Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Soon showing

Rithy Panh's latest film, The Missing Picture, received critical acclaim at Cannes
Excellent news... the latest Rithy Panh film that won a host of plaudits and a prize at the recent Cannes film festival is coming to a screen near us. It's a small screen, at the Bophana Center on Street 200, but it will do nicely. In The Missing Picture, Panh 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. Tickets are $5 each, screenings are at 6.30pm each day from 3-10 August. Definitely recommended.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

With Love

If you weren't aware, To Cambodia With Love, a guidebook with a difference, was published at the end of 2010. I edited the book, with contributions from over sixty fellow fans of Cambodia, and over 120 stories to get your teeth into. Below is my introduction to the book. I think it says it all.

Andy Brouwer's Introduction to To Cambodia With Love
Excerpted from
To Cambodia With Love: A Travel Guide for the Connoisseur, available from ThingsAsian Press.

How do I describe my love of Cambodia? I'm not the world's greatest wordsmith, so I'll keep it simple. In 1994 I came to this country for five of the most exhilarating, nerve-jangling, and frightening days of my life-and that was it. I was hooked, completely, by a country and a people who've subsequently enriched my life to a degree I never thought possible. Those five days sparked a passion that grew with each of my annual visits, culminating in my migration here three years ago. I truly feel at home, I belong, I love every day of my life here, and I want to share my passion for this country with everyone. To Cambodia With Love is the perfect vehicle to do just that.

Fortunately, you don't have to read my inadequate prose to understand the essence of Cambodia. I've joined forces with more than sixty contributors who know this country as well as I do-better in many instances-and who I'm convinced will inspire you to come and see for yourself why this beautiful land is so alluring. Whether it's acclaimed memoirist Loung Ung eating chive rice cakes in the Russian Market in Phnom Penh, journalist Karen Coates exploring a bird sanctuary in Preah Vihear Province, pioneering guidebook author Ray Zepp riding a traditional norry along countryside railway tracks, or scholar and Angkor historian Dawn Rooney explaining her favorite time to visit Cambodia's most celebrated temple, there are essays to feed your obsession if you're already hooked, or spark a love that will continue to grow after your Cambodian baptism.

I urge you to discover and unearth Cambodia's secrets, some of which you will find within these pages, others you must find for yourself-and you will, I assure you. Wander amongst the crowded maze of its markets, absorb the slow pace of village life in a rural landscape where few travelers venture, discover the unique lifestyle along the Mekong River, and above all, appreciate a culture and setting that spawned the incredible temples of Angkor, the jewel in Cambodia's crown. Fifteen years ago, I was blessed to see the Angkor temples without the crowds, to experience sunrise over the pineapple towers of Angkor Wat in glorious solitude, and for that I will be eternally grateful. Though the secret of Angkor is now well and truly out in the open-it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world-there are still many opportunities to grasp your own special memories and lock them away forever, as I have ... beginning with a few suggestions in this book.

I know it's a bit of a tired cliché that it's the people of this and that country that make it such a wonderful place, but the truth is, they really do. Cambodia is no different. After weathering decades of bloodshed and civil war, poverty, and instability, the Khmer have proved their incredible resilience, and their smile remains as bewitching as it has throughout time. The friendships I've developed over the years will last forever. No one will leave Cambodia without a large chunk of admiration and fondness for the people they encounter. You have my guarantee.

This is not a definitive guide to Cambodia. Far from it. It is about inspiration, discovery, sharing, and above all else, a love and a respect for a country that has changed my life forever, as I hope it will change yours.

Andy Brouwer
Editor, To Cambodia With Love

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Silver screen Cambodia

So with my book recommendations posted yesterday, taken from To Cambodia With Love, the guidebook I edited and published at the end of 2010/beginning 2011, it's only fair that I burden you with my film/movie recommendations as well.

Editor's Choice: Movies

The Killing Fields
Hollywood movies about Cambodia can be counted on one hand. The film that resonates in everyone’s perception of the country is
Roland Joffé’s 1984 epic. The incredible performance of Haing Ngor—a doctor by profession—in his first film role won him an Oscar and brought to life the pain and suffering endured by the Cambodian people under the Khmer Rouge. The film won three Academy Awards in total. It should be in everyone’s collection. 
New Year Baby : Socheata Poeuv’s soul-bearing documentary examines her parents and their survival through the Pol Pot regime. At the heart of the story are decades-old family secrets—to reveal any of them here would be to spoil the poignancy of how the Khmer Rouge drastically affected family life. This is a moving portrayal that brought a lump to my throat, and I’m sure it will do the same to you.
S21: the Khmer Rouge Killing Machine
Vann Nath, the most famous survivor of S21 (or Tuol Sleng as its better known), confronts his former jailers and torturers in this astonishing award-winning documentary by Rithy Panh. Reenacting the ghastly crimes committed on over fourteen thousand people that were imprisoned, tortured, and murdered by the Khmer Rouge staff of S21, this film is a chilling look at Cambodia’s darkest years.
Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia
It was
Daily Mirror journalist John Pilger’s 1979 expose on Cambodia that sparked my interest in this faraway country as I sat in my comfy armchair at home in Cheltenham, England. Pilger’s revelations about the brutality of the Khmer Rouge and the injustices inflicted on the Cambodian people made me sit up, take notice, and embark on a love affair that just grew stronger with time. The film is one of the most influential documentaries of its time, and over $45 million was raised as a result of it. Pilger went on to make another four documentaries about Cambodia.

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Editor's book choices

Blowing away the cobwebs - photo courtesy of Nick Sells (Kampuchea Party Republic)
If you haven't got a copy of To Cambodia With Love - why not? Seriously, they are like gold-dust in Cambodia these days, so the chance of picking one up here is practically zero. So how about I bring you a few articles from the pages of the guidebook I edited and released in January 2011. In the section called Resources For The Road, I offered up my own selection of books for readers to find out more about this beautiful country.

Editor's Choice: Books
A Cambodian Odyssey
by Haing Ngor, with Roger Warner
If you thought Haing Ngor’s acting performance in
The Killing Fields was spellbinding, then I urge you to read his miraculous memoir and realize that his own personal story was even more harrowing and heart-wrenching than any Hollywood movie could portray. Haing Ngor, who won an Academy Award for his performance as Dith Pran in the film, sadly was murdered by a street gang in Los Angeles in February 1996. 

Images of the Gods: Khmer Mythology in Cambodia, Laos & Thailand
by Vittorio Roveda
The temples of Angkor are a magical draw for visitors to Cambodia. The structures themselves are incredible, but it’s the intricate carvings that adorn their walls and doorways—telling the lives and legends of Hindu gods and heroes—that few understand better than Vittorio Roveda. His definitive 544-page tome is the culmination of meticulous research into these sculptures that many marvel at but few fully understand.

River of Time
by Jon Swain
A nostalgic, passionate, and personal love story from a journalist who lived through the Vietnam and Cambodia wars and survived, when many of his fellow journalists didn’t. He includes a firsthand account of life in the French Embassy in the first days of the Khmer Rouge takeover in Phnom Penh, a scene perfectly encapsulated in the movie
The Killing Fields. Swain was The Sunday Times’s correspondent in Paris for many years. 

When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up under the Khmer Rouge
by Chanrithy Him
Khmer Rouge survivor stories have become fairly commonplace in the last decade, but Chanrithy Him’s story is so well written, so expressive, and so painful that it’s a must for anyone interested in this period of Cambodia’s turbulent history. It’s a truly inspiring story of survival and courage in the face of adversity. Today, Chanrithy Him is a public speaker, classical dancer, writer, and aspiring screenwriter. Her sequel,
Unbroken Spirit, has yet to be published. 

Along with these top choices, I must give honorable mention to a handful of books that are definitely worth checking out—some of which are noted by
To Cambodia With Love writers in the following sections. They include my recommended temple guide, Ancient Angkor by Claude Jacques and Michael Freeman; memoirs from Somaly Mam (The Road of Lost Innocence), Geraldine Cox (Home Is Where the Heart Is), and Kari Grady Grossman (Bones That Float: A Story of Adopting Cambodia); novels by Geoff Ryman (The King’s Last Song) and Christopher J. Koch (Highways to a War); and David Chandler’s chilling exposé of the Khmer Rouge’s detention center Tuol Sleng (Voices from S-21).

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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Changing course

On Thursday (1 Aug) of next week, director Kalyanee Mam will be in town to discuss her multiple-award-winning documentary, A River Changes Course at Meta House, from 7pm. Winning this year's Sundance Film Festival's Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema is a massive feather in the director's cap. Here's what I wrote about the film in October 2012:
Twice a year the Tonle Sap River in Cambodia changes course and the cycle of life involved with this phenomenon persuaded filmmaker Kalyanee Mam to follow three young Cambodians as they struggled to come to grips with the changes taking place around them. The result is the documentary film, A River Changes Course. As a lawyer, photographer and writer, Kalyanee worked on human rights issues in various countries including Cambodia, China, South Africa, Mozambique, and Iraq. Her past work has included assisting refugees in South Africa, documenting the atrocities committed against women during the Khmer Rouge Regime here in Cambodia for DC-Cam, and working as a lawyer in Mozambique and Iraq. She escaped from Cambodia with her family in 1979, soon after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime and eventually fled to the United States as a refugee in 1981. She was the cinematographer for a film called, Inside Job, about the financial meltdown on Wall street between 2007-2010 and which received an Oscar for best documentary feature.

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Filled with pride

The Crown Academy boys before today's game with Vietnam PVF
The Phnom Penh Crown Academy youngsters finished their memorable season with a 2-1 defeat to the visiting Vietnam PVF team this afternoon but can look back on a season where they came of age. Despite finishing bottom of the six-team group, with two points from ten matches, taking part in the Asean-wide competition and travelling every other weekend to countries like Timor-Leste, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia when you are 14 or 15 years old is something not to be sniffed at. The exposure and the experiences will stay with these youngsters for a long time and they've done what no other Cambodian footballer, youth or senior, has ever done before. They are pioneers and most likely they will be doing the same again next year too. I've been fortunate to watch these kids grow from their first day at the Crown Academy over two and half years ago, some of them had never even played organised football before, and to see them now fills me with immense pride. I was lucky enough to go to Timor-Leste with the boys and they were the best ambassadors a country could ever wish to have with their impeccable behaviour off the field, and their fabulous football talents on the pitch. Of course they would've loved to have won some matches but they gave their best and showed that Cambodian youths deserve to be on the same platform as those other countries. This is the first step on the road to improving Cambodian football, to understanding what it takes to compete on the same level as other more-advanced countries, and the Crown Academy youngsters are leading the way forwards.


Friday, July 26, 2013

In the background

The star of the show is in the background
Don't bother with the guy in the foreground with the space-age helmet-camera on his back, concentrate on the lovely girl in the background who is the star of this picture. Well, for me anyway. It's Rumnea, working in her second job as a part of the Kampuchea Party Republic photography team and can often be seen snapping the arrival pictures at some of the city's biggest events. This one was held at one of the big hotels to launch the Google Maps Street View team who will be fanning out over Cambodia to bring you 360 degree panoramic views of Angkor Wat and other locations. Apparently it fuzzes out faces so you won't see yourself, pretty much as the photo above does to Rumnea.

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Another boutique newcomer

One of the larger rooms at Villa Nane
Almost every villa in BKK1 is being converted into a boutique hotel, or so it seems. Another new entrant into the boutique scene is Villa Nane, a few doors up from Cafe Fresco yet I didn't even notice it until today. It's been open a month. So I had to poke my nose in and have a sniff around and it turned out to be a very pleasant, cosy place. The rooms are polished without being flashy, the ones at the front have a view onto the intimate swimming pool (travel speak for small) and there are some nice touches throughout by the owners, such as the designer bannisters (who else would notice the bannisters?). There's also a cafe on the premises, as if BKK1 hasn't enough cafes already. Anyways, welcome to Villa Nane amongst the plethora of villa this and villa that which already outnumber private homes in the area.
A view onto the intimate swimming pool at Villa Nane

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Good job Nick

Really, you want me to sign your book?
Ok, here goes, but won't it ruin the book?
Three contributors and the editor, Nick, Mariam and Steve, oh, and me
The crowd is forming, space at a premium
Side-on is never my best profile
Did it go as well as we hoped William?
Meet the star of the night, the book itself
Some of these photos, by Nick Sells (of Kampuchea Party Republic fame) haven't seen the light of day before, so here they are. It was a great night, at Monument Books, on 13 January 2011, my goodness was it that long ago, for the launch of To Cambodia With Love. Nick did a great job of capturing the moment and the pictures here, and another half a dozen that I've already posted, will remind me of a wonderful evening for a long time to come. Thanks to everyone who came to the book launch that night, especially Nick.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Searching for numbers

I've just been sent a partial manuscript by Amir Aczel, a lecturer in mathematics and the history of maths and science, and the author of a series of popular books on the same subjects. Seventeen no less. Amir was in town a few months ago researching his next book, actually his next-but-one book, which will be called In Search of Buddha's Numbers: A Mathematician's Odyssey to the Fount of Numeracy. Not as catchy as some book titles I grant you but Cambodia will loom very large in the book, and the reason he sent me part of the text was because I feature in the story of his search. The reason why Cambodia features is that the number zero appeared for the first time in history in the year 683 and was found in a temple inscription in a Cambodian temple on the banks of the Mekong River. Fascinating stuff and another claim to fame for Cambodia. I look forward to the publication sometime next year.
Inscription K-127, from Sambor on the Mekong. Photo Credit: Debra Gross Aczel

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Contented retirement

Yesterday's Sunday Telegraph took a look at some of the people who may or may not face the music at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

Khmer Rouge killers live in contented retirement as Cambodia struggles with the legacy of Pol Pot.
Many former Khmer Rouge commanders have retired to the villages in the remote jungle surrounding the town of Pailin, in the far west of Cambodia. David Eimer met one of them, as the country prepares for nationwide elections.
Sitting outside his simple, wooden house, Ta An does not look like someone alleged to have sent 150,000 people to their deaths during the murderous rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979. One of many former Khmer Rouge commanders who have retired to the villages in the remote jungle surrounding the town of Pailin in the far west of Cambodia, the last stronghold of Pol Pot's fanatical revolutionaries, the frail and sunken-eyed 80-year-old welcomes visitors by placing his hands together as if in prayer. But his Buddhist greeting soon gives way to something far more sinister, after Ta An realises why he has been tracked down to his isolated home. Asked by The Sunday Telegraph about his actions during the Khmer Rouge era, when he is believed to have ordered widespread purges and the elimination of entire districts of Cham people, a Muslim minority group, he becomes visibly agitated. Picking up an axe used for chopping wood, he stalked menacingly around the table.  "I don't understand what the word 'genocide' means," he says. "I don't want to talk about the past. I want people to forget my past. I can't explain what happened."

Ta An is one of the four most wanted people in Cambodia, according to the UN tribunal set up in 2006 to try those accountable for the estimated 2.2 million people who died during Pol Pot's twisted attempt to remake Cambodia into an agrarian paradise of equality. Pol Pot himself died in 1997, aged 72, while under house arrest by a rival Khmer Rouge faction. Prosecutors believe the fanatical leader oversaw the killing of 150,000 people. They have recommended that he and three other surviving Khmer Rouge commanders, also living in retirement, be charged with genocide, crimes against humanity, murder, torture, rape and religious persecution. "The jurisdiction of the tribunal is such that the senior leaders and those most responsible can be put on trial," said William Smith, an Australian prosecutor at the court in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. "We believe these four people meet that criteria. We wouldn't have put the cases forward to the judges if we didn't believe we couldn't prove them beyond reasonable doubt." But seven years after five of the top Khmer Rouge leadership were formally charged by the tribunal, only one has been convicted: prison chief Duch, who ran Phnom Penh's infamous S-21 camp where around 17,000 people were tortured before being killed, was sentenced to 35 years in 2010 for crimes against humanity. Of the others, one has died, the prosecution of another was abandoned on medical grounds, and only two are still in the process of being tried.

Now, Cambodia is increasingly divided over whether Ta An and his three fellow suspects should be put trial at all. And with the country preparing for national elections next weekend, it has become a partisan debate in which even the victims of the Khmer Rouge are divided by their political allegiances. Chum Mey, 83 and a former mechanic, is one of just three people alive who survived being incarcerated in S-21. He was a prosecution witness at Duch's trial, but is now disillusioned with the snail-like pace of the tribunal, as well the estimated £100 million spent so far on holding the trials. "I feel very disappointed that the tribunal has taken so many years and only Duch has been convicted," said Mr Chum. "If I'd known how much the tribunal would cost, I would have said the money should be spent on developing the country instead." He doesn't think there should be any more trials, despite having seen his wife machine-gunned to death in front of him by the Khmer Rouge. "Once the current cases are finished, the court should stop," he said. "I blame the top leadership, the ones already charged. They were all educated men, yet still they did such bad things. Men like Ta An were also evil, but not as bad. They were just following Pol Pot's orders."

Mr Chum is a supporter of the country's prime minister, Hun Sen, and his ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP). Mr Hun himself is an ex-Khmer Rouge battalion commander who has held on to power for 28 years by manipulating electoral rolls and intimidating and imprisoning opposition politicians. He has declared that he wants the UN tribunal – officially set up in conjunction with the Cambodian government – to leave, and insists there will be no more prosecutions. Victims who are not allied with the CPP are less forgiving. "I want the cases against Ta An and the others to go ahead," said Bou Meng, 72, an artist, whose wife was tortured and killed in S-21. "They should be tried for their crimes. If the tribunal won't do it, then the cases should go to the international court in The Hague. Maybe they can give justice to Cambodia." Others too, believe Cambodia's future depends on it confronting its past. "I think the tribunal has had a great impact on Cambodian society," said Peoudara Vanthan, deputy director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, which collects evidence of the Khmer Rouge time. "Almost two-thirds of Cambodian people are under 30. The tribunal is a means for them to learn about our history."

Hun Sen, though, is not the only former Khmer Rouge cadre to want a line drawn under the past. Many provincial, district and village chiefs across the country once belonged to the organisation, as did numerous successful businessmen. In the villages and towns in the far west especially, almost every man or woman over the age of 50 was in the Khmer Rouge. All support the CPP and its campaign to bring the trials to an end. "Everyone in this district will vote for Hun Sen and the CPP," said Ta Ran, who spent 20 years in the Khmer Rouge and is the chief of the village where Ta An lives. "Let's forget about the past. I don't want to remember that time." Many people here are actively protective of those who played leading roles in the genocide. When The Sunday Telegraph arrived in the village of Ta Saine in search of Meas Muth, another of the four senior cadres the tribunal would like charged, residents tipped him off about our arrival, allowing him to flee. As the navy commander in southern Cambodia, the 73-year-old was in charge of the division that captured John Dawson Dewhirst, the only Briton to be killed by the Khmer Rouge. After the yacht he was on drifted mistakenly into Cambodian waters in 1978, Mr Dewhirst was sent to S-21, tortured into confessing that he was a CIA agent and then beaten to death. At Mr Meas's imposing three-storey home, surrounded by fields only recently cleared of landmines, his servants said he was in Phnom Penh. Other people gave differing locations. Only when reached by phone did Mr Meas admit he was hiding in the village. "I am here, but I won't meet you," he said. "I want to be left alone."

Pursuing men like Meas Muth and Ta An is regarded as a witch hunt by many former Khmer Rouge. "Lots of people did bad things during that time," said a former bodyguard to Pol Pot now living in Pailin, who asked not to be identified by name. "So why aren't they all being put on trial? I think the tribunal should be shut down. The people are so old it's meaningless." It is the age of those wanted by the tribunal that makes it likely they will escape justice for their crimes. Two of the five leaders charged in 2006 are still involved in the lengthy trial process, but Pol Pot's former foreign minister, Ieng Sary, died in March and his wife, Ieng Thirith, was declared unfit to stand trial on medical grounds. With the decision on whether or not to charge the four further suspects not expected until the end of the year, Ta An and Meas Muth remain free to enjoy their retirement. "All I do is read the Buddhist scriptures now," said Ta An before he ran off into the jungle behind his house. "I just want to live a peaceful, free life."


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Post season party time

Rumea and I enjoying the BBQ party
Tonight was the end of season players and staff party at CharCoal BBQ, near Dreamland. Tons of food to eat, more than enough even for a hungry football squad plus all the Academy boys. We even let them enjoy a few beers, the senior players that is, not the kids!
With two of the club's future stars, Sin Kakada and Lim Pisoth (6)

With two of the current stars, Bin Thierry and Elroy van der Hooft (white cap)


Friday, July 19, 2013

3rd place finish

The game that both teams didn't really want, because it meant you'd been beaten in the semi-finals, but Phnom Penh Crown came through the 3rd Place C-League play-off this afternoon with a 1-nil win, thanks to a penalty won and converted by our Flying Dutchman Elroy van der Hooft. Thirteen goals in 9 matches and the find of the season for coach Sam Schweingruber. It took extra time to sort out a winner with Crown doing most of the donkey work and BBU sitting back and concentrating on defending, which they do pretty well. For Elroy, it looks like he will be off to seek new pastures after a bit of sun on the beach, much to the disappointment of the club's fans after making such a positive impression. But his lay-over in Phnom Penh was always going to be a short one and we wish him the very best. Short but sweet is how I'd term it. The Academy boys left for Malaysia today, they meet Frenz tomorrow night with the game live on streaming internet.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Fine dining

Enjoyed dinner at The Common Tiger tonight, a new restaurant on St 294 in BKK1. They focus on quality not quantity and it worked for me. My beef fillet was excellent, as was the chocolate dessert. The chef, Tim, introduces his food personally and that's a nice touch too. Very much a new kid on the block, everything is understated from the decor to the menu, with the focus on the main product, the food. Very different concept from Van's, where I ate the other evening and which is all about good food in a classical environment. Both get my thumbs up.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Cartoon captain

Khim Borey in cartoon form
One idea to promote my footy team was through cartoons or caricatures of the players. I approached KC Khmer Cartoons, who have a facebook page and do cartoons of Cambodian tv and music personalities. They came up trumps with this cartoon of our club captain Khim Borey and it's certainly something we will consider doing for the rest of our players at the start of next season. I think its pretty cool. It's not everyday a Khmer sportsman finds sees himself in cartoon form so I know the player is very happy about it.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The CIA in Cambodia

A book published last month by the University Press of Kansas has potential to open closed chapters about Cambodia between World War II and the end of the twentieth century, if the pre-publication messages are to be believed. Kenneth Conboy's 464-page The Cambodian Wars: Clashing Armies and CIA Covert Operations promises the first complete assessment of CIA ops in two key periods - during the Khmer Republic’s existence (1970-1975), in support of American military action in Vietnam, and during the Reagan and first Bush presidencies (1981-1991), when the CIA challenged Soviet expansion by supporting exiled royalists, Republicans, and even former Communists trying to expel the Vietnamese from their country. The book also offers fresh insights into the actions of key players during that period including Norodom Sihanouk and Lon Nol.

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Monday, July 15, 2013

East Timor - briefly

A rainbow at the training ground in Dili, surrounded by mountains
Its about time I posted some pictures from my recent visit to East Timor or Timor-Leste as its officially called. I was there for football and had little time for sightseeing aside from a trip to their most popular beach just outside the capital of Dili. Surrounded by mountains, the capital was pretty low-key, with just one main shopping mall to speak of, a large port, a population of under 200,000 and the locals had an indigenous look, which was a cross between mid-Pacific and Latin America. Timor has a long history of colonization and finally became independent from Indonesia in 2002 and as recently as 2006, in-fighting by the military caused significant damage to the city, which can still be seen in places. As a visiting football team, we had a constant police presence wherever we went - our Academy boys loved the interaction with the friendly motorcyle cops - though when we did interact with the locals, they came across as ultra-friendly and welcoming. Our hotel in Dili was comfortable enough, 2* in hotel-speak, and again they went out of their way to ensure we were well-fed and looked after. Overall it was an enjoyable experience for all concerned. The chanting of 'Cambodia' at the football stadium was a particularly welcome sound for our youngsters.
Our Dili hotel, the Audian

The impressive renovated sports stadium in Dili

Cristo Rei of Dili, a statue of Jesus Christ atop a summit on a peninsula overlooking their best beach

Another part of the coastline outside the capital

The main government building in Dili

A ruined building, left-over from the 2006 street fighting

A welcoming committee living opposite our hotel

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Film of the life of Haing Ngor

The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor will chronicle the remarkable life journey of Haing S Ngor and will be a singular documentary on one of the most well-known Cambodians and survivors of the genocide. It’ll use an iconic movie, The Killing Fields, as a springboard to combine history and biography into a dramatic transnational narrative. The feature-length film will unfold through an imaginative blend of original animation, rare archival material, and newly shot footage, combined with an adaptation of Dr. Ngor’s moving autobiography. You can find out more @ The film is due out in the Autumn of 2014.

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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Who are you looking at?

Spotted in the unhappy football fan with a point to make. Pic courtesy of Ja Dina. Click to enlarge
It all went tits up at football this afternoon. Phnom Penh Crown were in the play-off semi-final, determined to get through to next week's final and win the domestic championship. Think again. We lost 4-3 to a team we trounced a couple of weeks ago and half the team didn't put in the performances we usually expect from them. Big crowd, big game, big disappointment. Whilst the crowd turned on the referee, the players know they didn't do themselves justice at the crucial time. The photo, by photographer Ja Dina, pretty much sums up my mood as the last few minutes ticked by on the clock. I wasn't a happy bunny and neither was Rumnea, but she can hide her emotions better than me.

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Friday, July 12, 2013

Fay and her memories

Would you Adam and Eve it. As soon as I wrote my post on the interview with Kim Fay from the Examiner, my attention was drawn to another book review of The Map of Lost Memories in by Sheri Quirt. Now, this is a bit special as both Kim and I have had books published by ThingsAsian Press. And then reading through the review/interview, the adorable Kim actually gives me a name-check. What a doll. Here's the review.
Kim Fay, a former editor for ThingsAsian Press, found success in 2010 with her award-winning food memoir, Communion: A Culinary Journey Through Vietnam. Not to be confined to the world of nonfiction, she has struck gold with her first novel, The Map of Lost Memories, published in 2012 by Ballantine Books following a spirited bidding war. The book, which has been nominated by the Mystery Writers of America for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel, was a labor of love Fay nurtured for more than a decade. “During those fourteen years I also wrote a food book, edited eight guidebooks, and held down a job. So there were times when I had to set the novel aside. But it always called me back, luring me in to write yet another layer until finally the characters evolved into who they were destined to be and each of the many plot pieces fell into place.”
The Map of Lost Memories plunges us into the world of Irene Blum, a loyal and resourceful assistant at a prestigious Seattle museum who has been passed over for the curator position she has coveted—and earned. (Fay, who now lives in Los Angeles, is a native of Washington state and a former bookseller at Seattle’s renowned Elliott Bay Book Company.) The story opens in exotic 1925 Shanghai, at a reception for Roger and Simone Merlin, a power couple in both archaeology and politics: the pair is being feted upon their return from France, where they have been raising funds for China’s Communist party. Irene has a vested interest in meeting Simone, hoping to gain her assistance in locating ancient treasures in Cambodia—treasures which the not-so-innocent Irene intends to take for her own purposes. Far from home and facing the unknown, she is untested but more than up for the challenge.
“[Irene] is a combination of Nancy Drew and me!” Fay says. “When I was a kid, I loved the way Nancy always took the lead and was the key force in solving each mystery with the help of her friends …. As for the ‘me’ part of Irene, that has to do with our shared unflagging determination to reach our goals. Funnily enough, if Irene reached her goal—the [Cambodian] temple—then I would reach my goal: a novel worthy of being published.” The rest of Fay’s characters—a roster including corrupt officials, her sage but mysterious mentor, and a dashing lover—are rendered with as much affection. “The expatriate world is ripe with notably off-the-wall personalities, and it wasn’t hard to conjure up a supporting cast of eccentrics.” Fay’s love affair with Southeast Asia has deep roots. “My grandpa was a sailor in Asia in the 1930s, and when I was young he told my sister and me stories about his time there. Because of this, I was fascinated with the region. But I didn’t begin to study it until I moved to Vietnam to teach English in 1995, and then started working on The Map of Lost Memories in 1996. The thing I love about research is that one thing always leads to another, and the more I learned about the history and culture, the more I wanted to know.”
As the action makes its way across the region, the novel’s atmosphere is enhanced by period details, vividly authentic though never obtrusively presented. Fay’s quest for information took her “through every back alley bookstore in Saigon” as well as countless hours spent at the Los Angeles downtown library. As the Internet grew and websites on all manner of subjects proliferated, Fay submerged herself in online research. “I actually managed to construct 1920s Phnom Penh in a kind of diorama using an old map and vintage postcards I found online. I even found a YouTube video of a film from the 1920s of Cambodian dancers.” Armed with her extensive findings, Fay layered her manuscript with telling details, weaving in what fit and jettisoning what didn’t suit the flow of the story. “In the end, when it comes to the research I did …. I had to leave out far more than I put in. But I think this is to the benefit of the novel, because what remains is integral to setting up mood, authenticity, and plot.”
The story moves fluidly between intimate scenes that delve into the characters’ relationships and the rollicking, suspenseful adventure that takes the lot of them to far-flung places, from the genteel salon of a steam ship to black nights deep in the Cambodian jungle. To capture the sights, smells, and sounds of the wilds, Fay drew on many sources for authenticity, though she did stop short of field-testing her heroine’s most daring undertakings: “Bottom line: I’m terrified of snakes!” Fay confesses. “So the majority of the details in the jungle/adventure scenes are based on reading … as well as on-the-ground information from Andy Brouwer. Andy is an Englishman living in Cambodia, and he has a fascinating hobby: temple hunting! I remember when I sent Andy an early draft of the book, and he responded that the jungle scenes were too sparse and unconvincing. Where were the ants? Where was the filth? Where was the never-ending humidity? I’m grateful to him for being so honest and pushing me to make this section of the book as realistic as possible.”
The final result is a page-turner that has won praise throughout the literary world. Nicole Mones (Lost in Translation) called it “an enchanting, absorbing first novel, all the more remarkable for its effortless portrayal of a bygone era, now nearly forgotten.” The spirit, pace, and intrigue of Fay’s vivid world conjure thoughts of another medium, recalling the smart charm of Raiders of the Lost Ark or an ensemble quest from Hollywood’s golden age; the novel’s eventual optioning for the movies seems a foregone conclusion. Fay’s readers look forward to many projects to come from her, whether novels or stories from life. “Fiction and nonfiction each offer their own freedoms and their own limitations, which is why I am almost always working on both at the same time,” Fay says. “Because The Map of Lost Memories is a novel, it allowed my imagination to run wild. With fiction, there is structure, but there are no absolutes. A writer can follow any path a novel takes, just to see where it leads. Of course, there are a lot of dead ends. But sometimes the path winds along to the most amazing, unexpected place.”

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