Saturday, November 30, 2013

Tenth Dancer at Meta House

Em Theay adjusts the headdress of Sok Chea during The Tenth Dancer
I watched the Tenth Dancer on TV around 1994 for the 1st time. I fell in love with Em Theay and her struggles to keep classical Cambodian dance alive. I never thought I would ever meet the heroine herself and fall in love all over again, this time with the real person. But I did. She is one of my iconic Cambodian heroes and a true Giant (the role she was famous for) of Khmer culture. You can watch the Tenth Dancer at Meta House tomorrow, Sunday, from 7pm, in the presence of filmmaker Sally Ingleton - great kudos to Sally for bringing their work & struggles to the eyes of the world - and Em Theay's pupil in the film, Sok Chea. In the film, you will hear Em Theay and Sok Chea reveal their story of survival. I included an essay in the Resources section of my guidebook, To Cambodia With Love, and as you can imagine, I believe the documentary is a must see film resource.
Andy Brouwer Meets Cambodia's Tenth Dancer
Excerpted from
To Cambodia With Love: A Travel Guide for the Connoisseur, available from ThingsAsian Press.

Around the same time as I first came to Cambodia in 1994, I watched a memorable documentary that focused on the fledgling revival of Cambodian classical dance. It featured one of the survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime, which killed nine out of every ten of the country's dancers-hence the film's title, The Tenth Dancer. The survivor's name was Em Theay, and it was clear that she was a remarkable woman. Little did I know that years later I would meet her and discover that she was an even more exceptional individual than I first thought.
I was acting as the local fixer for a documentary about Cambodia, thirty years after the end of Pol Pot's iron-fisted rule. We'd interviewed Vann Nath, the famous painter of Tuol Sleng prison, and now it was the turn of the living icon of Cambodian royal court dance. Dressed in her finest clothes, her toothless grin spreading from ear to ear, Em Theay arrived with her eldest daughter, also a leading classical dancer. She was seventy-eight years old, and the prospect of talking about dance-her lifeblood for so many decades-was something she was eagerly anticipating.
With the help of a translator, Em Theay launched into the story of her life, a tale of funny moments interspersed with the sadness of the Pol Pot years and the subsequent struggles to resurrect her beloved dance traditions. She was chosen to dance at the age of seven by Queen Kossamak, for whom her parents worked as domestic servants. She grew up in the Royal Palace and was a dancer and singer in the King's Royal Ballet until the Khmer Rouge took over her country. At that time she was forty-three and was sent to live in Battambang, where her talents did not go unnoticed-her captors encouraged her to sing and dance as well as work in the fields.
In 1975, when the Khmer Rouge came to power, twelve of Em Theay's eighteen children were alive. By the end of the Khmer Rouge period in the late '70s, seven more had died and only five were left. Her spirit unbroken, Em Theay returned to Phnom Penh, where her knowledge and skills of the traditional arts were put to use as a teacher at the National Dance Company and the Royal University of Fine Arts until a few years ago.
She told her moving story with such grace and dignity that it was impossible for those present not to feel the emotion of the moment, and as I listened in awe, I quickly wiped away the tears before anyone could see. But laughter is never far from Em Theay's lips. She even surprised the cameraman on a couple of occasions by springing up from her chair to demonstrate the wealth of postures and movements that she knew by heart and had passed on to countless students over the years, including her own children and grandchildren. As she finished her tale with more of her amusing stories about her students, I found myself unsure whether to laugh or cry. She ended the session by sitting on the floor and handing me countless photographs of her family and some of herself, yellowing with age, but obviously precious items and memories. Clearly, her desire to pass on the secrets of the royal court dance has been undiminished by time.
In March 2009 Em Theay and her daughter lost everything in a house fire. Irreplaceable documents of dance and family history - her treasured notebooks, which contained the record of many important sacred songs and dances, along with those yellowing photographs, which she kept hidden from the Khmer Rouge on pain of death - were gone forever. A benefit concert and a screening of The Tenth Dancer have raised much-needed funds to assist her. While such support helps, nothing can be done to retrieve her invaluable possessions. Yet she continues on, undaunted. Her life has been - and still is - an incredible journey. She is not only a true survivor, she is also a vital link to Cambodia's glorious past.
Fact File: The Tenth Dancer. Sally Ingleton's 1993 documentary is a testament to the resilience of Em Theay and the rest of the Cambodia classical dancers and their dedication to resurrecting this vital link to Cambodia's past.
www.singingnomads.com/tenth
www.360degreefilms.com.au/the-tenth-dancer.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Over the river

Looking back over the Mekong River to Phnom Penh
Scouting around Phnom Penh for film locations today took me over the Mekong River by local car ferry to Areyksat village. Here's a couple of pictures from that trip. It was as quiet as a mouse in the village.
Vietnamese fisherman casts his net

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

The people you bump into

With Sothy Tep this afternoon
I bumped into Sothy Tep and her husband John on my way home today and had an interesting chat about pretty much everything. We'd never met before but had befriended each other on Facebook! Sothy returned to live in Cambodia this year and stood in the recent general election, gaining a national assembly seat for the Rescue Party in Takeo. A teacher in the United States, it was her dream to make a difference in her homeland and this is the first step. She is one of only 25 female MPs in Cambodia, and as you might expect, she's ultra keen on improving the life of women in her country. She originates from Kompong Cham and went to live in the US when she was eight years old in 1983.

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Enjoyable story

The little theatre performance of Elephant Man at Java tonight was very truthful to the film version of the same story and the 5 British actors did a grand job in bringing it to life. Very impressed, as its always been one of my favourite stories. Basically 5 actors working in a space just a bit bigger than a postage stamp. The Shakespeare for Dummies was more comedy skit than theater. 1 guy having some fun with his knowledge of the Bard and testing the knowledge of the audience. Nevertheless, a very welcome evening's entertainment, hosted by Java.

If you don't know the Elephant Man story, its essentially the inspiring true life portrait of John Merrick. 1890. Set against the backdrop of a Victorian London and the serial murders of 'Jack The Ripper', John Merrick, suffering from a rare genetic disorder is exhibited as a monstrosity at Fairs and Circuses. Eventually rescued by the famous London surgeon Frederick Treves, he emerges as a loving, gentle and dignified human being. The theatre company who performed at Java are Performance Exchange, an independent theatre company touring thought provoking and innovative presentations to many remote destinations around the world. The company has toured to 37 countries and counting. The fine cast from London includes Robin Berry as John Merrick who has been recently starring in The National Theatre production of 'One Man Two Guvernors' at The Haymarket Theatre in London.

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Comedy heavyweights & little theater

Emo Philips - comedy heavyweight
Upcoming gigs that are NOT to be missed. Get your tickets early for the next Comedy Club Cambodia as two major heavyweights will be hitting the stage on Tuesday 10 December at Pontoon. One of the USA's most easily recognised comedians, Emo Philips no less, will be bring his peculiar talent to Phnom Penh and he'll be joined by another big hitter, the UK's Gina Yashere. These are two mega stars of comedy, and we should be in for a riot.

A two part theatrical show at Java Café featuring the internationally acclaimed Performance Exchange Theatre Company from London and their most popular performances: Shakespeare for Dummies, a comedy, followed by the dramatic story of Elephant Man, will take place on Friday 22 November at 7.30pm, tickets $10. This is high quality little theater from England and is another event that is a must-see on the Phnom Penh calendar.

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Read about Steel Pulse

Steel Pulse 1979. LtoR: Phonso, Grizzly, David, Ronnie, Selwyn, Basil - click to enlarge
A reminder of the greatest reggae band on the planet - Steel Pulse. Shown above in 1979 and then below in 2012. Read about them on my website at http://andybrouwer.co.uk/steelpulse.html or at the band's own website at http://www.steelpulse.com/index.html.
Steel Pulse 2012. LtoR: Amlak, Jerry, David, Selwyn, Keysha, Donovan, C-Sharp, Sidney - click to enlarge

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Thierry calls time

A cartoon of Bin Thierry in his national kit, courtesy of KC Khmer Cartoons
Breaking news...Bin Thierry, Phnom Penh Crown's playmaking midfielder who starred for Cambodia U-23s in the recent BIDC Cup matches, has left the Khmer football fraternity open-mouthed by announcing his retirement from international football with immediate effect, at the ripe old age of 22. No reasons were given, just that it was a painful and difficult decision for the Paris-born player, who would not say any more on the background to his decision. This was his statement:
"Anyone that knows me will understand that one of the proudest moments of my life was pulling on the Cambodian national football team jersey to represent the country of my parents birth. Playing for the Khmer-Europe team and being welcomed to Cambodian football by Phnom Penh Crown FC was the start of a fantastic journey for me. It made the possibility of playing for Cambodia a reality and I was very happy to be selected for the Cambodia U-23 SEA Games squad. To then play against Malaysia, Laos and Thailand in the BIDC Cup was a dream come true. My dad even came over from France to watch my matches. The support and encouragement of the Cambodian football fans has made the experience even better than I could've ever hoped for. For these reasons, it is with considerable regret that I am announcing my retirement from the Cambodian national football team, with immediate effect due to personal reasons, which I will not divulge at this time. This has been a very painful and difficult decision for me to make, but with the support of the people closest to me, I believe it is one I have to make. LONG LIVE CAMBODIA!"
The online reaction to the news has been one of incredulity, after the player lived up to his messiah-like reputation with some excellent performances in last week's matches in the six-nation BIDC Cup. Cambodia were using the competition as a warm-up for their trip to Myanmar in the SEA Games at the start of next month. Now, they will have to do without arguably their most influential player. Meanwhile, Thierry will re-join his Crown colleagues in time for a week-long tournament in Nanning, southern China from Thursday of this week.
Since his arrival in Phnom Penh from France just over a year ago, where he was welcomed by no less than half a dozen television channels at the airport, his every move has been scrutinized. His performances on the pitch for Phnom Penh Crown won him many admirers and a call-up and starting berth in the SEA Games squad, while his off the field activities have earned him billboards advertising the Give Blood campaign, Bruntys Premium Cider and True Brands sportswear. His story has been covered in both the English-language and Khmer newspapers and magazines, he's got his own YouTube video (http://youtu.be/SZbvdWOR6b0) and he's even found time for a few arty pictures taken with his girlfriend model. One might question where he finds the time to play football. Well, with his decision today, he'll have a bit more spare time on his hands.
Thierry relaxing away from the football field with his model girlfriend - courtesy of Peter Phoeng

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Delance and Deeds

Chris Delance, pictured at S-21
Chris Delance was one of the western victims of the Khmer Rouge detention and execution center known as S-21 or Tuol Sleng. He was executed in late December 1978, just days before Vietnamese forces liberated Phnom Penh and discovered the center, attracted to the location by the stench of dead bodies. In their Saturday edition, the Cambodia Daily highlighted a new book by Peter Maguire and Mike Ritter called Thai Stick: Surfers, Scammers and the Untold Story of the Marijuana Trade, in which they follow the underground marijuana trade that covered Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 70s. Historian and former war-crimes investigator Maguire has already offered up his research credentials with his book Facing Death in Cambodia. In Thai Stick, Maguire suggests that Delance and his friend Michael Deeds, were sailing from Singapore to Thailand to collect a cargo of high-grade pot with the intention of returning to the United States. That was on 23 November 1978. They were never seen again. The two friends, both 29 years old, were captured and transported to S-21 where they were interrogated and tortured into confessing they were spies working for the CIA. They were executed soon after.

The Los Angeles Times covered the disappearance of Michael Deeds in an article 8 February 1990 by David Haldane. Remember - this is a 23 year old newspaper article.
An 11-Year Search for his Brother

Karl Deeds is engaged in a search. It has consumed the Long Beach man's thoughts for more than a decade. It has taken him to Singapore and Cambodia. It has induced him to call press conferences and to join political organizations. The search is for the bones of his older brother, Michael, whose 1979 death by torture made him one of only six Americans, according to the Western press, to have died in Cambodia's notorious Tuol Sleng prison. A grisly extermination center, the prison was the site of an estimated 20,000 executions under the reign of Pol Pot, a Communist dictator who ruled the country with an iron fist from 1975 until 1979. "I don't plan to spend the rest of my life digging up graves," said Deeds, 37. But he does plan to keep digging until he is satisfied that he has done everything possible to bring his dead brother home.

Michael Deeds was 29 in November, 1978, when he and a childhood friend, Christopher DeLance, set out from Singapore toward Thailand in a 42-foot sloop called the Iwalani. The two were experienced sailors, having already helped bring the boat from Hawaii, where Michael worked as a roofer to pay his bills and went sailing to have his fun. Both raised in Long Beach, the friends had attended Wilson High School together. Michael, his brother remembers, was very athletic, loved the beach and played guitar. But a few years after graduation, disillusioned with the growing pollution and overcrowding of Southern California, he moved to Molokai, Hawaii, where he soon acquired a girlfriend and a passion for adventure. The purpose of the young men's last trip, Deeds said, was to deliver the Iwalani to a group of prospective buyers in Thailand. But they never got there. Instead, Cambodian records later revealed, the friends were seized by Khmer Rouge troops somewhere off the Cambodian coast and taken to the prison in Phnom Penh. At Tuol Sleng, according to Karl Deeds, the two were tortured for more than 40 days until they finally signed "confessions" admitting to being CIA agents. The confessions were false, Deeds asserts. But on or about Jan. 5, 1979, he said, the two adventurers were executed just days before invading Vietnamese troops took control of the country and ended the slaughter. Because the executioners were in a hurry, Deeds later learned, many of their final victims were buried in shallow graves on the prison grounds. And because the Khmer Rouge was concerned about its place in history, he learned, its soldiers - known for their brutality and paranoia regarding "infiltrators" and "traitors" - meticulously recorded every execution. It was through those records that the world finally learned what had happened to Christopher DeLance and Michael Deeds. A year later a French journalist, the first Westerner allowed into the prison, noticed their names on a list of the dead. And copies of their signed confessions along with interviews with surviving prisoners later confirmed the story.

Karl Deeds, who was in the Navy at the time, heard the news on television. "I didn't believe it," said Deeds who, like his parents, had held out hope for Michael's safety despite the family's growing concern at not having heard from him in more than a year. "It was real hard." The news of his brother's death set Deeds on a search that continues to this day. A free-lance television cameraman, he earns enough money when he works to pay for tickets to faraway places between assignments. And by living in the Long Beach home of his parents, who support the search, Deeds said, he has reduced his living expenses enough to be able to continue the project. In 1980, Deeds made the first of several trips to Asia to piece together what had happened. And last year, after years of correspondence with the Vietnamese rulers of Cambodia anxious to distance themselves from their Khmer Rouge predecessors, Deeds finally became the first foreigner allowed to visit Tuol Sleng prison for the purpose of retrieving human remains. The prison is a museum now. On its walls, Deeds said, hang hundreds of snapshots taken by meticulous Khmer Rouge soldiers of their prisoners in the moments before their deaths. Deeds did not find a picture of his brother there. What he did find were six shallow graves which, by their locations and general condition, appeared to have been among the last dug. When their contents were exhumed, he said, the remains from two of them were identified by a local expert as those of Caucasians. Deeds also found a former prisoner who, miraculously, had survived and remembered his brother. Vann Nath, the prison artist, had been confined to a cell very close to the young American's. Every evening, he told Deeds, he would see the guards leading Michael off to another area of the prison for interrogation. And hours later, he said, he would hear the strange and disquieting sound of the young man singing to himself in his cell after a long night of torture. "That meant a lot to my family," Deeds says now. "It meant that (Michael) was strong. It meant that he was doing his best." Armed only with a rudimentary plaster cast prepared by the family dentist showing Michael's dental work up until the time he left home, Deeds was unable to positively identify either of the two Caucasian remains as those of his brother. So he had the bones stored in Phnom Penh and is negotiating through the American Red Cross for their return to the United States, where he hopes they can eventually be examined more thoroughly.

In the meantime, Deeds has earned a bachelor's degree in Asian studies from Cal State Long Beach, is planning a television documentary on America's role in recent Cambodian history and has become somewhat political. By not doing enough to destroy the Khmer Rouge after its 1979 defeat by the Vietnamese, Deeds says, the United States has contributed to the group's survival as a guerrilla force now fighting for political power in the wake of Vietnam's recent withdrawal. Last month, on the 11th anniversary of his brother's death, Deeds held a press conference in front of the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles and called for the U.S. government to put pressure on China to end its longstanding support of the Khmer Rouge. Some of his comments, he said, were carried by a local television station. And recently he traveled to Washington, D.C., to participate in the founding of a national coalition called the Campaign to Protect Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge, which shares his aims. As for the bones, Deeds said, he has not given up. Should the human remains now stored in Phnom Penh prove to be the wrong ones, he said, he plans to make at least one more trip to look for more.

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Cambodian Treasures


An ancient temple on Phnom Kulen
The Independent newspaper in the UK published an article on Cambodia today, which follows on from their recent visit and I get the briefest of mentions. Brief is better than none.

Treasures of the Cambodian Jungle
The 'lost' Khmer city of Phnom Kulen is more ancient and less crowded than Angkor Wat, writes Leslie Woit. 
Just how does a modern traveller find an ancient lost city? In the soupy heat of the north-west Cambodian jungle, I chose Lin to lead the way. He was one of several boys on scooters waiting by the edge of a dirt track, surrounded by banana trees and chirping cicadas. Wearing flip-flops and a blue T-shirt that read "cosmic", Lin's 110-horsepower Suzuki was my ticket into the black hole of time. We were heading towards the lost city of Mahendraparvata, the sacred mountain site where the reign of King Jayavarman II was consecrated in AD802. From this capital, the mighty Khmer Empire began a rice-rich domination of South-east Asia that was to last for more than 600 years. More recent times saw a long period when Cambodia's interests were bounced between neighbours, then the country came under French protection in 1863. This month, as Cambodia marks 60 years since independence from France, there's another reason to raise a glass to the passage of time. Buried beneath centuries of vegetation, the existence of Mahendraparvata – now commonly called Phnom Kulen – was confirmed to the world in June. Some believe it to have been the largest settlement complex of the pre-industrial world. The remnants of the city were revealed by high-tech archaeological research involving eight organisations, six countries and an airborne laser scanning process known as Lidar. Pre-dating its neighbour Angkor Wat by three centuries, the edge of the city is only 25 miles from the two million people who visit those Unesco-protected temples each year. The "lost city" is new, crowd-free and even more ancient. Suddenly old is new again.

Nobody said it would be an easy ride to get there, though. We negotiated potholes, ankle-deep bogs and one particularly rickety bridge where a plank of rotted two-by-four was all that lay between us and a watery garage sale. Several miles on, Lin geared down abruptly and veered off the road. Both sides of the skinny trail were choked by inky-dark jungle foliage. What was out there was anyone's bet. What was in my head was last night's advice, gleaned in a bar in downtown Siem Reap: "The general rule in Cambodia is to always make sure that you stay on the path." The sage counsel came from the lips of Stéphane de Greef. He came to Cambodia in 2001 from his native Belgium to map minefields, a deadly business in a land where war raged from 1970 to 1998 and Pol Pot considered the invisible weapons his "perfect soldiers". More recently, Stéphane applied his cartography skills to assist University of Sydney archaeologist Damian Evans on Phnom Kulen. After months of hiking, digging, plotting and scanning, the analysis finally came through. They had hit the jackpot. Arranging an ersatz treasure map of chopsticks and salt shakers on the table, Stéphane spelt out what 1,000 years of not mowing the grass can do. To get as far as the mapped zone, we would have to ride motorbikes, bushwhack through dense overgrowth and possible landmines and, oh yes, rebuild a bridge taken out by the arrival of the rainy season. So, when Lin's motorbike ran out of passable track, it demanded full engagement of my Inner Explorer to access even the outer reaches of this mighty metropolis. Who knew urban sprawl was a 9th-century invention?

Slapped by rubber plants, beaten by the odd banana bush, we dismounted for a half-hour tramp to Sras Damrei, a plateau 1,300 feet above sea level. Through the trees, I spied an elephant sporting a regal moss-green robe: 15ft high and carved 1,200 years earlier from a single sandstone block. Beside it, two giant lions offered stoic company, ferocious jaws frozen open since AD802. Following their gaze through dark, damp foliage, just beyond a blood-red landmine marker hacked into a tree trunk, a millennia-old city as big as Hong Kong still waited to be unearthed. Archeologists have already located some 30 temples on Phnom Kulen using helicopter-mounted lasers to measure variations in ground height through dense vegetation, a process Stéphane likens to being able to "see the bones without opening the skin". But don't expect your visit to dispense the user-friendly terraces of Ta Prohm or the grand crenellated towers of Angkor: some temples form mounds up to 33 feet high, others Stéphane describes as "a pile of bricks". Excavations of the Khmer Empire city – roads, sewers, temples and houses that formed the capital of South-east Asia's most powerful empire – are just beginning. Any anastylosis, the reconstruction of a monument from fallen parts, is yet to commence. Elephant Pond was as far as we were able to reach on that particular day. The motorbike trip to reach its edge cost $10. The experience? Priceless.

"Two kinds of travellers will be interested in Phnom Kulen," said Andy Brouwer, product manager at Hanuman Travel, a Cambodian specialist tour operator. "Serious backpackers and high-end adventurous types." For the luxury-loving explorer, they'll erect a lavish safari tent camp with cooks, loos and showers, a glamp into the jungly midst of living history fit for a Khmer king. If that's not enough to impress the folks back home, an eighth wonder of the world will be at your disposal as a party venue. Several of the mysterious, magical temples – including the brooding downcast eyes of Bayon, the lotus-laced moats of Banteay Samre and Angkor Wat itself – can be illuminated and wired for sound for private champagne-fuelled exaltations. Circuses, string quartets and welcome elephants (minimum of two) can be available as extras. A muted version of this Buddha-bling made a welcome appearance as we beat a sweaty retreat. Slipping into the sumptuous French-styled Art Deco serenity of Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor at Siem Reap, faultless five-star service unfurled as predictably as a well-oiled ceiling fan. Opened in 1932 for a new wave of affluent visitors to Indo-China and "the mystery that is Asia" as the literature promised, it has hosted sultans and soldiers in its day. While a butler unpacked my jungle-soaked kit, a pool attendant requested permission to mist my exploration-wilted body next to Cambodia's biggest swimming pool – a shocking contrast to the period when the hotel housed the Khmer Rouge, and prisoners were encamped behind what are now tennis courts.

A glorious history, a tortured past and recent rebirth. There's plenty of emotional push-pull during the course of a Cambodian day, nowhere more so than in the capital Phnom Penh, where the sturdy visitor can roll several horrors into the course of one traumatising day. Mutely, I stood before a glass stupa displaying 8,000 skulls exhumed from mass graves at Choeung Ek Killing Fields, one of 389 camps that claimed a significant proportion of an estimated quarter of the Cambodian population killed by Pol Pot's regime. I followed this with lunch at Lotus Blanc. Laced with hope yet appalling in its own way, this restaurant is part of PS – a charitable school that is successfully educating and housing children rescued from living in rubbish dumps. I capped this off with a visit to S-21, a notorious prison of the Khmer Rouge where 17,000 enemies of the state were executed and frangipani blossoms now litter its paths. Here, after a group tour of the cement floored cells, S-21's longest survivor talked to us about his seven years held by Khmer Rouge soldiers. "Bullets were expensive," said Bou Meng through a translator, explaining how he and others were beaten with rattan whips and machetes fashioned from sugar palm trees. He was spared death because of his talent for painting the portrait of Pol Pot – he used soot harvested from oil lamps and had to first pass a test by painting pictures of Mao and Stalin. Bou Meng held up the final black-and-white, near-photographic image that saved his life. The impassive, unlined face of Brother Number One stared back. When he lifted up another work, done some time later, Bou Meng's face crumpled. In vivid colour, he had depicted the Khmer Rouge slitting the throat of his wife.

At the end of a long, emotional day, it was heart-lifting to watch lithe young dancers from the Khmer Arts Ensemble perform Cambodia's classical form of ballet. The graceful Apsara dance invokes the female spirit of water and clouds, their wrists and knees, all of their joints, achieving the same artful contortions carved in countless bas-reliefs at the temples of Angkor Wat. I saw these for myself the next day, on a trip to the temple complex. The most memorable consisted of the nine-headed serpents, the eight-armed Vishnu and the seductive coilings of no fewer than 1,500 Apsara dancers in one long languid row, acting out the Hindu creation story of The Churning of the Ocean of Milk. It's a dazzling and hugely romantic saga that has lasted for 1,000 years and it's one that the lost city of Mahendraparvata is set to continue. "We were really just not expecting it all," admitted Stéphane. "Roads, city blocks, houses. Under rice fields, beneath forests, it's everywhere. This is a revolution." As Cambodia moves through its most recent incarnations – colonialism, independence, war and revolution – this new discovery starts yet another chapter for the archeologically inclined traveller. As Stéphane says, "We are just at the beginning of the adventure."

Travel essentials:
Getting there
Leslie Woit travelled as a guest of Thai Airways which has return flights from Heathrow to Phnom Penh via Bangkok from £808.
Staying there
The writer was a guest at Raffles Hotel Le Royal which has doubles from US$220 (£147), including breakfast; and Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor, which has doubles from US$325 (£202), including breakfast.
Visiting there
Raffles' Journey Through Khmer Culture tour starts from US$3,187 (£2,125) per person based on two people sharing the tour. It includes five nights' B&B accommodation with Raffles Hotels; Resorts, all activity options – including a helicopter flight over Angkor Wat, a dawn visit to Ta Prohm and an exploration of the walled city of Angkor Thom – and some additional meals; entrance fees; English-speaking local guides; and transfers. © independent.co.uk

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Friday, November 8, 2013

In the air

Vansy - no longer the tomboy
I was as proud as punch when I heard a while back that my god-daughter, Vansy, who I first met some ten years ago, had joined Cambodia Angkor Air as a flight attendant (air-stewardess to you and me). It seems like only yesterday that she was kicking lumps out of me whilst playing football, like all good tomboys do. Back then, before her 11th birthday, she wanted to be a teacher. I attended one of her English lessons a little bit later and she was head and shoulders above the other kids in every way. And she now looks after passengers on the country's national carrier. Very proud of her.

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Imminent arrival

Laura Tevary Mam - photo by Mark Sebastian
We should know more about the future of Laura Tevary Mam and The Like Me's - the all-girl band that took Cambodia by storm last year - pretty soon as I hear Laura is on her way over to Cambodia and planning to perform, solo. The Like Me's grabbed the attention of the Khmer youth and developed a big fan following with their recreations of classic Khmer tunes and real competence as musicians and performers, and through personal appearances, free gigs and lots of promo, but it went deathly quiet towards the end of last year. Laura has already recorded her debut solo EP, Meet Me In The Rain, after a wildly successful fund-raising effort on Kickstarter (it raised almost $12,000), which has also allowed her to head on over to Cambodia for what will be a solo tour. The only gig that has been announced so far is at The Village in Phnom Penh on 23 November, but we should hear more once she arrives on these shores. Looking forward to it.

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Moments before

Team photo of the adventurers - click to enlarge
 A bunch of intrepid explorers moments before they launch themselves into the dense tropical rain forest. As if. More like a couple of quick team photos before we went for a short hike into the forest to visit some burial jar sites in the middle of the Southern Cardamom mountains. It was a very remote location, so we arrived by helicopter. It's about 2-days hike from any village, and the jars were only discovered in 2012, so they really are rarely-visited. They date from between the 14-17th centuries. Our socks are rolled up to ward off leeches. Horrible little blighters. I mean the leeches, not my fellow explorers.
Another team photo, I think we lost some of our team in the jungle - click to enlarge

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Monday, November 4, 2013

Coffee break time

Time for a coffee and croissant break - click to enlarge
Enjoying coffee and croissants after arriving by helicopter on a small plateau overlooking part of the Southern Cardamom mountain range. Sipping piping hot coffee, munching on my croissant and listening to the singing of the wild gibbons in the ocean of forest below us. That's the life.

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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Dance platform

Another Amrita contemporary dance show pulled in a full house at the Performing Arts theatre last night, to watch three separate performances from three very different choreographers. First up was Belle's Bach Cello Suite and with the lady herself joined on stage by three other female dancers it was her trademark flurry of activity, beautiful non-stop movement and strong women characters. The appearance of Yon Chantha is always a good sign, she is a superb dancer and has her own inimitable style, while Belle is a true one-off, a remarkable gift to the contemporary dance movement in Cambodia. Kao Sithy Nita and Khen Vanthy are two excellent new(ish) faces and performed admirably alongside two of my favourite dancers. Next up was Leak, aka Chy Ratana, who did a solo piece by Peter Chin called Ferocious Compassion. Leak is a sought-after dancer and actor and it's easy to see why, he showed fantastic fluidity and strength, in what is Chin's fifth collaboration with Amrita since 2006. The last part of the show was Nam Narim's project called Dream, with five dancers, four male and one female. Narim comes from a long family line of classical dancers but her current focus is very much on contemporary, both as a dancer and choreographer. This was the first contemporary dance platform from Amrita, showcasing works by Cambodians alongside international collaborations. The sold-out audience suggests the interest in contemporary works of this nature are more than a welcome addition to the city's arts.

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Friday, November 1, 2013

To Know Death

Prolific author, D W Brown will publish his sixth novel, To Know Death, in a few days time. This is what the author had to say about his latest novel, which is set in Cambodia. "During my early years in the military, I deployed to Cambodia and saw first-hand the atrocities there, which is the reason why I decided to write this novel. As a young soldier, we taught the Cambodian military how to operate heavy equipment in order to upgrade their dilapidated road network.  We visited the Killing Fields, as well as some of the museums that I reference in my novel. In To Know Death, a military team deploys to Cambodia to search for soldiers missing in action from the Vietnam War, where they unearth a mass grave-site containing over 300 hundred bodies.  Upon touching one of the bodies, Jason Taylor, the leader of the team and Munny Sum, the local Cambodian interpreter, both receive a jolt of electricity that sends them directly to the hospital, and gives them an unexpected ability." The author spent twenty years in the military and was deployed to Saudi Arabia, Cambodia, Kwajalein Atoll, Iraq and Afghanistan.

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