(Currently: from Cambodia)
ARTS / CULTURE / VIGNETTES / FOOD / FROM THE ROAD / RANDOM
A Modern Tale of Real Life Cambodian Drama
Set in a grungy rock bar in the capital, Phare’s Circus’ Khmer Metal is an edgy and dramatic tale of the experiences, challenges and lives of modern-day urban Cambodians. From a troubled couple seeking to be seen, a drunk worker, to musicians and bar staff trying to earn a living, it provides a rare and unique glimpse into the social realities and dramas faced by Cambodian youth. Khmer Metal was created and based on the artists’ real life experiences and stories, who mesmerize their audience with their heart-pounding acts. This show is a must - bound to leave you feeling as though you’ve stepped off a wild social-coaster ride while being pleasantly drunk, without touching a drop of alcohol!
These Rats are Saving Lives in Cambodia
Cambodia is one of the most mine-contaminated countries in the world. Thousands of people have been killed by landmines leftover from three-decades of war; and thousands of survivors now live as amputees. While de-mining efforts have been ongoing since 1993, millions of ammunitions remain in the ground.
This piece highlights the work of the country's newest de-ming partners: namely, TNT-detetcing "Hero Rats" shipped to Siem Reap from Africa.
NOTE: Here's a brief introduction / this story is currently in the works & potentially commissioned by a US-based network.
Overcoming Poverty, Hardship & Discrimination
I meet people at times to whom I simply feel the urge to bow down to...they are often modest and overlooked, displaying incredible courage, determination and achievement - beating a slew of unfortunate and unnecessary odds stacked against them. I met a group of women, just like that, in a small village in Cambodia's countryside who are proving to be incredible role-models for many others in their respective communities.
Please allow me to introduce you to some of these amazing women:
MR. DY PROEUNG: CAMBODIAN ARCHITECT & LIVING LEGEND
Within moments of meeting Mr. Dy Proeung, I knew that I was in the presence of an amazing human being. I’m mesmerized by his story, his incredible achievements, his gentle and peaceful demeanour, and his unshakeable determination, optimism and courage - especially considering that he witnessed and lived through the darkest years of Cambodia’s horrific past.
Swaying calmly on a hammock perched between two majestic trees shielding him from the scorching sun, he leaps forward, buttons up his crisp white shirt, and welcomes me enthusiastically with a giant smile as I walk through the main gate of his property…into a magical world, unlike anything I’d ever seen before.
I came unannounced. “Hello! Welcome, welcome!” he says, doing what I believe he does on most days - namely, waiting to share his life story with anyone who cares to visit, and listen.
Not far from the main road that leads millions of tourists annually to one of the world’s most visited, and historically and culturally important, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Mr. Proeung has recreated temples from the Angkor Archeological Park - is his courtyard. They’re perfect miniature replicas of Angkor Wat, Bayon and Bantey Srey, with each meter of the originals scaled down to two centimetres.
To say that I am impressed by what I saw, would be a grave understatement. But more importantly, that none of this (Mr. Proeung’s contributions to the architectural understanding of some of the world’s most revered landmarks, which he achieved through his lifelong commitment and dedication to his studies, research, and work) would be available to the world today had he not hidden what he is most proud of - by deceiving a brutal regime and burying all references to his academic credentials and books of drawings - in the ground.
“Very dangerous, very dangerous Pol Pot. If Pol Pot [knew about] my diploma and my drawings, mort (“dead” in French)” he says.
1975 marked the start of the Cambodian Genocide, which throughout four-years of horror claimed the lives of up to three million people. Mr. Proeung lived in Phnom Penh when Khmer Rouge soldiers marched into the capital, especially targeting the country’s academics and artists.
“All very dangerous” Mr. Proeung repeats, while leaning his head forward and gesturing a chopping motion to the back of his neck.
The Khmer Rouge murdered about 90 percent of Cambodia’s intellectuals between 1975 and 1979. Mr. Proeung was a graduate from the architectural program at the Royal University of Fine Arts by that time, with a well-documented body of research and work which he produced by hand in his “Book of Drawings.”
In a desperate attempt to survive, Mr. Proeung managed to convince Pol Pot that he was an uneducated cattle farmer. Combined with the burial of his documented achievements, he survived and spent four years working in a Khmer Rouge labour camp.
He lived to see this day, and those that granted him the recognition that he so very much deserves.
In the early 1990s, during the UNTAC period (United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia), Mr. Proeung was introduced to King Sihanouk by a UK soldier. This led to a lasting relationship, the recognition of Proeung’s lifelong achievements and work, and a personal personal request from the King himself that he document and share his story with Cambodia’s young and future generations.
“No models, no computers…everything I did by hand, by hand” he says, “computer, computer” he adds while pointing up to the side of his head followed by a modest chuckle.
Mr. Proeung is very well aware that he’s beaten many odds, including the most unthinkable one, and those that allow someone like myself to look at this incredible man of talent, skill, passion, and courage while acknowledging that I am in fact speaking to, and in the presence of - a living legend.
Above is a brief introduction to Mr. Proeung. More to come…
Thank you for taking a moment to meet Mr. Proeung!
A Life Altering Art School & Circus
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the privilege and honour of spending some time at Phare, the Cambodian Circus, in Siem Reap. Phare’s cast and crew radiate such incredible talent, dedication and passion for their masterful performances - that I’ve often left the grounds speechless. Most have come from very difficult backgrounds, overcoming hardship through their hard work and commitment to the arts thanks to the opportunities provided to them by Phare Ponleu Selpak; a non-government organization that helps improve the lives of children, young adults, and their families through art schools, educational programs, and social support. I’ll be working with some of the footage I’ve gathered shortly - in the meantime, here’s a glimpse of Sothea Nem’s gravity-defying rehearsal (to lift your spirits;) and Vanthan's amazing music!
Boats, fireworks, street food & crowds!
Every year, Cambodians from across all regions, towns and provinces celebrate Bon Om Touk; the Cambodian Water Festival. The party runs during three-days and three-nights in early November to mark the end of the rainy season and the flow reversal of the Tonle Sap River.
While the main party happens in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap hosts a massive celebration too. I was fortunate enough to be here, for Bon Om Touk, this year. Thousands of people filled the streets of this ancient capital, with countless food stands, vendors, musicians and, of course, rowers who took part in the heart pounding attraction of the festival's boat races along the Siem Reap river.
Although the festival was put on hold for a few years after a series of fatal incidents (due to a stampede and drowning), the festival was re-introduced and thriving.
If in Cambodia during this time of year - Bon Om Touk is definitely a
festival worth experiencing!
Scorpions, Beetles, Maggots & Tarantulas Anyone?
Many call it the "food of the future" and it's something that I am desperately trying to build up the courage to sample for myself. Will I be able to ingest tarantulas, scorpions, maggots and other creepy crawlers? I have no idea, but I'm certainly willing to try! Please standby ;)
Here's a little something about my personal thought process on that:
Words To Live By: Kolthyda Chum
For a woman who was told not to pursue an education or to strive towards her goals in life, Kolthyda “Thyda” Chum is certainly proving those people wrong! With discrimination still being a significant problem in countries like Cambodia (and many other regions around the world), Thyda is a shining example of strength, courage, ambition, creativity and determination.
Utilizing her entrepreneurial mind and talents, Thyda is carving her own way in life - not only for herself, but also - for her entire family. Dear Thyda, my gear, skill, or video does not do you justice…you are an incredible woman and I feel so very honoured to have met you! You deserve to be celebrated and honoured!
THANK YOU for being the amazing and inspirational person that you are!
The (Shocking) View from Hotel Balcony
I will spare you my thoughts on this for now and simply provide you with a glimpse of the view from my balcony at one of the first hotels I stayed at in central Siem Reap. There are numerous crocodile farms in Cambodia - some legal, some not.
This particular crocodile farm is home to about 300 captive crocs - most destined for the Chinese market. (That's all I can say for now.)