophea Pel, in a musical style referred to as jungle, while the video is directed by Greg Cahill. The two worked closely together on the larger screen format when Sophea played the part of Ros Sereysothea in The Golden Voice and again for the feature film Two Shadows.

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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Distinctive and effective

A scene from The Missing Picture
After a few false starts, I manged to watch the award-winning The Missing Picture at Bophana Center tonight and I found that the use of small clay figurines to portray the story of director Rithy Panh's life in workcamps under the Khmer Rouge certainly worked for me. It was very powerful and unconventional, which gave the film a very distinctive character of its own, interlaced with black and white archival propaganda footage. I wasn't convinced by the subtitles, which were distracting and would've preferred the voice-over in English, but I would, wouldn't I. That aside, it was a unique way to tell his story and to fill in for what Panh sees as the real missing picture of what happened in the camps. The death of his father, who deliberately chose to stop eating, as well as his siblings focused us on the director's own suffering and telling the story with the hand-carved and painted figures allowed a greater degree of latitude to do that. There were no actors to direct, just the tiny static figures and the narration. Simple but incredibly effective.

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Laura on a roll

Laura Tevary Mam - photo by Mark Sebastian
The Like Me's made a lot of friends when they literally took Cambodia by storm with their recreations of classic Khmer tunes and their youthful appeal, not to mention looking great on stage and showing real competence as musicians and performers. They have a large following in Cambodia, so it's likely the news that lead singer and songwriter Laura Tevary Mam is looking to record and release her debut solo EP will be met with excitement but also slight apprehension. Does this mean Laura will do both, continue to front the band as well as present herself as a solo artist? That question is yet to be answered. However, the positive news that the EP, Meet Me In The Rain, looks set to come to fruition sometime soon is very encouraging. She put out the feelers for funding for the EP on Kickstarter and in just seven hours reached her $3,000 target. The EP is a collection of her favorite songs that she's written in the last two years and will be recorded in both English and Khmer. With additional funding she can seek to organise some touring in both the US and Cambodia. Which would give her Cambodian fans another chance to see this talented musician in action, in the flesh. Let's hope that happens.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Vann Nath's images

An original Vann Nath painting, showing a scene from his home province, Battambang
The painting above is another original by artist Vann Nath, which is just one of three originals retained by his widow, Kith Eng, at her home in Phnom Penh. Vann Nath, one of handful of people to survive the Khmer Rouge prison at Tuol Sleng/S-21 and who later returned to paint scenes that he witnessed inside the prison and which still hang on the walls of S-21 today, passed away after a long battle against illness in late 2011. Today, his wife's personal collection is dwindling and only three original paintings remain, together with a series of sketches and fine art prints. Pictured below is a copy of Vann Nath's confession front sheet from the S-21 archives, as well as two limited edition sketches which the artist used as a rough guide before painting the same scenes. You can find out more about Vann Nath here.
A page from Vann Nath's S-21 confession

A sketch by Vann Nath of the conditions in prison

A sketch showing Vann Nath's transfer to Phnom Penh and S-21 from Battambang

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Monday, August 5, 2013

Mixed emotions

A Vann Nath original, showing a scene from Tuol Sleng/S-21
Lots of emotions tonight. Spent a good hour with Vann Nath's widow earlier, at their restaurant, which is no longer open, unless someone pops in for coffee. We talked about his paintings obviously, about his life, their life together, their wedding day and how tough life is now that the artist and former Tuol Sleng survivor is no longer around. He died in September 2011. It's hard making ends meet with children and grandchildren to look after. She has three original paintings that she holds dear, as well as a series of sketches and limited edition fine art prints. It's not much left over from her husband's collection. Many of his original paintings were sold off to fund his medical bills. The visit was one of mixed emotions and left me with a desire to see Kith Eng navigate her way through these tough times, though she really needs good advice from friends she can trust. I hope they come through for her. These are two of Vann Nath's original paintings, one set in the cells at Tuol Sleng (which is showing signs of wear and tear), the other painted after he returned from a trip to France, and was one of the final paintings he finished in 2011.
Another Vann Nath original, painted in 2011 after a visit to France - click to enlarge

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Friday, August 2, 2013

Gentle giants

Feeding one of the large female elephants
My memory is not as good as the elephants I met at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Center recently. I forget tons of stuff, including posting a few pictures from my recent visit. The elephants in particular were the stars of the show, including my t-shirt painting from Lucky. Here's a few more pictures from a very enjoyable visit behind the scenes with Wildlife Alliance.
Massive giants but gentle

Time for a bath

T-shirt painting with Lucky (and me)

Lucky off into the forest for another walk

The Tigers were gorgeous

Our group, Richard, Nick and myself with two Wildlife Alliance staff

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Thursday, August 1, 2013

For your ears

Music maestro please. Phnom Penh is a real hotbed of musical tastes these days with the Leng Pleng gig guide bringing us music artists and venues coming out of their ears. If you want to catch up with everything that is happening, go to Pick of the bunch this month are the Cambodian Space Project who will return to Equinox on Friday 16 August, and then have a second show at the FCC Riverside on Friday 6 September. They've been busy overseas and recording in recent weeks. Krom make a welcome comeback on Saturday 24 August as part of the Vibe Music Festival and will have a special guest appearance by Kong Nay, the famed chapei artist. The location is their usual haunt, the Doors music venue at Hotel Cara, a long stone's throw from Wat Phnom.

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