Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Rithy Panh's story

Filmmaker Rithy Panh turns from documentaries about the horrors of the Khmer Rouge to the written word in The Elimination, an autobiographical account of the ordeals he faced under the brutal regime, watching as his family members died off one by one. He also details his experience later in life interviewing the infamous Comrade Duch, who oversaw the torture and execution of thousands of Cambodians. 320 pages long, and co-written with French novelist Christophe Bataille, The Elimination: A Survivor of the Khmer Rouge Confronts his Past and the Commandant of the Killing Fields, is published by Clerkenwell Press and was released last month. Rithy Panh was born in Cambodia in 1965. His documentaries, which include Rice People, S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine and Duch, Master of the Forges of Hell, have achieved an international reputation. Author Nic Dunlop called it; "An amazing book and, by far, the best to have been written about the Khmer Rouge." High praise indeed. The French version of the book appeared a couple of years ago.

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Monday, April 29, 2013

Finger on the pulse

I'm always interested in new books about Cambodia, though this one needs to be handled with a touch more sensitivity than usual. The subject is aptly described in its title, which is Sex, Love and Money in Cambodia: Professional Girlfriends and Transactional Relationships, written by Dr Heidi Hoefinger and published by Routledge. The book is based on nearly a decade of research on the hostess bar scene in Cambodia and the main focus is on the young women employed in the bars and the relationships they form with western men. I haven't read it so I can't comment on it, especially at the prices Routledge usually pin on their publications. I could have a great night out on the town for that sort of cash. Whoops, that's let the cat out of the bag.

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Courting disaster

Phnom Penh Crown players leave the pitch yesterday. Photo courtesy of Sovanna Kem.
Two Phnom Penh Crown players in red shirts leave the pitch at half-time in yesterday's league match played at the Olympic Stadium. Very heavy rain had begun to fall midway through the first half of the match against Kirivong but when the lightning thunderbolts arrived with extremely loud claps of thunder, I fully expected the match officials to take the players off the pitch. Fat chance. Referee Khuon Virak told them to get on with it, with lightning flashing all around the vicinity of the stadium. In my opinion, his actions were totally irresponsible. As were those of the match commissioner who should've over-ruled his match officials and called the players off the park. They were sitting ducks for a lightning strike. It's happened before, 3 players were killed by lightning in 2008, so why didn't yesterday's officials learn from past mistakes? It's not rocket-science. Lightning kills hundreds of people each year in Cambodia. Everyone knows not to stand outside when lightning strikes, yet the referee knew better. At the very least, he should be reprimanded by the Football Federation for his irresponsible behaviour. Then blow me down, it happened again, this afternoon. The loudest lightning/thunder strike touched down just outside the stadium and the force knocked at least three players to the ground. The referee was unmoved and simply carried on. This has got to stop before someone is killed. I would expect all clubs to file complaints with the Federation to ensure this doesn't happen again.

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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Dale of Cambodia

Spencer Dale and his camera in Cambodia
An interesting story has recently surfaced that took place some forty years ago and which could soon be the subject of a documentary, if enough funds can be found to complete the project. It's the true story of Spencer Dale, a mid-20s Australian, who in the early 70s found himself in the eye of the bitter civil war between the Cambodian army and the Khmer Rouge. Without fear for his own safety, Dale fired off hundreds of still photos and several hours of Super 8mm movie film as he gained the trust of the colourful General Prince Norodom Chantaraingsey, who commanded the FANK's 13th Brigade, known as the Tiger Brigade. That trust enable Dale, who was a man seeking adventure rather than being a journalist imbedded with the government troops, to get footage that no-one else has ever seen, over a period of five years. You can find out more about his story, Dale of Cambodia, here. As for the charismatic Chantaraingsey, he was the military governor of Kompong Speu, running the province like his personal fiefdom, though he made sure his men were well-treated, fed and regularly paid, and this made him a popular figure. He is thought to have perished at the hands of the Khmer Rouge in 1975 whilst making a failed attempt to rescue his wife, but it's just one of the unconfirmed rumours that surround this larger-than-life character.

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Mockbuster hell

Bai Ling, looking a bit worse for wear in Clash of the Empires
Not a hobbit in sight for the premiere of the Clash of the Empires (aka Age of the Hobbits) at Meta House this evening. Did it live up to expectations, well it did as far as being as naff as I thought it would be. In fact it was worse than I expected. The special effects were terrible including giant lizards with wings, as was the acting and the script. I found it depressingly bad. Rumnea on the other hand found it hilarious. I really don't know why anyone would go to the trouble of filming this tripe. The mockbuster idea is crass anyway, feeding off the shirt-tails of real movies and hoping to get some crumbs as they fall from the table. Anyone who buys the dvd of this film will definitely want their money back. I had hoped that watching Bai Ling on screen might be a saving grace, but it wasn't. She was as wooden and appalling as everyone else. Amongst the extras, with all the filming taking place in the Kampot area, I spotted local boxing legend Eh Puthong, who managed to get a spear through his head, whilst two of the main hobbit-style characters are well known stage comedians. All in all it was horrendous - please do not ask me to watch another mockbuster again.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Perspectives

Palazzo Interior by Thomas-Pierre, on sale for $1600
Popped into Meta House tonight for a 30-minute film on Preah Vihear and some overly long explanations of the government's position regarding the temple and the recent Court of Justice hearings from the ministerial spokesman Phay Siphan. Don't expect a judgement on the land in question until Oct/Nov time. Siphan's point was that Cambodia will do nothing to provoke their neighbours and will abide by the ICJ decision, whatever it is. I'm sure Cambodia privately believes they are in a strong position and that the ICJ will come down on their side of the argument. We shall of course see whether that is the case. Thailand have certainly been pushing the edge of the envelope for a few years now after not giving it the time of day before and after the 1962 judgement that handed the temple to Cambodia. There has been lots of drum-banging by nationalists in Thailand, so lets hope when the decision finally does arrive, its accepted in all quarters and we have no re-occurrence of the military madness that plagued the temple before. 
The mixed media on canvas artistry of Thomas-Pierre in the gallery on the ground floor of Meta House was open to viewing beforehand. Some of his works are quite interesting with vibrant colours and unusual compositions, others didn't grab my interest as much. His Perspective exhibition runs until the middle of May.
Perspective by Thomas-Pierre, on sale at Meta House for $1800

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Merriment on offer

Comedy is calling once again. Not until Wednesday 8 May admittedly. Pontoon is the venue and it'll kick-off around 8.30pm. Cost of tickets on the door is $8. The two stand-ups invited for the latest round of mirth and merriment in the Cambodia Comedy Club are American Daniel Kinno, who hangs out in Los Angeles when he's not on television, and Silky, a comic from Liverpool in England. Both well established comedians. Not so well known are 4 local expats who will be giving their all for a few minutes stage time, before the big guns get to work. If you fancy a laugh, give it a whirl.

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Monday, April 22, 2013

Walk to Freedom


This song is getting on a bit now, but its part of a superb soundtrack to the film, The Red Sense, a film released in 2008 by Khmer director Tim Pek. The soundtrack was composed by Robert John Sedky, and has suspenseful music oozing from every pour, high-pitched vocals and tinkling of the sort that my all-time favourite film composer Ennio Morricone made famous in his spaghetti westerns. The main theme song that you can hear in the video, Svaeng Rouk Pop Tmei (aka Walk to Freedom), sung by Khmer pop starlet Meas Soksophea and Phoeurk Chantha, and Jimi Lundy's plaintive Cambodia, both add a welcome, albeit wistful, break from the tension and anxiety imposed by the preceding tracks on the album. It's Sedky's debut film score, which he composed in 2007, and set the bar high for his future work.

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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Recognition for the Tenth Dancer

Em Theay - a zest for life undiminished by time and fate
Em Theay is adorable. Anyone who has met her will agree. She's also the mother of classical Cambodian dance. And now she's been recognised as a Living Heritage by the King of Cambodia and the Cambodian Government and given the title of Tevorneath Nymith which comes with a stipend as well. Long overdue in my opinion and deserved recognition for a woman who has done so much to breathe life back into classical dance after the terrible years of the Khmer Rouge. Forever known as the Tenth Dancer, after a documentary of the same title focused on her life story in 1993, Em Theay refuses to allow her age to become an obstacle in passing on her knowledge and her indomitable spirit to the dancers of today. Her story should act as a beacon for all Khmer youth.

The following article, Cambodian Culture Reborn: My Story by Em Theay, appeared in the SGI Quarterly in January 2006:
I am 72 years old. Until recently I was a professor of traditional Khmer singing and dancing at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh. My late father and mother worked as domestic helpers to the parents of the former King Sihanouk. So I grew up in the palace and started dancing lessons from when I was six years old. I danced and sang for the King for many years. I had a total of 18 children, but only 12 were still alive in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge evacuated the entire population out of every city and town. When I was forced to leave Phnom Penh, what I treasured was three books that I had about dancing lessons and the art of Khmer dancing. The Khmer Rouge put me to work in a labor camp, but I hid the books until the end. They separated me from all of my children, even the very young. When I learned that one of my children had died, I requested the Khmer Rouge authorities to see my child's body. They denied me this. The next day I was forced to go to work in the fields as if nothing had happened. I cried inside, this was so sad and so cruel. When the same thing happened after the death of another of my children, I collapsed while working in the rice fields. When I woke up, I was in hospital.

Because they knew I was an actress, my life was spared, but not my children. Normally they considered entertainment business-related people to be parasites on society, and many were killed. Instead they found me useful. The local warlord liked my singing, so they asked me to sing and dance for them often. Later on they also used me to sing in a camp for orphaned children. After Cambodia was liberated from this genocidal regime, I walked to a nearby provincial town where I waited for news and searched for the rest of my children. I learned that seven had died or been murdered and that only five were left with me. I met a former student of classical dance who asked me to start teaching again. I taught and performed on the streets - at that time we traded dance for rice to eat. Over several months I was able to travel back toward the palace in Phnom Penh. When I got there, I was asked to be a cultural instructor, then later on the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts invited me to teach dance and singing.

Dancing brought back old memories of the good days and gave smiles to many people who were miserable at that time. Many children began to join dancing classes. Cultural activities like dance make our people gentle and humble. They make us pray to the heavenly beings who are greater than us. I was heartbroken when I learned that all things related to the arts and culture were totally ruined, but my love for art and culture made me think that we must revive whatever had disappeared. I dedicated my entire life to help raise it back to life and make the arts flourish again. Art and dance have been very important for Khmer life from ancient times until now. This is because culture reflects our society and shows Khmer sensitivities or thinking manifest in real form through choreography. It shows that Khmer people are full of grace and dignity, gentle and humble. It helps the next generation know their identity through the behavior and imagery of this dance. This classical dancing is also the way to let the world know Khmer people through our culture and art. We are afraid that our culture may be lost for future generations. These days there are new cultural elements which might change our traditional dancing style. In fact it has already changed. I feel hope for Cambodia's future every time I teach youngsters the art of dancing. I feel that this Khmer choreography is alive and that it will last and continue to develop from one generation to the next forever. It will not be diminished or die out as long as Cambodia exists on this planet.

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Perfect harmonies

Krom on stage at the Doors tonight
The Chamroeun sisters, Sophea and Sopheak, really have lovely voices. They proved that again tonight at the Doors, as Krom delivered a 14-song set to an appreciative audience. Their harmonies are perfect and the haunting quality of their voices offers a unique hook that will take this band far. That's been confirmed when their founder, Chris Minko announced they will take their talents on a European tour next year. In the meantime, a two-album release is on the cards, with Neon Dark as well as a cd of their Khmer-language songs, due out next month. And on Saturday 11 May they will make a return visit to the Doors. One of the songs they played for the first time tonight is from the soundtrack to the documentary film, In Search of Camp 32, which was appropriate, as the focus of the film, Hom Chhorn, was in the audience with his wife.

The evening was very nearly ruined when a drive-by motobike thief tried to snatch Rumnea's iPhone out of her hands as we circled Wat Phnom, a notorious area for thefts. She held onto her prized possession as we fought off the bastards.

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Friday, April 19, 2013

All googled up

Good news for people like me who haven't got a hope in hell of understanding Khmer text, Google Translate have added Khmer, as their 66th language. Last September, Lao was added and now Khmer has been awarded a place at the top table too. So, cut & paste will be the order of the day, though the paragraphs I've tried so far have been more miss than hit, at least you get the gist of the message, well most of the time. There are an estimated 16 million native Khmer speakers in the world, though the percentage of those with access to the internet must be relatively small in number. Google said that adding the language had proved difficult because of a lack of Khmer resources on the web and the fact that words aren’t usually separated by spaces.

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Remembering Christopher Howes & Houn Hourth

Christopher Howes, murdered by the Khmer Rouge in 1996
Seventeen years ago this month, Christopher Howes, a British mine-clearing expert with the Mines Advisory Group lost his life in Anlong Veng, in northern Cambodia. Khmer Rouge forces captured Christopher, his interpreter Houn Hourth and their 20-strong de-mining unit on 26 March 1996. The team were soon released, but the Bristol-born former Royal Engineer and Hourth were kept hostage, with the Cambodian murdered soon after. Christopher was taken to the Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng and was executed a few days later. It took twelve years to track down and bring to justice those responsible and on 14 October 2008, a Cambodian judge convicted four men in the kidnapping and murder of Christopher and Hourth. The guilty verdicts and 20 year jail sentences were handed down to Khem Nguon, who was known to be the deputy commander of the Khmer Rouge forces at Anlong Veng and who ordered the execution, Loch Mao, who witnesses identified as the man who shot Howes, and their driver Puth Lim, who admitted being present at the murder and to burning the body. A fourth defendant, Sin Dorn was found guilty of kidnapping the deminers and received a ten year jail term. For his bravery, Christopher was posthumously awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal and Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk named a street in the capital after him. You can read much more about Christopher, the media reports at that time and the men responsible,  here.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Krom on Saturday

Sopheak Chamroeun - photo copyright of Nino Ellison
Noir band Krom will have a new album out next month, entitled Neon Dark, and will no doubt be playing a few tunes from it when they make their next appearance in public, this coming Saturday, 20 April, at Doors, part of the Cara Hotel near Wat Phnom. Start 9pm prompt. They've just released a couple of video singles, She's 7 years old and The Wire, featuring vocalist Sopheak Chamroeun, which you can find on YouTube. The haunting picture above, of Sopheak, was captured by Nino Ellison, an award winning freelance photographer contracted to Getty Images and now living in Phnom Penh.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

End of the road?

What's the score with The Like Me's? After grabbing the Cambodian public by the scruff of the neck and developing a big fan following through personal appearances, free gigs and lots of promo, its all gone deathly quiet since the backend of last year. No updates on Facebook, Twitter or their website leaving their Khmer fans scratching their heads. There's been talk that lead singer Laura Mam will be releasing a solo EP in English and Khmer sometime this year. Is that the death knell of The Like Me's after such a promising, even spectacular rise, or will we see them returning to these shores as bubbly and as bright, not to mention extremely talented, as ever?

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Heading for a decision

An empty Preah Vihear on my first visit in 2002. The border was closed at that time as well.
 Preah Vihear temple will always hold special memories for me, so it will be a step in the right direction if the International Court of Justice in The Hague finally brings the curtain down on the row between Cambodia and Thailand. This week the ICJ will hear from both sides, not about the temple itself, that belongs to Cambodia, period. But about the 4.6 square km tract of land next to the temple which is in dispute and has cost lives in sporadic skirmishes since 2008. When the ICJ awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962 it didn't make clear, well, to Thailand at least, which area they should keep out of. That's what is in dispute. Which is why Cambodia have gone to the ICJ, for an interpretation of the 1962 ruling. I don't think Thailand have a leg to stand on and neither do the experts from UK, USA and France, who all gave evidence backing Cambodia's position. I'm sure others will talk up Thailand's claims, but in reality, they don't have a pot to piss in. However, even if the ICJ rule for Cambodia and tell Thailand to keep out of the area in the vicinity of the temple, the nationalistic drum-beating Thais will most likely continue to bugger about, claiming its unfair. They already have a shoot-on-sight policy when they see any Khmers on the wrong side of the border. If they don't accept the ICJ ruling then keep the gate closed and ban all Thais from the temple. No-one wants that but its the only way to deal with these numbskulls.
On the main highway (!) to Preah Vihear in 2002 with Sokhom

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Mekong re-visited

A local ferry on the Mekong River just south of Kratie
I'll finish off my trip along the Mekong River in November 2011 with a few random pictures. During my time in and around Kratie my guide was Sithy and he is excellent. We managed to find a few things that he wasn't aware of in his own back-yard, such as the two ancient sites, which he loved as he absorbs all new information like a sponge which he can pass onto his clients. Further north and for the night before my kayaking adventure through the Ramsar Wetlands, I stayed at the homestay of Sambath and his family in the village of Ou Svay, on the banks of the Mekong. Lovely family. I also went along to the Kathen celebration at the local pagoda that same evening before heading downstream on a kayak with Theara.
A tobacco shed and boat on the west bank of the Mekong River

Two sandstone yoni pedestals in the forest, known as Tuol Neak Ta Chi Tep. There was no indication of any ancient temple structure.

Sithy (center) with our two pagoda guides in the village of Anlong Preah Ko. They guided us to Neak Ta Chi Tep.

This family were making Ambok by crushing the rice

A monk joins our look at Wat Peak Vek, next to the Mekong and the three linga monoliths in situ

These 3 lingas at Wat Peak Vek are also known as Neak Ta Chang Kran Tabrom

One of the few interesting 1960s buildings in Stung Treng

The only way across this tributary of the Mekong River is by this bridge

The homestay of Sambath and his family in Ou Svay village

Sambath, his wife and two young boys

At the Kathen celebration at the pagoda, these youngsters were playing a betting game

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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Sraung Preah

Tan Sotho receives a bowlful of perfumed water from her grandson Julian
Yesterday we had deer-hunting in the office by the children from the orphanage, who pop by every year to act out the traditional Robam Trot ceremony, chasing away the bad luck and bringing in the new. This morning, it was the turn of another classic Khmer New Year ceremony, Sraung Preah, at the home of Tan Sotho and her husband. This is an opportunity for children and grandchildren to honour their parents and grandparents by splashing perfumed water onto them, for what they hope will be happiness, longevity and good advice in return. At the same time the family also purified the Buddha statues with the same water, in another display of Buddhist merit-making.
This time the granddaughter Belle makes sure grandad gets his share

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Along the Mighty Mekong


Gathering in the rice harvest on the west bank
In October 2011 I spent a few days along the Mekong River. Starting out in Kratie, a visit to the west bank brought me into close contact with lots of locals going about their daily business, which was great fun, aided in no small measure by my guide Sithy. Later in my trip, I joined Theara in a two-man kayak through the Ramsar Wetlands, starting out at Ou Savy. It really is an area of outstanding beauty and remarkable landscapes. The water levels were quite high and the flooded forests were an absolute joy. It must look dramatically different when the dry season kicks in. Here's a few pictures to give you a feel for the trip. 
This villager was working on someone else's plot

Village children

Two friends with their home-made boat

Sithy with a group of villagers we stopped to chat and have fun with
The start of the Ramsar Wetlands flooded forest

The tree root formations were amazing

The roots are shaped by the flow of the Mekong River

Navigating a safe way through the strong current

More tangled tree roots

This is at high water levels, so imagine what it looks like at low level

This was the final tree before we reached the end of the 25kms of flooded forest

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Friday, April 12, 2013

Yearly ceremony

The children from the CLCA strutting their stuff
It's that time of year again when the Hanuman office is visited by the youngsters from the Cambodian Light Children's Association orphanage to enact the Khmer New Year ceremony called Robam Trot, which originates from Stung Treng. Dressed up in traditional costumes, they symbolized chasing away any bad spirits and bringing prosperity by re-creating the hunting of a deer. They are welcome visitors every year. Khmer New Year this time around starts on Sunday 14th and carries on for the next two days.
Getting ready for the off

A monkey boy take a breather

The older girls outside in the rain!

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Sbek Thom

Sbek Thom (large leather puppets) pictured in 2010 at Chaktomuk Theatre
The editor of the UNESCO World Heritage magazine got in touch today asking if they could use one of my pictures of Sbek Thom in their upcoming issue that focuses on the arts in Cambodia. Of course they can. Anything that promotes the arts in Cambodia is grist to my mill. Sbek Thom is the traditional large leather shadow puppet theatre, proclaimed as a UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2005, and featured on the list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity as of 2009. It was almost wiped out under the Khmer Rouge but is making a comeback and four theatre troupes are now practicing this sacred artform.

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In the frame with Red Khmer

Nhem Sokun in Red Khmer
Red Khmer is being filmed in Kampot as I type. It's the follow-up film for director Brendan Moriarty to his war drama The Road to Freedom, which he shot in the same location in mid-2009 before its release in September 2011. TRTF is the fictionalized story of Sean Flynn and Dana Stone, two photojournalists who were covering the American conflict in SEAsia and who disappeared in Cambodia in 1970, captured by the Khmer Rouge. The sequel follows on as Flynn realises he won't make it out alive and passes the evidence of what he's found to a Khmer friend, played by Nhem Sokun, who has to get the story out. Joshua Fredric Smith Flynn and Scott Maguire as Stone also return. Filming is due to wrap up by the middle of this month. Moriarty is also keen to return to Cambodia to make another movie, Mayaguez, based on the 1975 incident involving US Marines and the Khmer Rouge on the island of Koh Tang off the Cambodian coast.

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Book shopping


Vann Nath Tribute
Book shopping at Monument Books on Norodom at lunchtime. Purchased the Vann Nath Tribute: Hommage, $28, published by the Friends of Vann Nath. Effectively a catalogue of the exhibition of paintings and photographs held at Bophana Center in January, with a foreword by Rithy Panh. The photo mosaics by Jim Mizerski remain my favourite. They are simply brilliant. Just makes me sad that a human being as quiet and gentle as Vann Nath wasn't given more time on this earth. If anyone deserved a full innings, he did. I also picked up a book on Chum Mey called Survivor: The triumph of an ordinary man in the Khmer Rouge Genocide, published by DC-Cam in September of last year, but which slipped under my radar. $17, its Chum Mey's story, a list of prisoners released from S-21, from where Chum Mey was fortunate enough to get out alive, another list of memoirs and films and a translation of his actual confession, which would've normally signaled your death warrant in Tuol Sleng, but in his case, he was kept alive because he mended a typewriter. If he's not attending the ongoing Khmer Rouge Tribunal, you can usually find Chum Mey at S-21. Last but not least is Sthapatyakam - The Architecture of Cambodia, the third in a series of magazines produced by the university students, following Kon - The Cinema of Cambodia and Dontrey - The Music of Cambodia. It identifies 38 of the key buildings and gives brief details about them. Price, $2.50.
Survivor - Chum Mey's story

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Flashback: Home from 'killing fields'

Let me take you all the way back to November 1994 and my first foray into Cambodia. To say it was a five-day white-knuckle ride of an adventure is perhaps understating exactly how thrilled I was, but also how apprehensive I felt at the same time. Here’s how my local newspaper, The Gloucestershire Echo, reported my visit the week after I returned home. Back in 1994 a visitor to Cambodia was big news in my part of the UK - they even sent a photographer out to my house - I can only imagine it must've been a slow week for news items!
Home from ‘killing fields’ 
Girlfriend’s joy as Andy comes back safe

Traveller Andy Brouwer has returned home safe and sound from war-ravaged Cambodia – to the relief of his worried girlfriend. Three western hostages, including a British tourist, were beaten to death by Khmer Rouge guerrillas during his stay in the country. Mr Brouwer, 35, of London Road, Cheltenham, was unaware of the concern over the hostages until his frantic girlfriend Sue Oliver managed to telephone him five days into his trip. “I was unaware of what was going on, because I had no access to television or radio news. As far as I was concerned, the threat was miniscule,” Mr Brouwer said. “The three guys who were captured had not done the right things, like keeping to the most obvious tourist routes. They had gone on a local train and they were captured after it was derailed. I was not going to put myself in that position.”
He was aware of the Foreign Office’s warning against visits because of the continued danger of Khmer Rouge guerrilla attacks in the country, which was the subject of the hit film The Killing Fields. “I had read a lot about Cambodia and knew a lot about it, but I wanted to get first-hand experience,” Mr Brouwer said. “My visit was not a back-packing holiday. I organised flights, hotels and tours before I went out, so I was not going into the unknown.”
Mr Brouwer visited the capital, Phnom Penh, and the Temples of Angkor – the biggest religious temple site in the world. Miss Oliver, 35, said: "I was very concerned to make sure he was all right, and it was only at the fourth attempt, because the lines were so bad, that I managed to get through to the hotel to speak to him.”

I recall that telephone call as I was sitting in my room in the Hawaii Hotel in Phnom Penh. My girlfriend was frantic with worry but I was completely oblivious to the events unfolding around me. Even King Sihanouk was interviewed on the TV news suggesting that tourists should stay away from the country! Sadly, the Hawaii hotel is no longer in business, whilst the chalets of the Diamond hotel in Siem Reap have been renamed. But my memories from my first adventure into Cambodia remain engraved on my consciousness and I was lucky enough to return each year to add to my library of memories. Here's a picture of me from that first trip, sitting on the steep steps leading to the top of Angkor Wat.

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