Sunday, June 30, 2013

Jar Lady on Fox

Jar Lady Nancy on location
Fox News has a story today about my pal Nancy, the Jar Lady and her research in the Cardamom Mountains of Cambodia.

Cambodian jungle graveyard mystifies experts.
Over a hundred 'burial jars' and a dozen coffins arranged on a ledge in remote Cambodian jungle have for centuries held the bones - and secrets - of a mysterious people who lived alongside with the Angkor era. Why the bones were placed in jars on a cliff some 100 metres (320 feet) high in the Cardamom Mountains, or indeed whose remains they are, has long puzzled experts. For seven years Nancy Beavan, an archaeologist who specialises in carbon dating, has been looking for an answer, painstakingly piecing together clues left by the enigmatic people at 10 sites dotted across the area in southwestern Cambodia. Tests show some of the bone fragments are six centuries old, according to the New Zealander. "Why put these bones in jars? This was a practice that was not observed in any other part of Cambodia," she said. Ten jars, dating from the 15th to the 17th centuries, and twelve coffins -- the earliest from the 14th century - have been found at the Phnom Pel site. Some are believed to have come from the kingdom of Siam, now Thailand. Others, a minority, date back to the powerful kingdom of Angkor, which ruled for six centuries and built the famous Angkor Wat temple complex further to the north. But experts remain mystified as to why the bones were preserved in a Buddhist country where cremation is - and was - a key religious custom.

Tep Sokha, an expert in Cambodian ceramics, said the jars are of the "highest ceramic quality" and the number indicates that "this was a sacred and widely practiced ritual." If villagers living near the cliff were aware of the jars, they have stayed away, allowing foreigners to study the relics at their leisure. And the whole study has been left to Beavan's team. They are picking through the evidence, often left to guess the origins of the artifacts they find including 12 coffins lined up on a rock that are so small they could not even hold a child's body but which contain the bones of men and women. "These coffins are unique. There is no other example in the history of Cambodia. They are relics that have never been disturbed," Beavan adds. Among her theories is that the bones belonged to Khmer tribesmen who lived deep in the mountains far from the influence of the Angkor kingdom, which spanned Southeast Asia from the ninth to 15th centuries, but perhaps failed to reach this corner.
"They have nothing to do with the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Angkor but lived in his shadow," she said. "Who knows, maybe they were also slaves fleeing the Angkor kingdom."

The search for answers took a leap forward in 2005 when fisherman off Koh Kong province found the same Siamese jars in their nets, prompting the discovery of a 15th century wreck containing ivory, Chinese porcelain and Siamese and Angkorian jars. The discovery provided the first scientific evidence of how Siamese jars could have been brought to the Cardamoms. Beavan believes the ship came from the Siamese empire to trade jars for ivory and precious wood. Despite the importance of the find, conservation remains a problem. In Koh Kong, hundreds of objects salvaged from the wreck have been left in a back room of the Provincial Court since 2007, despite Cambodia being one of the few Asian countries to have signed up the UN Convention on the preservation of underwater cultural heritage. But the discovery has led local authorities to consider establishing a museum for the artifacts which would preserve a long-neglected part of the nation's heritage. They hope it could become a valuable tourist attraction and spur proposals to protect the region. In 2012, the province recorded 100,000 local and foreign tourists, drawn to the beauty of the Cardamom Mountains, home to stunning waterfalls and one of the region's most biodiverse forests. For all its natural bounty, the Cardamom region has seen some species gradually disappear as its precious wood forests fall prey to loggers and hunters plundering its rare species. For two years, UNESCO has been building a case to list the mountain range as a key "biosphere reserve". The ship wreck, the sacred jars and the coffins add a cultural dimension that could boost the case for listing the area. "To do nothing would be a crime," according to Anne Lemaistre, the director of UNESCO in Cambodia. Time may be running out with many industrial projects, some Chinese-linked, tearing through the heart of the forest and compounding the damage to the ecosystem caused by hunters and loggers. "The scale of development in the Cardamom scares us a little," added Lemaistre.

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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Healthy eating, not

Who ate all the pies? The fat bastard in red. Picture by Sovanna Kem
There have been dozens of very unflattering pictures of me over the decades but this surely counts as one of the worst. Snapped when I wasn't looking by photographer Sovanna Kem, who is a great sports snapper but can be a bit naughty and catch you when you are least prepared, I was devouring a burger before the football started at the Olympic Stadium today. One thing you don't see on the picture, is that I put the half-eaten burger down for what must've been less than a minute and it was surrounded by a frenzy of tiny black ants, who must have the nose of an elephant to have sussed out food was in their vicinity. It was quite stunning in its own small way. Nature in its search for food. Seeing this picture has reminded me what a fat bastard I'm becoming. And bloody burgers are not helping my waistline any. Time for action.

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The duck is the star

You may recall that a giant yellow duck was standing in my office forecourt for a few weeks recently. Well now you can see the said duck starring in a video-commercial for Heineken beer on YouTube. http://youtu.be/1hbRp-Wn9Nk. Legends aren't born, they're dropped, apparently. Also watch episodes 2 and 3.

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Friday, June 28, 2013

Poster girl 2

Rumnea, poster girl for the British Embassy
Another poster girl just happens to be Rumnea, who is currently adorning the main picture of the official Facebook page of the British Embassy in Phnom Penh no less. She was part of the Kampuchea Republic team booked to take photos at the Embassy's recent 60th anniversary bash and she's the slim young lady behind the camera.

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Poster girl

Mary Neth, actress and commercial model
Spent the night in Changi Airport, got a couple of hours of shut-eye but trying to sleep in an airport is never comfortable. Got into Phnom Penh, with a brief stopover in Siem Reap, around mid-day, with this poster girl welcoming everyone at the airport. None other than Mary Neth, the star of The Last Reel, which is currently being edited by director Kulikar Sotho and her film editor. Mary Neth was selected for the film's main character after a selection process, having already made a good impression on audiences on local television shows, and obviously in this CellCard advert.
Horns blaring and ear-piercing loudspeakers brought me onto the balcony at work this afternoon, as a cavalcade of trucks, cars and motorbikes made their way nosily up St 310. Its day 1 of the electioneering process before next month's general elections. This was the Cambodia National Rescue Party, the main opposition party to the incumbent Cambodian People's Party, and even though they stand zero chance of winning, they were enthusiastic enough, repeatedly shouting "7" their party number on the ballot form at the July 28 election day.
One of the CNRP trucks filled to brimming with supporters

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Not as I hoped

Its now Wednesday night and I'm sitting, and sleeping, in Changi Airport in Singapore, on my way home from East Timor. The Phnom Penh Crown Academy boys lost 4-1 yesterday but it was a great adventure for all concerned. Aside from a 30-minute spell, everything about the trip was perfect. In that 30 minutes we conceded 4 goals. Okay, so the Timor boys were bigger, stronger (and older) than us but we really turned on the style for large parts of the match. Our passing game was excellent and the goal we scored, to take the lead, was exceptional. We also missed a penalty to boot. Then some individual mistakes let us down and this is what this regional competition is bringing home to our boys - they may get away with these mistakes in domestic games, but in Asean matches you will be punished by the best U-15 teams in the region. Guaranteed. So a steep learning curve, especially when all your mistakes get punished. But a fabulous experience nonetheless. When else would you get the opportunity to play in East Timor. Now the youngsters are heading to Thailand and in particular, Chonburi, for their next match this coming Saturday. The adventures never end. For me, I'm off back to Phnom Penh and my day job, having had a thoroughly enjoyable time as team manager for the trip to Timor.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Timor virgins

Making history in Timor Leste - I'm the token Brit amongst these Khmer ground-breakers
Today's team photo comes live from Dili, the capital of Timor Leste (East Timor) as the Phnom Penh Crown Academy team, plus me, make history as the first Khmer sports team to set foot on Timor Leste. Yay, I love being part of history. The Timorese have been very accommodating, police outriders whizzing us through the city streets to the hotel and to training. Food is plentiful and everyone is bending over backwards to make us feel welcome. A crowd of up to 10,000 is expected at tomorrow's game and security will be as tight as a gnat's chuff. We nearly didn't make it though as two of the boys got locked in their hotel room and after one mishap then another, we ended up sprinting through departures to catch our plane, which thankfully waited for us. I was wheezing through my arse after that. It pissed down as we arrived in Dili but aside from that its hot and steamy.

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

In the skies

Just before the off, with the PPCFC Academy youngsters at the airport
I've only got a minute as its the early hours and I've been in the air or waiting in airports all day and in a few hours we've got to head for East Timor. Here's the reason I'm off to Timor, as team manager with the Phnom Penh Crown Academy who go to play the hosts in the U-15 Asean Champions Trophy. This is us just before we left Phnom Penh this morning en route to Singapore and then Bali, where I'm typing this from. Dili, here we come. More later.

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Friday, June 21, 2013

Brits celebration

Rumnea posing at the British Embassy party - click to enlarge
This is Rumnea at tonight's British Embassy party at the Intercon, where she was working as part of the host photographers, Kampuchea Party Republic. It was a party to celebrate the Queen's birthday and sixty years of the British Embassy in Cambodia. Obviously they sent me an invite, but it must've got lost in the post. You just cannot trust the postmen these days to deliver on time. Maybe the Embassy haven't got around to installing internet/e-mail just yet.

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In style

With Now inside the new KeoK'jay premises
Fashion is definitely not my thing. Being one of the least fashionable people in town, being invited to the opening of a new fashion boutique was like having my teeth pulled. With a pair of pliers. However, KeoK'jay is a boutique, newly ensconced on the riverfront, which takes its social and environmental responsibility seriously and practices fair trade whilst mixing their output with contemporary designs. A good friend of mine, Now, has moved down from Siem Reap to work in the new shop, hence the invite to last night's big bash. I spotted the cream of PP's fashionistas present but they gave me a wide berth, obviously recognising my complete lack of style. Thank goodness for that.
That is not Now's natural hair I might add

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Lucky for me

Lucky taking aim with the paintbrush at my t-shirt
The highlight of my day today was getting trunk painted by Lucky, the large female elephant at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Park. You can't say that too often. It was part of my behind-the-scenes visit to Phnom Tamao courtesy of Wildlife Alliance, to give their new tour the once-over as well as enjoying being up close to nature with some of the rescued wildlife that is being so well cared for at the center. We kicked-off with two female elephants, giving them some treats whilst they were on a walk through the grounds, taking a dip and generally exercising, which they do twice a day. Then it was into the elephant enclosure for a close-up with the famous Chouk, a young male that has a prosthetic leg, to watch how his trainers teach him with reward-based lessons. Then came the Lucky t-shirt painting bonanza, aided by Sitheng the head trainer who has been with Lucky for more than fifteen years. The t-shirt art, using Lucky's trunk to hold the paint brushes, will have pride of place on my wall. The seven beautiful tigers were next, as we went inside the cleaning area, normally reserved only for their keepers, and got to within inches of the beasts. We saw a series of other animals, including the excellent viewing platform at the bear sanctuary, where three bears hammed it up for the audience before one of our group took the plunge to have a bath with Lucky. It was Tori, our aide from WA but the offer was open to our small group. Finally we went into the nursery area to come face to face with a gorgeous leopard cat, which everyone fell in love with, and the playful, young macaques, who restored my faith in monkeys. They were adorable. How often can you say that about macaques. We were a bit fortunate that the rain stayed away until we took lunch at one of the locals stalls and then cleared as we finished eating. If you like animals, then you will love this tour and with a few adjustments, I think WA are onto a winner.
Lucky's handiwork displayed, complete with fetching pink raincoat

Chouk's keeper changes and cleans his prosthetic boot

Nick Ray going all cuddly with the adorable Leopard Cat

A lot more difficult to go all cuddly with the beautiful Tigers

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Bruno's own launch

At least I knew what the slides were telling me
Got my hands on a copy of Bruno Bruguier's Temples of the Northern Provinces (of Cambodia) after his presentation at the French Cultural Center tonight. In the end Bruno had to publish it himself as he sadly didn't get any independent financial assistance, despite knocking on a few doors. Such a shame as his books are required reading for anyone interested in the temple heritage of Cambodia - well, they are if you can read French. Which I don't. So I look at the pictures and maps and get a feel for it. It was pretty much the same at the presentation. Bruno spoke in French and there was supposed to be a simultaneous translation into Khmer and English. It happened to a degree but the English translation was so poor and the sound quality so fuzzy that I turned my headphones off. And sat through an hour of not understanding about 95% of what was said. Luckily I've been to many of the temples in the book, so at least I have my own memories to fall back on. I doubt many others, aside from Bruno of course, can say the same. Also good to see Christiano from Kompong Thom at the presentation. He's as big a temple nut as I am. The book costs $28 from Carnets d'Asie bookshop.
Bruno signs one of his books for an admirer

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Dilidallydo

Dili via Bali is the suggested route for my East Timor trip, previously postponed and now re-scheduled for this coming Sunday thru til Wednesday. I'll believe it when I'm actually on the planes, three of them, via Bangkok and Bali (with an overnight stop on the Aussie-infested beach strip). Leave PP early Sunday, arrive in Dili, mid-day Monday. Play the game - I don't play, I will watch the Phnom Penh Crown Academy against the Timor Leste U15s in the Asean U-15 cup - on Tuesday and then spend Wednesday retracing our steps home. If we do go, it promises to be an experience of a lifetime, with most of Dili likely to be out in force to watch the game.

In the meantime, tomorrow night (7.30pm) will see the launch of Bruno Bruguier's latest tome, 600+ pages on the Temples of Northern Cambodia, in French. Grrr. The book launch will be at the French Cultural Center, where-else, and I might wear my beret and striped shirt just to get into the swing of things. I will also wear a peg on my nose to avoid the stench of onions/garlic and practice my haw he haw he haw. Immature joking aside, Bruno is a wonderful resource on Cambodia's temple heritage and should be viewed as a national treasure (albeit he's French) for the work he's been doing for so many years. Now if only he could get his books published in English...

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Monday, June 17, 2013

Zipping through the trees

Zipping through the Angkor Park
Did I mention flying through Angkor at tree-top level? No, well this month will see a brand new experience for visitors to the Angkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap. None other than The Flight of the Gibbon – Angkor Experience, which has been running successfully in rainforest locations in Thailand for the last few years. The new arrival at Angkor offers an opportunity to soar on ziplines, traverse suspended sky bridges and abseil from towering trees, all within the forest surrounding the Angkor temples, giving you a birds-eye view of the jungle canopy. It sounds and looks a bundle of fun for those inclined to an adrenaline rush, but the company also plan to protect the eco-system. Planting new trees and other conservation projects, maybe even releasing gibbons into the forest, will be a key element of the new FOTG Experience. I've been invited to try it out, so on my next Siem Reap excursion, I will.

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Kulen revealed

The headlines have been dramatic this weekend - such as Atlantis-like lost city unearthed in jungle, blah, blah, blah - after the announcement that a city known Mahendraparvata has been identified on top of Phnom Kulen mountain, northeast of Angkor. New laser scanning technology named Lidar has uncovered a vast network of structures, dykes, canals, roads, mounds, etc, thought to be some 1,200 years old and pre-dating Angkor. As it turns out, a lot of this is not a new discovery, two dozen temples on Kulen have been known about for ages but its the connecting dots revealed by Lidar that have helped researchers identify that the area was much more important than originally first thought. Locations of previously unknown temple sites have been identified by the new technology, though I would imagine any large free-standing temples have been identified long ago. It doesn't take a genius to suspect that the sheer number of temples and religious structures including multiple rock carvings on Kulen would indicate a major civilisation hub, it just needed Lidar to paint the bigger picture. I visited quite a few of the more remote temples on Kulen back in March 2002, wow that's eleven years ago - how time flies, and you can read about my visit here. It was an exciting chance to tramp around the overgrown forested areas of Kulen back then, so I can imagine the thrill experienced by the researchers in making even more new discoveries.

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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Electrifying

Srey Thy and Scott Bywater on stage
Goodness me, we've had our fair share of rain over the past few days. So much so that I missed a cocktail party and the Cambodian Space Project on Friday night (as I don't own a pair of wellington boots), so had to make sure I made it to Equinox today, as CSP were playing their second gig in as many nights. And they have more, next Thursday at Gasoline and next Saturday on the FCC rooftop. I think Srey Thy must've put something in her tea as she was electric on stage tonight, dancing like a whirling dervish and breaking glass with her powerful voice. The first half of their set was fast-paced and pretty spectacular, helped in no small measure by a moving mass of female dancers at the front of the stage. When that happens it all adds to the atmosphere. Plus I was still on a personal high after my football team, Phnom Penh Crown had beaten the league leaders Boeung Ket 3-1 earlier in the afternoon. Two big highs in one day - I'd better get my blood pressure checked out. You have to be careful at my age.
The mass movement of arms and legs with Rumnea (left) in full flow as usual

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

The last shoot

The film's genocide memorial at Tonle Bati
Filming for the movie, The Last Reel will officially end tomorrow. A film entirely shot in Cambodia, about Cambodians and directed by Kulikar Sotho, one of the rare breed of Khmer female directors. Today they were finishing some scenes in Tonle Bati, outside of Phnom Penh, involving a genocide memorial stupa, that the film's art department erected from scratch and aged it to look like an original. They filled it with fake skulls and bones and arranged for some monks to bless its contents, as you can see in this picture from the set. As I've visited many of these genocide memorials around the country, I was asked a few months ago to furnish the art department with as many examples of such stupas as I could. And that's about the extent of my contribution to the film.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Repatriated

One of the kneeling attendants in situ at the Met, until recently
They are home. The two kneeling attendants, sculpted in the 10th century and sat in front of Prasat Chen at the Koh Ker temple complex in northern Cambodia for centuries, before being spirited out of the country in the fog of the 1970s, have landed back in Cambodia. New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art are to be congratulated. They stumped up the two statues, after twenty years on display at the museum, once they realised their history was shady in the extreme. If you cannot prove an artifact's provenance by way of a legal paper-trail that establishes they weren't obtained by ill-means, then quite simply, they should be returned to their country of origin. Take the example of an adventurer who carts off valuable items from the country he's visiting and houses them in a museum in his own country - that's not legal ownership, it's quite clearly theft. The Guimet Museum in Paris, please take note. As for the two attendants, what was the story behind their arrival in New York? The works were presented as separate gifts to the Met over a period of years. The head from the first of the pair of reunited kneeling attendants was donated in 1987 by Spink & Son and Douglas Latchford. The second head came as a gift from the late Raymond and Milla Handley in 1989. The two torsos were subsequently donated by Douglas Latchford in 1992. The matching heads and torsos were reassembled by Museum conservators in 1993 and placed on display in the Galleries for South and Southeast Asian Art in 1994, where they have remained on view since. Until now. Today they are back home where they belong.

I almost forgot to mention that on my own voyage of discovery to the Koh Ker complex in November 2001 - at that time, no-one was visiting the remote complex - I came across Prasat Chen, very briefly, as the temple was completely engulfed in undergrowth and the area around it was not demined. I didn't have a machete with me so I had to curtail my visit as the vegetation was simply too dense to get any closer. If you visit Prasat Chen today, the experience is altogether very different.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Dili beckons

There was a real chance I might be heading off to East Timor/Timor Leste for the weekend. Not the usual getaway destination from Cambodia I must admit but there's a jolly good reason for heading to Dili, the capital. The Phnom Penh Crown Academy boys will be playing against the local U-15 national team in the new U-15 Asean Championship and its not every day you get free board, lodging and passage to a destination that's not on many people's holiday tick-list. My passport has just arrived back after being renewed so the opportunity to join the team party as an accredited club official came up and I jumped at it. We haven't got our flights sorted yet but if all goes well, we'll fly out Thursday, via Singapore and return Sunday. The match will be in the national stadium on Saturday afternoon and it's an historic moment, as no other Cambodian team has ever ventured over to East Timor for football or any sport for that matter. The boys will be international trend-setters. I also reckon the stadium will be over-flowing with football-mad Timorese. Fingers crossed, there are no hiccups and I'll be walking the streets of Dili sometime soon. The downside is that I miss the senior team's crunch league game against Boeung Ket, and I just love watching us sticking it to the league champions.
Update: As usually happens with these things, suitable return flights were impossible to get sorted, so the trip to Dili has been postponed. Why am I not surprised?

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WA and GOT in 1 evening

Inside the packed-out Flicks movie house for the finale of Season 3 of GOT

Okay, so last week's blood and gore slaughter-house was more like the Game of Thrones we've come to expect. Last night's finale of Season 3 was a damp squib by comparison but sets us up for Season 4 with all the main characters making an appearance at some stage. Thank goodness they didn't let us look inside the box at Theon's missing member. The Flicks was packed out for last night's two sittings. The series has got progressively more popular. You may recall I was forced to visit the Flicks for my weekly fix after HBO was rudely removed from my TV by my cable company. Bar-stewards.
My early evening was spent at La Rose hotel and a cocktail party thrown by Wildlife Alliance for travel agents. WA have moved squarely into the travel product field, having already been heavily involved in the Chiphat eco-tourism project for a few years and now they are launching their own Southern Cardamoms Experience with 4 or 6 days, involving Phnom Tamao Rescue Center followed by a helicopter trip to the Koh Kong region, visiting a Ranger Patrol Station, a remote burial jars site, Chiphat, sustainable village projects, Stung Proat and lots more. It will certainly appeal to some with its diversity but it ain't cheap as you might expect with helicopters in the program. The Cardamoms is one of the last remaining jewels that hosts opportunities to see a totally different Cambodia to the temples of Angkor and trips like these will encourage visitors to stay longer in-country.
Suwanna Gauntlett, founder of Wildlife Alliance, introducing the new Southern Cardamoms Experience

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Monday, June 10, 2013

A look at the north

It was only a few days ago that I mentioned that Bruno Bruguier of EFEO was in town seeking funds to get his latest tome on the ancient temples of Cambodia published. 600+ pages worth of the Temples of the Northern Provinces including Preah Vihear and Koh Ker, and chockablock full of maps and photographs. Well, I'm pleased to report that he was successful and hasn't wasted any time in getting the book printed and ready for publication. Bruno will launch the book, with a presentation in French, English and Khmer at the French Cultural Center on Wednesday 19 June at 7pm. He's already published two books in the series of six, namely Phnom Penh and the Southern Provinces, and Tonle Sap Basin with Sambor Prei Kuk. They are an incredible resource on the temple heritage of the great Khmers, albeit in the French language. Bruno is a fountain of knowledge on the temples and the results of his work over many years deserves a wide audience.

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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Blast from the past

Arriving by space lift very soon, the Cambodian Space Project
Are you ready for the latest blast from the Cambodian Space Project? Fresh from another overseas tour, the boys and Srey Thy are heading back home to Cambodia for a series of gigs starting next Friday (14 June) at La Croissette. Next day (Saturday 15 June) they play at Equinox, on Thursday (20 June) at Gasolina, and then Saturday (22 June) at the FCC rooftop. So you have absolutely no excuse to miss them, do you? Psychedelic Khmer songs are heading this way.

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Friday, June 7, 2013

Holiday stories

It appears that Australian authors have a soft spot for Cambodia. Unsung Heroes was written by three Aussie women, Philip Coggan is in town to publish his novel and now Melbourne-based Laura Jean McKay will see her short story collection, Holiday in Cambodia, out in print through Black Inc next month. An award-winning writer best known for smearing cat food all over herself on stage (she performs as well as writes), her collection of stories will include; three backpackers board a train, ignoring the danger signs – and find themselves in the hands of the Khmer Rouge, and a singer creates a sensation in swinging 1969, on the eve of an American bombing campaign. Bold and haunting stories by a remarkable new talent, says the PR from the publisher. You can find out more at www.laurajeanmckay.com.

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Coggan's desires

Talking about books, as I often do, author Philip Coggan is in town to arrange the publishing of his debut novel, Shiny Objects of Desire. Philip hails from Australia and following a career in the Department of Foreign Affairs and with United Nations peacekeeping missions in Iraq and Western Sahara, he turned to journalism drawing on his knowledge of Asia to write feature articles for Australian and overseas newspapers and magazines. His first novel is set in Cambodia, where he lived for three years, and is the first in a projected series of detective mysteries following the adventures of Burl Biggins, the expat Australian owner of a Phnom Penh riverfront bistro.

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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Reading list

Here's the cover 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, after I was sent a press review copy. So far it reads like a loud trumpet in Hun Sen's favour, though the new chapters might give a more balanced view, I hope. It's one of three books I have on the go at the moment, the others are the NGO-inspired Unsung Heroes Cambodia and Rithy Panh's The Elimination. And then of course, there's a huge pile of other books that are gathering dust, but are equally deserving of my attention. Not enough hours in the day.

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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Free Fever

A large crowd enjoyed the show at Koh Pich
A large crowd enjoyed the cool air and the free concert at Koh Pich tonight, courtesy of American rockers Dengue Fever and the Memory! heritage film festival. Dengue Fever always try to put on a free performance for the masses during their trips to Cambodia and tonight was no exception. Lead singer Chhom Nimol's voice sounded a bit croaky to start with but got much better as the show progressed and the mix of a Khmer and expat audience always brings out the best in the band. With Nimol singing in Khmer for most of their songs, the Khmers are obviously well catered for and the band have always been big favourites of the expat community here too. Especially if the gig is a freebie. They have one more gig in Phnom Penh, at Pontoon on Saturday night, before they head back home. Two big screens either side of the stage tonight reeled off montages from old Khmer films as the concert progressed, just to add a different flavour to proceedings. And fortunately, the rain didn't return to spoil the show.
A sassy moment from Chhom Nimol
A call and response from the stage to the audience

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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Singing their praises

Arn Chorn-Pond singing the praises of NGOs like his own Cambodian Living Arts
Unsung Heroes Cambodia, a book focusing on the work of 45 carefully-selected NGOs in Cambodia, celebrated its launch with a well-attended event at Monument Books tonight. Two of the authors, Lee Anderson and Kerryan Griffin were on hand to welcome attendees whilst Arn Chorn-Pond, the founder of one of the featured NGO's Cambodian Living Arts, also lent a had to proceedings with a short speech. The book is self-published and ten copies were given free to each of the NGOs featured, which include big-hitters such as CLA, Wildlife Alliance and Friends International as well as smaller, much less visible organisations. More on the book when I've had an opportunity to read it thoroughly. By the way, the reason for Arn Chorn-Pond's closely cropped haircut is that he recently played the part of a monk for a new sci-fi film called Listening, which was filmed at the temples of Angkor.
Author Lee Anderson amuses the audience including Arn Chorn-Pond

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Monday, June 3, 2013

Proud youth

The Phnom Penh Crown Academy youngsters representing their club and Cambodia with pride
 Youth football in Cambodia was firmly under the spotlight this weekend with the Phnom Penh Crown Academy attracting a large crowd to the Olympic Stadium for their first home match in the new U-15 Asean Champions Trophy - a ground-breaking competition involving hand-picked U-15 youth teams from all eleven Asean countries. The match, on Saturday afternoon, was a great advert for Cambodia's fledgling youngsters and a victory looked on the cards until a last-gasp, soul-destroying equaliser left the final result at 1-1. The visitors from Malaysia were visibly bigger and stronger but found it almost impossible to break down the Crown boys until the very last moment. But the buzz and appreciation around the stadium was clearly in the Cambodian youngsters' favour. Good attendances look assured for their remaining home matches against teams from Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and East Timor over the next few weeks. At the same time, the Cambodian U-14 national team have been trying their best against older and bigger boys in the AFC U-14 Championships, held in Myanmar. The young boys, on average two years younger than their opponents, have held their own with goal-less draws against Bangladesh and Laos, a thumping of 5-0 against Indonesia and then single goal defeats to the group winners Thailand and finally Singapore. Fabulous experience for these kids, overseas for the first time, playing in a 30,000 all-seater stadium and representing their country with pride.
Chhuot Senteang wheels away in delight at scoring for the PPCFC Academy. Pic: Khmer Sport.

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Saturday, June 1, 2013

Krom-tastic

Sopheak Chamroeun on stage
Sopheak Chamroeun (standing) sings about love, on stage with Krom at the Doors tonight. Both Sopheak and her sister Sophea are the multi-talented vocalists for the band, with Sophea also co-writing most of the songs with guitarist-singer Chris Minko. They played two sets with beautiful haunting vocals much in evidence throughout, on both up-tempo and more melancholic numbers. Both wore shimmering outfits and sparkle, despite the acute sadness of a couple of songs that deal with the seedier side of life in Asia. Krom certainly aren't afraid to tackle subjects most songwriter's would run a mile from. Minko, with his gruff lead vocals, and Jimmi B complete the four-piece line-up and the band will have a new album out anytime soon, called Neon Dark. To celebrate, perhaps Krom will find an alternative venue to carry their music to a wider audience. They deserve it.
The full complement of Krom - courtesy of Anya Minko

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