Friday, May 31, 2013

Rocking at FCC

Dengue Fever in a red moment at FCC
Dengue Fever have a massive following in Cambodia and why not. Their music obviously strikes a chord with Cambodians, though few were at tonight's heaving gig at FCC, and the expats who live in-country, who enjoy the rock elements of the band's music, as well as the vocals of Chhom Nimol and the group's easy-going on-stage style. They are back in town, as well as Siem Reap, to return to venues they've filled to bursting point before and know they will get a good reception. It certainly worked at the FCC, where tickets were sold-out way in advance and at $12-a-pop, that says something about the band's pulling-power. Standing at the front as I was, Nimol's voice was drowned out a bit by the intensity of the guitars, so point to remember, stand a bit further back in future. They gave it their all and whizzed through a full set of 18 songs according to their set-list, much to everyone's enjoyment. On Wednesday they will return to Phnom Penh for an open-air, free concert for the masses at Koh Pich, as the guests of the Memory! international heritage film festival, which will be a great opportunity for many more Khmers to enjoy their sounds.
The evening's set-list for Dengue Fever

A rose between two thorns as Chhom Nimol is flanked by Senon Williams and Zac Holtzman

The imposing figure of bassist Senon Williams

Chhom Nimol is well-known inside Cambodia and is always happy to return

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Forever searching

A new book just published is a personal history from the Khmer Rouge time and beyond. Shoulders to Freedom: A Cambodian Diaspora Memoir is written by Mai Bunla, who was born into an ethnic Lao (Nyaw) family in Cambodia. Her memoir is about escaping the Khmer Rouge regime, beginning a new life in the United States, and finding herself along the way. Central to the events that befell Bunla’s family is the tragic capture of her oldest brother, Ai Sang Thout, on whose shoulders she was carried to freedom across the border to Thailand during the escape from the Cambodian genocide. After the Khmer Rouge took her brother, Bunla’s family cut their losses and moved forward. However, Bunla learned that moving forward was not an easy path. Twenty-one years after leaving Cambodia, Bunla finally returned to Asia to begin the search for her lost brother (who is pictured on the book cover). She's a co-founder of The Nyaw Project, a forum in which the Nyaw people come together and share all things related to the Nyaw ethnic.

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Projects that make a difference

Unsung Heroes - book launch next Tuesday
Book launch time at Monument Books on Norodom Boulevard next Tuesday (4 June) at 6.30pm as they unveil a soft cover book, Unsung Heroes: Cambodia - People and projects making a difference. Two of the three authors will be present, namely Lee Anderson and Kerryan Griffin, with Shawna Hartley also named on the front cover. It's a collection of short stories on NGO projects in Cambodia and their founders, such as Cambodian Living Arts and Arn Chorn-Pond, sprinkled with a variety of other Cambodian information. Numerous photographs adorn the book as well as traveller and volunteering tips amongst other snippets. The book will raise money for the projects it covers within its pages. Thanks to William at Monument who has sent me a press copy of the updated Strongman, The Extraordinary Life of Hun Sen, by Harish and Julie Mehta, which includes six new chapters, new interviews and revelations from declassified CIA files, amongst other add-ons. 400 pages, which should keep me occupied for a few days. I thought reading it might get me in election mode, which is happening here in late July.

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Stop ducking around

Not an every day sight at the office
Don't ask! Well okay, its the left-overs from a beer company (Heineken) commercial shoot in Cambodia. They flew someone in from abroad and took him by helicopter, blindfolded, to the depths of Ratanakiri. They took off his blindfold, sat him in the duck you see before you, in a remote jungle-lined river in northeastern Cambodia and told him to find his way back to civilization. After a series of adventures that included getting arrested by the river police, he arrived in Phnom Penh, ate at the new Duck restaurant, where-else, and ended up at a party where the duck head was replaced by a dragon head. I did say, don't ask. The actor and the cameras have now left, leaving the large yellow duck looking for a new home and currently cluttering up the courtyard of my office. Ratha, our receptionist, was making it very clear that the beast couldn't stay in what is a no duck parking zone. It ignored her. Everyone does.

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Salad and company

Linda, Vannary, Jasmine and friend waiting for their salads to arrive
Lunch at Vego Salad bar yesterday was amongst pleasant company - see above - but frankly the idea of eating lettuce creations on a regular basis fills me with utter boredom. I want to enjoy my food and salads/greens in a wrap don't do it for me. As a child I never ate salad - it simply wasn't an option on our council estate in the 60s and 70s - and it wasn't until my late twenties that a girlfriend introduced me to it. I wasn't overly impressed then and the older I get, I'm even less impressed. I have had the occasional scrummy salad in the past but they've been few and far between. It certainly needs meat in it to grab my attention. There you go, my very boring thought for the day. Joining me on my salad adventure were a couple of my travel friends, Linda and Jasmine and their friends.

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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Reggae Fever


Like all grown-ups there are certain moments in your past which you want to relive again. In 1978 I saw Steel Pulse live in concert for the first time. I was mesmerized. No video exists of that concert at Cheltenham Town Hall that I'm aware of. And my memory is certainly not getting any better. However there is a video of the band, at the back end of the following year, 1979, playing to a sit down audience in Germany at the Rockpalast. A sit down crowd for goodness sake. How can you enjoy reggae sitting down? The Germans certainly know how to enjoy themselves - nein! For the record the set-list is as follows: Bad Man, Uncle George, Harrassment, Babylon Makes the Rules, Blasphemy, Drug Squad, Soldiers, Tribue to the Martyrs, Reggae Fever, Ku Klux Klan/Sound System. The lead singer is David Hinds, with Phonso Martin on support vocals (and white hood), Basil Gabbidon on lead guitar, Ronnie McQueen on bass, Selwyn Brown on keys and Grizzly Nisbett on drums. 

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Critical thumbs up

Rithy Panh's latest film, The Missing Picture, has received critical acclaim at Cannes
The critics views on Rithy Panh's latest film, The Missing Picture, which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival a few days ago have been very positive. It's certainly a film that has elicited a great deal of column inches in the press and I can't wait to see it shown here in Cambodia. Here's a selection of the critics reviews.

“The festival’s second pointedly inventive autobiography has none of the dark whimsy of the Jodorowsky, trading it instead for a grave retelling of Rithy Panh's childhood in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge,” begins Notebook editor Daniel Kasman. “A recreation of the era and Panh’s personal anecdotes is accomplished through the creation of countless clay figures—carved and painted, we see, by hand, out of ‘earth and water’ - staged in static scenes through which the camera moves and the director cuts. They fill in a gap, the missing image of the title: a missing photographic record of the human experience of the horror and oppression behind the government’s official ideology.”
In a Film Comment roundtable, editor Gavin Smith notes that “Alex Horwath convinced me to see it, and one of the things he said was that Panh addresses the problem Godard is always talking about: how to represent the unrepresentable—reconciling images and reality.”
“The dollhouse-sized markets, schools, and rice paddies soon give away to other scenes of black-clad clay prisoners in the work camp where, as Panh narrates, he was taken with his family at the age of thirteen,” writes Barbara Scharres at RogerEbert.com. “To his own powerful memory-driven narration, Panh alternates increasingly elaborate scenes of his clay figures in the camp environment with sequences of archival footage or those in which his cartoon-like figures are juxtaposed against filmic backgrounds. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.”
Calling The Missing Picture a “deliberately distanced but often harrowing vision of a living hell,” Neil Young, writing for the Hollywood Reporter, notes that “this painful memoir based on Panh’s own book The Elimination…. From 1975 to 1979 under the leadership of Pol Pot, the regime inflicted cruelly harsh policies on the country they renamed Kampuchea. Their ideology was modeled partly on Communist teachings, most notably China’s ‘Great Leap Forward’ under Chairman Mao, and partly, we’re told here, on Jean Jacques Rousseau’s ‘noble savage’ concepts exalting the purity of pre-industrial civilizations…. But as Panh remarks, our conception of the Khmer Rouge, and indeed his own memories, are full of ‘missing pictures,’ and he expounds in poetically philosophical fashion on the limitations of our image-dominated comprehension of the world.”
Panh is probably best known for his 2003 documentary S-21: The Khmer Rouge Death Machine. The BFI’s Geoff Andrew finds the new film “moving and remarkably resonant.” On Monday, writing for the International Cinephile Society, March van de Klashorst called it “the most mesmerizing thing seen so far here in Cannes.”

Nigel Andrews of the Financial Times had this to say; "Better films have shown on the fringe, best of all a Cambodian memoir/documentary of force, intelligence and terrible beauty: Rithy Panh’s The Missing Picture. Panh has versed us in the atrocities of the Pol Pot era before. He made S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine. What can be left to say? Plenty. The Missing Picture fills in the missing picture. Here are the director’s childhood years in the tilling/killing fields. Pol Pot’s dream of an agrarian Utopia was, for those forced to fulfil it, a nightmare of hard labour, disease, starvation and death. Little filmic evidence has survived, so the director reconstructs scenes of suffering or horror with clay models. Sounds ridiculous? No more so than the near-cartoonish lines and feral faux-naïveté of Picasso’s “Guernica”. The poignant mini-humans, with their painted eyes, sit or stand in handcrafted landscapes of fastidious detail. Sometimes a flicker of rare archive footage interrupts the toy-town recreations. But we don’t doubt the truth of either reality or feel from either a diminished impact. This was Cambodia in the late 1970s/1980s: the worst world that humans can contrive, apart from the other worst worlds (a rich choice) the 20th century gave us."

Footnote: The Missing Picture was voted best in category for the competition, A Certain Regard, at Cannes. Another feather in Rithy Panh's cap. We're now waiting for a showing in Phnom Penh.

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Revival and resilience

Year 33: The Art of Resilience is a feature-length documentary, expected to be released later this year, looking at the lives of three young Khmer artists and through them the revival of the arts here in Cambodia. Despite personal hardships and loss, a dancer, a fiber artist and a painter find strength, freedom and self expression in their artistic endeavors.The title of the film comes form the 33rd anniversary of the period when as many as 90% of artists lost their lives to the Khmer Rouge regime. The dancer is none other than Nam Narim, who is a fabulous dancer in both the classical and contemporary fields and is the grand-daughter of the legendary dance master Em Theay. The painter is the popular Mao Soviet from Battambang and Chea Vanny is a textile maker. Kathryn Lejeune is the director of Year 33, which is being made by Sueno Films. You can read more about the film and view their trailer here.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Wedding pastures

Sokdang and Kunthea tie the knot
Two former work colleagues tied the knot today and threw the usual wedding reception-party at the popular Mondial Center this evening. I didn't even know Sokdang and Kunthea were an item until recently, when I received an invite to tonight's party, and it came as a bit of a shock. Sokdang was my IT manager for a long time before he left to newer pastures a few months ago. I didn't think then it would be to wedding pastures. I wish them both a wonderful life together. The food tonight was pretty good and I dusted off my dancing shoes for a couple of madizon and cha-cha-cha numbers before retiring gracefully. Rumnea was in the mood for fun as can be seen from one of the faces she was pulling throughout the evening.
Rumnea in playful mood at tonight's party - perhaps her version of The Scream
The big news of the day was the announcement that the Phnom Penh Crown Academy boys will kick-off on Saturday in the 11-nation Asean Under-15 Champions Trophy. This will mean the club's Academy boys will play home and away matches against the best that 5 Asean countries have to offer, in their age group, with the best two in each group progressing to the semi-finals. The teams representing each country have been hand-picked and the Crown Academy are Cambodia's representative. They will initially meet teams from Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Timor Leste to decide who goes forward. This is the biggest thing since sliced-bread as far as Asean youth club competitions are concerned. Air Asia are on board as the carrier, ferrying the teams around Asean for free, and the winners will pocket a 1st prize of $50K. Crown kick-off with a game in Saigon on Saturday against the PVF Academy and on 1 June will welcome the Frenz Malaysia A team for their first game at home. It promises to be an exciting, ground-breaking competition.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

On set with The Last Reel

Running through a scene with Kulikar Sotho, Bonnie Elliott, Dy Saveth and Mary Neth
Preah Ket Melea Hospital, the military hospital near Wat Phnom, was the location for filming hospital scenes, surprisingly enough, earlier today for the feature film, The Last Reel. This is Kulikar Sotho's directorial debut and working hand-in-hand with an international crew, she is shooting a Khmer story, with Khmer actors and dialogue, but with western production values. I went along as an interested observer this morning to watch a couple of scenes involving the two main female lead actresses, the legendary Dy Saveth, a star of stage and screen in Cambodia for more years than she cares to remember, and Mary Neth, one of the best up-and-coming actors, who is taking the lead in her first feature film. The set was a hive of activity inside one of the hospital corridors, with extras and film crew busying themselves before shooting was due to begin. Mary Neth was sitting quietly, looking very calm and composed, reading her script notes, as was Dy Saveth, whose lines appeared to be scribbled onto a battered piece of paper. They were in a small room just off the main corridor, without any air-con I might add, and the heat was stifling, until they were called to set to rehearse the scene before actual filming began. Kulikar walked through the scene, sharing with the actors exactly what she wanted from them, in tandem with her cinematographer Bonnie Elliott. Each movement, each facial expression, literally everything was discussed and agreed before a test run took place. It was an eye-opener as to the intimate level of detail that is required by the director, the crew and the actors themselves. Filming will continue in various locations around Phnom Penh for the next couple off days before the whole crew decamp to Battambang for more than two weeks of shooting.
Director Kulikar Sotho walks through the scene with actress Dy Saveth

Main actress Mary Neth, who plays Sophoun, takes a break from learning her lines

Kulikar Sotho talks with her two key actresses about the next scene, Mary Neth and Dy Savet

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Re-entering the atmosphere

The Cambodian Space Project have just announced a bunch of dates in Phnom Penh during the month of June. You can catch them, before they disappear overseas again no doubt, at the following venues/dates:
The Village, Friday 14 June.
Equinox, Saturday 15 June.
IFEX Festival, Gasoline, Thursday 20 June.
FCC, Saturday 22 June.
So 4 Phnom Penh gigs in 9 days, there is no excuse for anyone to miss them, is there?

Change of plan for Krom, who will now perform at Doors (Hotel Cara, near Wat Phnom) on Saturday 1 June, instead of the scheduled 8 June. Same time, 9pm, same price, free. Absolute bargain.

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Success on foreign soil

The PPCFC Academy celebrating success in Singapore earlier today
Great news coming out of Singapore today. Cambodia teams don't do well overseas at sport. It's widely known they don't travel well. So it's a big bonus that the Phnom Penh Crown Academy team taking part in the prestigious Singapore Soccer Sixes, have carried all before them to win the Youth tournament, played on the bowling green surface at the Padang cricket ground. In all, they played 7 games, winning all 7, scoring 25 goals and conceding...zero. Now that is how to dominate a tournament. And it was the younger of the Academy boys who went, eight of them, most of them just thirteen years old. Up against teams from Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, from a combination of foundation and youth organizations, the Academy triumphed in a competition that they finished 3rd and 2nd in the past two years. Fabulous stuff from the youngsters, winning a cup competition so convincingly on foreign soil. Next week we can expect some more big news coming out of the PPCFC Academy, watch this space.

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Bruno's quest

Enjoyed a very interesting lunch today with Bruno Bruguier of EFEO talking about ancient Khmer temples, one of my favourite topics. His latest tome, more than 600 pages worth of the Temples of the Northern Provinces including Preah Vihear and Koh Ker is ready to be published. It's chockablock full of maps and photographs. The small matter of finding the funds to make it happen is all that's holding it up. Bruno has already published two books in the series of six, namely Phnom Penh and the Southern Provinces & Tonle Sap Basin and Sambor Prei Kuk. They are an incredible resource on the temple heritage of the great Khmers, albeit in French, though if he can get the required funding, he will gladly publish it in English. English would obviously open up the books to a much wider audience and give Bruno's work the acknowledgement it deserves.

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Amir's First Zero

Towards the end of March I had dinner with Amir Aczel, a lecturer in mathematics and the history of maths and science, who explained to me that the number zero appeared for the first time in a Khmer temple inscription. Really, can that actually be the case? Well, Amir has gone on record to explain his findings in a self-penned article in the Huffington Post yesterday, which spells it out.

Searching for the World's First Zero - by Amir Aczel
Mathematicians consider the invention (or discovery, depending on your point of view) of zero as one of the most important intellectual advances humans have ever made. Why? Isn't zero just sheer nothingness? Nothing could be further from the truth. Zero is not only a concept of nothingness, which allows us to do arithmetic well and to algebraically define negative numbers, but it is also an important place-holding device. In that role, zero enables our base-10 number system to work, so that the same 10 numerals can be used over and over again, at different positions in a number. This is exactly what makes our number system so efficient and powerful. Without that little zero we would be stuck in the Middle Ages!

The Roman system, for example, which preceded our number system and surprisingly remained in use in Europe until as late as the thirteenth century, employed Latin letters for quantities (I for 1, X for 10, L for 50, C for 100, M for 1,000). These letters had to be repeated, for example writing MMMCCCLXXIII for the number 3,373. We see that in our system the same numeral 3 is used in three different places, allowing for economy and ease of notation. None of the Latin letters could be repeated in different roles. In our number system, it is the zero that enables the system to work: Thus, a 5 in the units location is a 5; but the same symbol in the tens location makes it a 50 - if we can also use a zero as an empty place-holder for the units.

The millennia-old Babylonian system, for example, which predated the Greco-Roman letter-based number system, used base-60 with no place-holding zero. Hence, the difference between 62 and 3602 (where 3600 is the next-up power of 60) had to be guessed from the context. Our number system, using a much smaller base, and employing a special symbol for zero, derives its immense power and usefulness through this place-holding zero. When we also consider the fact that everything we do with a computer (or cellular phone, GPS, or anything electronic) is controlled by strings of zeros and ones, it becomes clear just how great an invention this was.

So who invented it?
Until 1930, many scholars in the West believed that the zero was either a European or an Arab invention. A highly polemical academic argument was raging at the time, where British scholars, among them G. R. Kaye, who published much about it, mounted strong attacks against the hypothesis that the zero was an Indian invention. The oldest known zero at that time was indeed in India, at the Chatur-bujha temple in the city of Gwalior. But it was dated to the mid-ninth century, an era that coincided with the Arab Caliphate. Thus Kaye's claim that zero was invented in the West and came to India through Arab traders could not be defeated using the Gwalior zero.

But then in 1931, the French archaeologist Georges Cœdès published an article (see reference below) that demolished Kaye's theory. In it, he proved definitively that the zero was an Eastern (and perhaps Cambodian, although he viewed Cambodia an "Indianized" civilization) invention. Cœdès based his argument on an amazing discovery. Early in the twentieth century, an inscription was discovered on a stone slab in the ruins of a seventh-century temple in a place called Sambor on Mekong, in Cambodia. Cœdès gave this inscription the identifier K-127. He was an expert philologist and translated the inscription from Old Khmer. It begins:
Chaka parigraha 605 pankami roc...

Translated: The Chaka era has reached 605 on the fifth day of the waning moon...
The zero in the number 605 is the earliest zero we have ever found. We know that the Chaka era began in AD 78, so the year of this inscription in our calendar is 605 + 78 = AD 683. Since this time predates the Arab empire, as well as the Gwalior zero, by two centuries, Cœdès was able to prove that the zero is, in fact, an Eastern invention. It is believed to have come to the West via Arab traders and was popularized in Europe through the work of Fibonacci (of the famous sequence of numbers), published in 1202.

For a time, inscription K-127 was kept in the Cambodian National Museum in Phnom Penh. But during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror, while killing more than 1.7 million of their own people, Pol Pot and his henchmen also stole or destroyed close to 10,000 artifacts -- and this priceless inscription's whereabouts were unknown. I felt that it was very important for the history of science that the oldest zero ever found be rediscovered. With the generous support of a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in New York, I headed for Cambodia in December 2012. I had very little going for me, and a mathematician friend, Bill Casselman of the University of British Columbia, who had worked on the Gwalior zero, told me that a visitor from Cambodia had informed him that too much had been destroyed by the Khmer Rouge to assume that K-127 still existed.

After spending time in the field and talking with people I had hoped might be able to help, I decided to appeal directly to the Cambodian Government. His Excellency Hab Touch, Director General of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, provided the key to my ultimate success. While extremely busy directing the management of Cambodia's 4,000 ancient temples (of which the famous Angkor Wat is one), he still found time to help me. He informed me that on November 22, 1969, K-127 was moved to Angkor Conservation near the town of Siem Reap, home of Angkor Wat. The bad news was that in a resurgence of their violence as late as 1990, the Khmer Rouge had plundered this location. But he offered to have his people at Angkor Conservation help me look there.

I traveled to the compound called Angkor Conservation, in a field outside Siem Reap, on the way to the Angkor Wat complex. There, I searched among literally thousands of artifacts lying on the ground in large sheds. I don't know how -- but on January 2, 2013, late in the afternoon, I finally found K-127! I was elated. My wife, Debra, took several photographs of the inscription. Below is the only picture (with a few others my wife took) that exists of this priceless find. Cœdès had used only a pencil-rubbing, and never had a photograph. The dot in the center, to the right of the inverted-9-looking sign (which is 6 in Old Khmer) is the oldest zero ever discovered. His Excellency Hab Touch has promised me to bring K-127 back to the Cambodian National Museum in Phnom Penh, where it belongs, and where, hopefully, everyone would soon be able to see it.
Copyright © 2013 TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc. Click to see the original post

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Beauty and the beast

The lovely Meas Soksophea next to what looks like a drowned rat. My excuse - heavy rain!
Despite a thunderous downpour that threatened to wash out the afternoon's proceedings, the National Girls U-15 football festival was a roaring success in every way at the Army Stadium yesterday. Not only did 150 girls from all over the country have a great time playing football to the best of their ability, but they also got to rub shoulders with the country's biggest female singing star Meas Soksophea, hear her sing and dance on stage and then get their medals presented by her too. For them it doesn't get much better than this. The twinkle in their eyes when they got up close to her was as big a reward as their medal. Though her on-stage performance was held up by the deluge, the darling of the crowd is a seasoned trooper and waited her time before the rain ceased and she performed twice, either side of the festival final, which the Mighty Girls from Battambang deservedly won. Also on hand was CTN's popular MC Khieu Sansana, another crowd favourite. Both star guests mingled freely with the girls and refused no request for photos throughout the afternoon.
Meas Soksophea on stage doing what she does so well

Meas Soksophea supporting the Girls U-15 festival

Catching up with CTN's popular MC Khieu Sansana

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Romance in the jungle

Author Cynthia Justlin set her novel, Edge of Light, in the Cambodian jungle and is known as a writer of gritty, action packed romantic suspense. She's also just been given the all-clear after battling against cancer. Published by Carina Press in the middle of last year, Edge of Light has only just shown up on my radar. Find out more about the author here. If you have published a book set in Cambodia, don't hesitate to let me know. 

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Struggling for survival

A novel by Camron Wright called The Rent Collector was inspired by a documentary film by the author's son, and tells the story of a young mother, Sang Ly, struggling to survive by picking through garbage in Cambodia's largest municipal dump at Stung Meanchey. Though the book is a work of fiction, it was inspired by real people living at the dump and filmed in the documentary, River of Victory. The book, 300 pages and released at the end of last year, has just won a literary award and you can find out more about the book and the film here.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Late night shooting

No, it's not a gun battle on the streets of Phnom Penh. Not on this occasion. I've been waiting patiently to see the new movie being made by first-time director Kulikar Sotho, called The Last Reel, though all of the shooting so far has been in Siem Reap and out at Tonle Bati. Whilst on my way home from The Flicks yesterday, after I watched the latest episode of Game of Thrones, I saw what looked like a film-shoot taking place on a sidestreet off Monivong Boulevard. It involved an actress on a motorbike holding onto a big stuffed teddy-bear with the film crew squashed on the back of a small truck trailer holding onto one large spotlight. It was past 10pm and I presumed it was a karaoke film-shoot (girl, teddy-bear, argument with boyfriend, etc), so I didn't hang around. It wasn't until this morning that I found out it was actually The Last Reel team taking advantage of the late night empty streets to get a few scenes completed after they returned from Tonle Bati. Grrr... That'll teach me to pay closer attention. Filming continues for much of this month in Phnom Penh before the crew decamp to Battambang to shoot a series of scenes in a dilapidated cinema theater. To view the film brochure from The Last Reel, click here.

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Academy face-off

I covered my face in sun block this morning as I went to watch the Crown Academy youngsters, mostly 15 years old, take on the squad members of the Crown first-team. Last weekend I watched football and forgot my sun block. I spent the rest of the week covering my face in moisturizer and picking the flaking skin off my forehead and nose. After six years in-country, my skin still can't cope with the scorching sun here. Anyway, back to the footy. The Academy haven't played against the first-team before so this was an new experience. In most games the Academy are too strong for their opponents, being the best of their age group in the whole country. And in the first-half they showed why, controlling the ball, giving the first-team players the run around and leading 1-nil. They made changes and paid the price after the break. The first-team recovered their composure and ran out 3-1 winners, but they got a big fright. The Academy will soon be taking part in a major new youth competition stretching far and wide. Can't announce the details just yet but it will be a fabulous experience for them, that's for sure. The boys have been together now since February 2011, after Crown searched for the best twenty-two boys aged 13 and under, across the country. Since then, they have lived and breathed football together at their RSN home and carried all before them. The next step in their football development is just around the corner and it's going to be big.

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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Pitch perfect

Sophea (left) and Sopheak Chamroeun share vocals
I arrived a little late and Krom had already begun their opening set at the Doors this evening. A party was in full swing at the rear of the bar, creating a considerable amount of background noise, which was pretty frustrating. Nonetheless, Krom are real troopers and carried on, even when some of the party attendees jumped on the stage for photos. I've no idea what nationality the party-goers were but they certainly lacked any common-sense or decorum. Undeterred, Chris Minko and Jimmi B never skipped a beat and the Chamroeun sisters, Sophea and Sopheak, maintained their immaculate poise. As ever, the sisters' harmonies were pitch perfect and their haunting quality really is something to explore further. The two girls are two of the best classical and folk dancers in the country, yet their stage persona is almost the opposite, confining their movements to sitting or standing up. Admittedly songs like Sadness (from the film In Search of Camp 32) and She's 7 years old don't exactly lend themselves to dance and neither does the postage stamp-sized stage at the venue. The band will be back at the Doors on Saturday 8 June, by which time their new album, Neon Dark, will be out and they promise to debut 3 or 4 new songs at their next performance. There was a melancholy feel to tonight's gig-list so a few more upbeat songs would be welcome next time around. In the audience was Gaye Miller, the producer of Camp 32, for which Krom have provided as many as a dozen songs for the film's soundtrack, as well as three members of the Phnom Penh Crown playing staff enjoying a weekend break without a fixture.
Sophea Chamroeun co-writes the songs with guitarist Chris Minko

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Friday, May 10, 2013

Lost visionary

A camera crew film RNA in action at Meta House
Decisions, decisions. There were two reggae gigs tonight, Dub Addiction's new CD release party at the Village or RNA's tribute to the late, great Bob Marley at Meta House. I chose the latter. Not one of my best decisions. Having been a keen Marley fan since the mid-70s, I was hoping for something similar or recognizable. It didn't quite happen. RNA have their heart in the right place but though I heard the words to Redemption Song, Buffalo Soldier, I Shot The Sheriff and others, I didn't hear much of the familiar reggae one-drop beat. They did it in their own style, and why not, but it wasn't to my liking. However, I loved the sentiment, paying tribute to one of the most remarkable musicians ever to grace this planet and someone who shaped my own love of music from an early age. His passing, 32 years ago tomorrow, was the loss of a visionary.

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Talented comics


Silky wears his guitar stand for effect
Last night's Comedy Club outing at Pontoon was a winner. Cheeky-chappie Silky from Liverpool is an extremely talented stand-up comedian, who wowed the audience with his repartee and guitar-strumming skills, having already befriended most of them over the course of his opening act. Neat trick, get them on your side. It definitely worked for Silky. They loved his banter. My favourite was his facial impression of Edvard Munch's The Scream. But there was lots to enjoy from a comic at the top of his game. Definitely a hit. Last on stage was American Daniel Kinno, who raced through his act as if he had a train to catch. He was polished, skilled, clever and very smart but it lacked the warmth generated by Silky's personal touch. Nevertheless, he is a funny man. Two very talented comedians. Less talented was the annoying scratching DJ we had to endure during the intervals. Two expats also got another five minutes of fame onstage and continue to craft their skill, which in my view requires better timing and better punchlines. Could I do it - not in a million years.
Witty off-the-cuff musical extras from Silky

Daniel Kinno was clever and polished

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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Best foot forward

Meas Soksophea (blue) and Saray Sakana
Two of Cambodia's finest at an event this week, captured by that lucky man, Nick Sells of Kampuchea Party Republic. Meas Soksophea, she of the golden voice, in blue and Saray Sakana, top model and actress, in red. I'm jumping the gun a bit, as the press release should be out later today, but Meas Soksophea will be joining the Cambodia National Girls U-15 football championship next week, as the star guest and singing, rather than playing football, on finals day, 15 May. She may be Cambodia's top female vocalist and the busiest lady on the planet but she still finds time for charitable work and jumped at the chance to do her bit for girl's football.

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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Catching more fever

Dengue Fever's Chhom Nimol takes a breather from singing at the FCC in Nov 2011
Try and catch Dengue Fever, the music band that is not the debilitating tropical disease, when they return to Phnom Penh at the end of this month. The FCC is their main venue, both in the capital and in Siem Reap. The Phnom Penh gig is on Friday 31 May, tickets cost $12 and it will be a reprise of their November 2011 gig at the same venue. Which was a stormer by the way. The next evening they will be at the FCC in Siem Reap. They also play another local gig and then are off to Vietnam. If you haven't heard of the band, under what rock have you been living for the past few years. The Los Angeles-based rock group, with Khmer singer Chhom Nimol out front, have been releasing albums of critically-acclaimed songs for a decade now, as well as aligning themselves with charitable projects here such as Wildlife Alliance and Cambodian Living Arts. On 5 June they will also be playing in Phnom Penh at Memory! an international film heritage festival at a venue to be decided. Find out more about the band here. And get a ticket!

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Monday, May 6, 2013

Music to my ears

This week's program of events includes comedy, reggae and noir. In that order. The Comedy Club at Pontoon is back this Wednesday (8 May) with well-established stand-ups, American Daniel Kinno and Silky, a comic from Liverpool in England. $8 from 8.30pm. Make me laugh. On Friday (10 May) there's an unfortunately ill-timed double dose of reggae. At Meta House from 9pm, a tribute to the legendary Bob Marley will come from a new band, RNA. The Right Honourable Robert Nesta Marley is a hard act to follow. Over at The Village, Dub Addiction will be promoting the release of their new album. Like London buses, no reggae for a while and then two come along at once. Make me dance. The following night, Saturday (11 May at 9pm) and Krom are back at the Doors (near Wat Phnom) with more from their latest album and two of the best voices in the business with the Chamroeun sisters. It's free and the band are more polished with each performance. Make me enjoy.  Also on Saturday night, from 7pm at Meta House, will be a screening of two films about women's football, Offside Cambodia and Football Undercover, ahead of the following week's Cambodian U-15 Girls Football Tournament in Phnom Penh. SALT Academy and the German Embassy will be combining to present the festival of women's football.
Date for your diary: Friday 31 May at FCC Phnom Penh will see the return of Dengue Fever to these shores. Tickets $12 pp. The following night they play at FCC Siem Reap. Obviously, both will be sell-outs.

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Sunday, May 5, 2013

Time for action

Sometimes it takes a different view to see what's really happening
Okay, this confirms it. I must urgently start exercising and losing what is rapidly becoming an old man's bulging stomach. I must also look at what food I'm eating and cut out the stuff that simply adds to my waistline. I need an expert to advise me. Lidwina has promised me a list of exercises and diet requirements. Presumably a curry every third day doesn't help, washing down with a bottle of coke. The photo was taken by CNC reporter Sok Pheary (when I wasn't looking I might add) but I thank her for bringing home the reality of my bulging midriff. It's not a pretty sight. Action is definitely required and pronto. The picture below, by Sovanna Kem, sums up the day really, after Crown lost by a single goal to BBU. My red face is courtesy of standing in the sun all morning, watching the development league matches and the Crown Academy.
Looking thoroughly depressed after we lost 1-0 today. Pic: Sovanna Kem.

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Saturday, May 4, 2013

On their way home

One of the Met's Kneeling Attendants
Hats off to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. They've finally done the right thing. Yesterday, the New York Times published a story by Tom Mashberg and Ralph Blumenthal under the headline, The Met Will Return a Pair of Statues to Cambodia. It would be nice to think that this will open the floodgates to other museums doing the right thing and returning items to Cambodia that don't belong to them. Fat chance of that happening. Here's the NYT report:

Six weeks ago the Metropolitan Museum of Art sent two of its top executives to Cambodia to resolve a thorny dispute: whether two pieces of ancient Khmer art that the museum has long prominently exhibited were the product of looting. In days they had their answer. Cambodian officials documented that the two 10th-century Khmer statues, donated to the Met in four pieces as separate gifts between 1987 and 1992, had indeed been smuggled out of a remote jungle temple around the time of the country’s civil war in the 1970s. On Friday the museum said it would repatriate the life-size sandstone masterworks, known as the Kneeling Attendants, which have guarded the doorway to the Met’s Southeast Asian galleries since they opened in 1994. The decision came after months of behind-the-scenes contact between the Met and Cambodian officials. Thomas P. Campbell, the museum’s director, said the decision - one of the more significant in a recent spate of controversial repatriations by American museums - came after the Cambodians offered evidence that the works had been improperly removed from the Koh Ker temple complex, 180 miles northwest of Phnom Penh.
Among the evidence the officials considered were photographs of the statue’s broken-off bases, which were left behind at the site, and witness statements that the Cambodians have collected suggesting that the statues were intact as recently as 1970. “This is a case in which additional information regarding the Kneeling Attendants has led the museum to consider facts that were not known at the time of the acquisition and to take the action we are announcing today,” Mr. Campbell said in a statement.
No timetable has been set. The museum told Cambodian officials in a letter last month that it hoped to send the objects as soon as “appropriate arrangements for transit can be mutually established.” The Met’s decision reflects the growing sensitivity by American museums to claims by foreign countries for the return of their cultural artifacts. Many items have long been displayed in museums that do not have precise paperwork showing how the pieces left their countries of origin. In recent years, at the urging of the Association of Art Museum Directors and scholars, many museums have applied more rigorous standards to their acquisitions. At the time the statues came to the Met in four pieces - two torsos and two heads - the Met and the museum world allowed acquisitions without detailed histories, although an effort was supposed to be made to examine an object’s origin in case it was illicit. In an interview from Cambodia, Chan Tani, the secretary of state with the nation’s Office of the Council of Ministers, expressed excitement about the return. “This shows the high ethical standards and professional practices of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which they are known for,” he said.

Cambodian officials also visited the Met in March to photograph its Khmer items. A government official said that Cambodia would like the museum to review the provenance of another two dozen objects. The Met has developed a collaborative relationship with the country and is now exhibiting 10 sculptural works by the contemporary Cambodian artist Sopheap Pich. The museum is also hoping to hold a major exhibition of Khmer artifacts next year. The negotiations over the statues, which began last June, culminated with the trip by Sharon Cott, the Met’s general counsel, and John Guy, its Southeast Asian curator, to Cambodia in March. “As a matter of courtesy, they wanted to go there rather than communicate by e-mail,” said Harold Holzer, the Met’s senior vice president for external affairs. Among the evidence cited by the Cambodians was the finding of the statues’ broken-off bases still at the temple. That discovery is significant, according to Cambodian officials, who say archaeologists have evidence showing that other statues from the same grouping as the twins remained in place as late as 1970, only to disappear by 1975.
Another object that was once part of the same grouping is a huge 10th-century statue of a warrior, known as Duryodhana, which Sotheby’s had hoped to sell in 2011 for $3 million on behalf of its Belgian owner. Cambodia says that statue was also looted. United States officials have filed suit in federal court in Manhattan to confiscate the statue on Cambodia’s behalf. The trial is expected to start later this year. Sotheby’s has said it applied all appropriate standards of provenance research before agreeing to sell the statue. Asked on Friday what impact the Met’s decision might have on the court case, Sotheby’s replied in a statement that: “The Met’s voluntary agreement does not shed any light on the key issues in our case.” The auction house says that the consignor bought the statue in good faith in 1975 and that it had no knowledge of Cambodia’s claim of ownership.  A fourth statue in the grouping, called Bhima, is at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, Calif. Cambodia has also asked the United States government to help it recover the Bhima from the Norton Simon. The museum says it is cooperating with investigators.
The Kneeling Attendants came to the Met in a series of gifts that began in 1987 when Spink & Son, a London auction house, and a longtime Khmer art collector, Douglas A. J. Latchford, joined in donating one of the two heads. A second head was donated by Raymond G. and Milla Louise Handley in 1989, who had bought it two years earlier, also at Spink. In 1992, Mr. Latchford gave the museum the two torsos, and in 1993 the heads and bodies were reattached by museum conservators. At one time Mr. Latchford was also listed as an owner of the Sotheby’s statue, which was later sold by Spink to the husband, now dead, of its current owner. Mr. Latchford, 81, has said that the paperwork was mistaken - that the auction house listed him as an owner for accounting purposes and that he never actually purchased the warrior statue. He has denied having any role in the illicit shipments of Cambodian antiquities. In an interview from Bangkok, where he lives, Mr. Latchford said of the Met’s statues: “Admittedly these things were moonlighted out of Cambodia and wound up somewhere else. But had they not been, they would likely have been shot up for target practice by the Khmer Rouge.” He said that collectors and museums had been essential in rescuing and caring for cultural artifacts that spread an understanding of Khmer culture.
Mr. Latchford has donated at least seven other items to the Met, including the stone head of a Buddha and the bronze head of a Shiva, both from the 10th-century Khmer Angkor period, according to the museum’s Web site. Mr. Holzer said there was no special effort under way to re-examine the provenance of those items. Over the years the Met has returned many objects of questionable provenance to other countries. In 2010 it sent Egypt 19 pieces from King Tutankhamun’s tomb that had been in its collection since the early 1900s. In 2006 the Met signed an agreement with Italy to return the famous Euphronios krater, a Hellenistic silver collection and four other antiquities in exchange for loans of some of the items and other pieces. In 1997 the Met returned a 10th-century head of Shiva to Cambodia after it turned up on a list of looted objects from Angkor. Tess Davis, a researcher on Cambodian antiquities with the Scottish Center for Crime and Justice Research in Glasgow, said that the Met’s gesture should serve as a signal to other American museums that possess antiquities with sketchy provenances. “The Met could have treated Cambodia’s request as an obstacle,” she said. “Instead, the museum recognized it as an opportunity to set the moral standard for the art world.”

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Friday, May 3, 2013

Panh's Missing Picture

A scene from Rithy's Panh's The Missing Picture
Rithy Panh was already the subject of one post this week. And now he features in another. On 19 May his latest film, a 90-minute documentary, The Missing Picture, will be shown for the first time, in competition, at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in France. Panh, Phnom Penh-born who escaped to safety in Thailand and then onto France after losing his family under the Khmer Rouge, is undoubtedly Cambodia's best known film director. Cannes in particular, holds a special affection for him. In 1994 he debuted Rice People there, in 1998 One Evening After The War, in 2003 his S-21 carried off a top prize and in 2005 The Burnt Theatre was shown for the first time. In his latest offering, The Missing Picture, he pieces together his adolescence in a Khmer Rouge labour camp, through archives and reenactments using small clay figurines. With Randal Douc providing the voice-over and Sarith Mang the sculptor responsible for the clay statuettes, it promises to be a remarkable way of documenting his own story.

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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Swallowed a wasp

At football. Photo by Sovanna Kem.
Captured by photographer Sovanna Kem at the Olympic Stadium last Saturday, yours truly reaching for the water bottle and looking like I've swallowed a wasp, alongside not-a-care-in-the-world Phnom Penh Crown coach Sam Schweingruber. We were watching the match before Crown went onto beat Kirivong 3-1 under desperately damp and dangerous (lightning) conditions.

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Some gore with your fantasy Sir?

My Monday evenings currently involve a trip to Flicks 1 on Street 95 after my cable operator decided to wipe HBO from my list of available channels just days before Game of Thrones Season 3 began. Bastards. So now its off to The Flicks each Monday. It's already full for each showing, so please don't bother thinking, "oh that's a good idea." What's Game of Thrones you might ask? An epic fantasy tv drama with dragons, lots of blood and guts, a bit of nudity, decapitations and gore, you get the picture. Cracking tv in my opinion.

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