Friday, January 31, 2014

More on Duch

Next month will see the publication of a new book by journalist Thierry Cruvellier, who takes us into the dark heart of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge with The Master of Confessions: The Making of a Khmer Rouge Torturer, an account of the trial of former S-21 commandant, Comrade Duch.
Kirkus Reviews had this to say of the 336-page book, to be published by Ecco and translated by Alex Gilly: 
With chilling clarity, a veteran international journalist delineates the totalitarian ideology and horrific crimes of the leaders of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge. A witness to and chronicler of the war-crimes trials of Rwanda (Court of Remorse, 2010), Cruvellier likewise attended the arduous eight-month Khmer Rouge Tribunal in 2009 of the notorious head of the S-21 “death mill” in Phnom Penh, Kaing Guek Eav, aka Duch. Duch managed the prison, formerly a high school, between 1975 and 1979, and he was tasked with interrogating, eliciting confessions by torture and “smashing” the victim - the verb preferred by the court. A meticulous, methodical former math teacher and a loyal Khmer party member, Duch, then in his mid-30s, was the “perfect fit for the job” of interrogator. The pride he took in his work was reflected in the careful records he diligently kept and did not destroy before he fled upon the invasion of the Vietnamese in early 1979. The tens of thousands of his victims (which included children) - Duch constantly corrected the witnesses’ estimates - were duly photographed upon entering the prison, crammed in rooms, ill-fed and forced to confess by horrendous methods, including electric shocks, with the directions all annotated in his neat handwriting. Duch created the killing fields at Choeung Ek, the “lowly” act of actual murder relegated to his underlings. A dedicated Maoist, Duch directed his staff on the key elements of maintaining secrecy, fear and obedience. Former guards and victims of Khmer atrocities testified over many months, some more convincing than others; there were only a handful of living S-21 victims - e.g., two artists who were saved only due to the fact that they could make portraits of Pol Pot. The author’s portrait of the cool, contrite and calculating Duch is superbly memorable. Cruvellier is an extremely articulate and compassionate observer to a country and its people plunged through the rings of hell.

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Wat Phnom explained

A quick visit to Monument Books this week brought three more titles into my collection, notably an introduction to the pagoda central to the heart of Phnom Penh, Wat Phnom: Guide to Art & Architecture. Published by Chan's Arts late last year, the book is written by Chan Vitharong, an architecture graduate of the Royal University of Fine Arts and goes into great detail about the structures on top of Wat Phnom, as well as the intricate paintings that decorate its walls and ceilings. The 122-page book sells for $17 at Monument. The two main structures atop the small, man-made hill are the Preah Vihear, which houses the principle Buddha image, known as Preah Ang Chi and the spire known as Chedey Thom, rising some 33 metres in height. Did you know there are another 31 smaller satellite chedeys in the Wat Phnom compound? No, neither did I. If you knew nothing about Wat Phnom, other than it was the place where dowager Daun Penh kept the small statues she found floating in the river inside a big koki tree, then this book will enlighten you further. My other purchases were Walter Mason's Destination Cambodia and an official visitors guidebook to the World Heritage site of Wat Phu in southern Laos. 

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Tara and Sak

This is Sak at Wat Samdech Mony in Battambang
I wanted to highlight an article written by researched Tara Tran in the middle of last year, when she took a trip to Battambang with a very good friend of mine, Sak, to visit different Khmer Rouge genocide memorial sites in the province. I had a long chat with Tara when she arrived in Cambodia at the start of her mission and felt her articles worth highlighting for others to read. Visit her blog at
These are a couple of lines she wrote about Sak, who will be on camera when the new documentary film, Camp 32, is released later this year:
Sanvasak, or Sak as he goes by, was referred to me by Andy Brouwer. Some years back while in Battambang, Andy found a good friend in Sak, not to mention someone who was well grounded in the local history. After spending a Battambang day with Sak, I not only affirmed Andy’s opinion but concluded that Sak is possessed with something that is rebellious for Cambodia. He is a preservationist.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Brotherly love

A new book that examines the relationship between China and their support of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia during the 70s is the subject of Andrew Mertha's tome Brothers In Arms : Chinese Aid to the Khmer Rouge, 1975–1979. When the Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia in 1975, they inherited a war-ravaged and internationally isolated country. Pol Pot’s government espoused the rhetoric of self-reliance, but Democratic Kampuchea was utterly dependent on Chinese foreign aid and technical assistance to survive. Mertha suggests however, that China was unable to exert the level of influence it might've expected to wield. David Chandler said in his review of the forthcoming book, to be published in March: "Andrew Mertha talked to dozens of Cambodians and Chinese who worked together in the Khmer Rouge era. He has buttressed this research with forays into unexploited archival collections. The outcome - a judicious, vividly written analysis of the Sino-Khmer encounter - is deft, path-breaking, and persuasive." Andrew Mertha is Associate Professor of Government at Cornell University.

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Festival in Hollywood

I have been swamped with football activities as the new season kicked off on Sunday, so haven't been as active on my blog as usual. Apologies. Something to look out for later this year if you are living in the States: 3 August 2014 Hollywood, California looks like the place to be for the Cambodian Music Festival 2014 with Dengue Fever, Cambodian Space Project, Laura Mam, Savy and ten more artists on stage. Here's the preview video @


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Behind the scenes

5 of the PPCFC players looking tough and ready for action
The new football kit for Phnom Penh Crown's forthcoming season, which begins on Sunday, has just arrived from Thailand. The local entertainment website, Sabay, requested an exclusive photo-shoot with us, so they could be the first ones to reveal the new kit to the public. Not a problem. The photo-shoot took place yesterday and the photos went live this afternoon on the Sabay website. We took along nine of the club's first-team players for the shoot, which took a couple of hours at Sabay's offices, in a corner of their extensive offices. Not a glamorous photographic studio by any means. We used two new playing strips, red and blue, which we wear this season. Here's a couple of my pictures (not the official ones) taken during the shoot, and one that appeared on Sabay today. I'd seen some other shoots and specifically asked the photographer to make our players look strong and rugged, rather than weak and limp-wristed. It worked out okay.
The actual studio space - in shot is Khim Borey

The photo as it appeared on the Sabay website

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Filming The Gate

A scene from The Gate starring Raphaël Personnaz
According to reports, French film actor Raphaël Personnaz is currently in Cambodia, playing the main lead of Francois Bizot in the Régis Wargnier directed film of The Gate. Also starring Olivier Gourmet and the wonderful French screen goddess Catherine Deneuve, the film is an adaptation of the book by Bizot where he recounts his journey, including his detention in 1971 by the revolutionary Khmer Rouge. Chained, he spent three months in a camp where every day he was questioned by none other than Comrade Duch, who later took over as commandant of S-21 and was responsible for the death and torture of thousands. He is now serving life for crimes against humanity. Bizot was released and lived to tell the tale.

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Camp 32 complete

Sak (left) and Hom, tell their stories in Camp 32
Great news for the Camp 32 team who tell me their documentary film, originally titled In Search of Camp 32, is now complete and is being sent to film festivals worldwide. So happy for Hom, Gaye, Andrew, Tim, Sak and everyone involved in this project to tell a story that must be told. A Phnom Penh screening for a handful of survivors out of up to 30,000 people in Camp 32 who disappeared under the Khmer Rouge regime, is being arranged soon. You can see the latest trailer @ and check out their website @

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

1 in 5

Rithy Panh has a 1 in 5 chance of winning an Oscar award on 2 March after his film, The Missing Picture, was short-listed for the Academy award earlier today in the best foreign-language film category. Fingers crossed he gets the nod. Panh already has a Cannes award for the movie on his mantlepiece. Here's what I wrote after watching the film myself in August:
After a few false starts, I manged to watch the award-winning The Missing Picture at Bophana Center tonight and I found that the use of small clay figurines to portray the story of director Rithy Panh's life in work camps under the Khmer Rouge certainly worked for me. It was very powerful and unconventional, which gave the film a very distinctive character of its own, interlaced with black and white archival propaganda footage. I wasn't convinced by the subtitles, which were distracting and would've preferred the voice-over in English, but I would, wouldn't I. That aside, it was a unique way to tell his story and to fill in for what Panh sees as the real missing picture of what happened in the camps. The death of his father, who deliberately chose to stop eating, as well as his siblings focused us on the director's own suffering and telling the story with the hand-carved and painted figures allowed a greater degree of latitude to do that. There were no actors to direct, just the tiny static figures and the narration. Simple but incredibly effective.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

About a Boy

Savy, a name to watch out for in 2014
Pop-tastic! A name and voice to watch out for belongs to Savy, a Cambodian-American singer/songwriter born in Battambang at the end of the Khmer Rouge reign in 1979. Both her parents survived the genocide and emigrated to Seattle, USA that same year when she was just five months old. Her earliest memory of singing was when she was four, keeping herself entertained with her favorite toy, a record player. On 1 February she releases a new single and video, About a Boy, and it's available on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and more. It’s an upbeat, feel good song laced with her soulful voice. Savy recounts, “I wrote About a Boy when I was feeling hopeful and delighted by a special someone. Things don't always work out and last forever but I'll always have this song as a snapshot to that time and emotion. That's how music soothes me.” Savy will be part of the Cambodian Music Festival that will be staged on 3 August 2014 at the Ford Theatre in Hollywood, California, and already confirmed as attending are Dengue Fever and our own Cambodian Space Project, with Laura Mam as well. Watch a clip of Savy's video at Postscript: NRG89fm in Phnom Penh are playing About A Boy exclusively and have posted the song @

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Monday, January 13, 2014

Interview day

Rumnea, moments after her interview for a women's magazine today
A picture of Rumnea, fresh from an interview with Ladies Magazine on an article about women in business. Not only is she the back of house manager in a very upmarket restaurant in BKK1, Rumnea also works part-time for Kampuchea Party Republic photo agency, often getting behind the camera herself at events. Add to that her studies every morning in English and her accounting masters degree course in the evenings and she's got little time to breathe.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Goodbye Mam

Laura Mam on stage at The Village
Tonight's music event was a jamming session by Laura Mam and friends at The Village in aid of a good cause, ChildSafe at Friends International. A few of Laura's well-known numbers found their way onto the playlist as well as appearances by a handful of young Khmer musicians, as the former lead singer of The Like Me's brought to an end a brief but busy visit to Cambodia. She promises to return soon. Thanks to John Weeks for the invite.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Not forgotten

The musical focus of this weekend, began with the Cambodian Space Project last night at the new Oscars 51 bar and continued tonight with the premiere of the documentary, Don't Think I've Forgotten at Chaktomuk Theatre. Seven years in the making, the theatre was deservedly packed out and I was one of the unlucky ones to be sitting on the floor. However, the nostalgia was overflowing on the big screen and in the aisles as the film took us on a roller-coaster look at the heyday of Cambodian music. Uplifting and sad in waves that a country could lose so many talented artists, when the population was ravaged during the Khmer Rouge years. Surviving singers and musicians tell the story alongside some excellent archival footage of the 60s and 70s. The film was followed by a Q&A with some of the famous faces of the day and an open air concert, which I couldn't stay for.


Friday, January 10, 2014

Party time

Rumnea and myself at tonight's wedding party
It's wedding season in Cambodia and these pictures were taken at the party for one of Rumnea's university friends, who tied the knot today. Afterwards, I headed to Oscars 51 bar to watch the Cambodian Space Project perform before they head off for yet another tour, this time in Europe.
Rumnea and her university friends


Thirty years on

A still from the film, The Killing Fields
The definitive film on the Khmer Rouge takeover of Phnom Penh and Cambodia, The Killing Fields, is thirty years old. Coinciding with the anniversary,Warner Bros have released the film on Blu-ray. They've included a commentary by director Roland Joffé, in which spends very little time talking about what is happening on-screen, instead choosing to use the commentary time to tell about how the film came to be, how he became attached to it, and stories about both the actors and their real-life counterparts. The original theatrical trailer for the movie, two and a half minutes long, is also included. This film is powerful in the extreme and was part of my fascination with Cambodia in the 1980s when there was very little information coming out from any source. It won three Oscars for Best Supporting Actor (Haing S Ngor), Best Cinematography (Chris Menges) and Best Editing (Jim Clark) as well as nominations for Best Picture, Best Screenplay (Bruce Robinson), Best Director (Roland Joffé) and Best Actor in a Leading Role (Sam Waterston).

For those who are a bit techy, I'm not, this is something that might interest you. The film is out on Blu-ray in the digibook design, with the disc housed inside a cardboard booklet with a plastic holder glued to the back inside cover. The 36-page booklet inside the cover consists of historical background, bios of the actors, trivia, and a few quotes about the movie from notable critics – along with both color and black and white photographs. The inside front and back cover of the digibook consists of a montage of black and white photos from the movie. The back of the digibook includes a glued-on (and easily removable) slick with a synopsis of the movie as well as all the technical specifications for this Blu-ray release. The 50GB dual-layer Blu-ray isn't front loaded with any trailers and, after the Warner Bros. logo, goes straight to the main menu, which consists of the same still that is on the cover of the digibook, with menu selections along the bottom of the screen. Part of Mike Oldfield's score for the movie plays over the menu.

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Thursday, January 9, 2014


Glenn Wool doing his best to offend
Comedy was tonight's attraction, with Canadian laughter-master Glenn Wool doing his utmost to entertain the audience at a stripped-down Cambodia Comedy Club gig at Equinox. Wool's previous visit to Phnom Penh went down so well, he came back again. A few of his gags were the same but his delivery style is guaranteed to make you guffaw and as long as you are not easily offended, it works very well. Enjoying the fare on offer was my brother Tim and his pal Greg Beamish, both cricket fans who were in desperate need of some lighter moments after watching the England cricketers get stuffed in Australia. Also in the audience were a bevy of Crown footballers, enjoying the diversion from their pre-season preparation. Tim and Greg have just returned from a stint in Siem Reap and its always a pleasure to have my brother spend a few days here.
Yes, okay, I'm the small one in the middle, flanked by Greg (dark shirt) and Tim

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Out of the Ruins

Author Sue Guiney's much anticipated second novel in her trilogy portraying life in modern-day, post Khmer Rouge Cambodia, is out at the end of this month. It's called Out of the Ruins. Through her fiction, Guiney brings the reality of modern Cambodian life to an audience in the West. The Bangkok Post has said, “Writer Sue Guiney finds beauty in the most desperate situations.” Of the first novel in the trilogy, A Clash of Innocents, the celebrated writer, Tania Hershman, said, “this is a story that will grip you with its very real and flawed protagonists and fascinating setting. I read the book straight through, I was utterly absorbed.” Guiney will return to Cambodia next month, to continue her writing workshops at Anjali House in Siem Reap. The New York born writer told me; "I am continuing to write novels which confront the challenges of Cambodian life today (this one touches on the sex trade as well as women’s healthcare), while also trying to portray the essential goodness, optimism and humour which I continue to find in its people. Although a few more English speakers are writing fiction about modern day, post Khmer Rouge Cambodia, there still are all too few of us." Here, here I say. The book is published by Ward Wood Publishing in the UK, 200 pages and its likely a Phnom Penh launch will take place in March.

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Old times

Enjoyed a lunchtime rendezvous with Li-Da Kruger at NOM today. She's back in the country of her birth to continue her documentary about Cambodian dance. Li-Da was a big part of the Sacred Dancers of Angkor trip to the US that took place in October last year and her film will encompass that and much more. She also wants to include one of my very favourite people, Em Theay in her story. I've known Li-Da for a while and you can read more about her on my website @ She was also part of my last Magic of Cambodia Day in 2004 @ Besides being the feature of the documentary Belonging, Li-Da has gone onto make her own films, including the award-winning human trafficking film, Let's Talk About Sex.


Friday, January 3, 2014

Thai Stick launch

Meta House will host a book launch tomorrow (Saturday 4 Jan) from 8pm, of Thai Stick: Surfers, Scammers and the Untold Story of the Marijuana Trade, which looks at the 70s and 80s trade in dope and the efforts to stop it. Co-author Peter Maguire will present his book, which includes details regarding Chris Delance and his friend Michael Deeds, who 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 by the Khmer Rouge where they were interrogated and tortured into confessing they were spies working for the CIA. They were executed soon after.

Laura Mam's Friends For Friends gig at The Village, St 360, Phnom Penh on Sunday 12 Jan at 5pm. Entry $5 (light Snacks will be provided) - all for a good cause (Friends International) and it'll be her last show before heading back home.

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