Tuesday, December 30, 2008

She's behind you!!

We had booked tickets online for local theatre group, W!ld Rice's, Christmas panto production of Snow White a few weeks before we left Cambodia. Arriving on the evening of the last day of M's school term in Phnom Penh we just managed to make the second to last show, the next day, at the Drama Centre Theatre in the National Library, and we were all so glad we did. Traditionally pantomime, a British tradition, is a raucous comedy involving varying amounts of slap stick, song and dance, cross dressing (the female antagonist is usually played by a guy), a fairy tale or two, veiled (it is a family show) innuendo, audience participation (usually involving small intense voices yelling, in a not so small way, .....'SHES BEEEEHIIINNND YOOOUUU!!....') and in-jokes.

Internationally Singapore is known for its 'strict' rules around the behaviour and conduct of its occupants. You can be fined if you are caught spitting, jaywalking (although on any given day in downtown Orchard Road you may be forgiven for thinking this rule is merely a rumour), littering, eating on the MRT, bringing durians (a truely memorably odourous fruit) on any public transport or into many hotels, leaving water pooled in gutters, washing poles, plant saucers etc ('If they breed you will bleed'), forgetting to flush the loo and peeing in elevators (hmmm, if you actually need a rule to prevent this....).
It is no secret and completely by design that there are rules so strict around public assembly, the freedom of speech and protesting they make these human rights prohibitive. Many forms of the media are still heavily censored and favour the government. The Peoples Action Party, the government of Singapore since 1959, has been known to use Singapores defamation laws to bankrupt those who dare criticize them. Those seen as a threat have been held without trial, in some cases, for years. In 2000 the government of Singapore reluctantly designated an area known as the 'speakers corner' in Hong Lim Park. The Straits Times reported that Wong Kan Seng, Home Affairs Minister, told the Opposition at the time “Actually we don't think it's a good idea but if that's what is wanted and if we can manage the risk, we will provide for it. We'll let you try it out.” The project was intended to give the impression that Singaporeans are not devoid of their democratic rights, as is often asserted by other 'democratic' nations of the world. Anyone wanting to use the spot had to register with the police (since September this year you can do this online on the National Parks website), show their ID and provide their own soap box. They should not touch on issues such race and religion or anything that can be deemed to promote violence or could be considered libelous or slanderous to any government ministers and content should be kept clean.
Where am I going with this you may well ask?
Right back to the Enchanted Kingdom of Snow White where for two and a half hours each night from the 26th of November till the 20th of December and twice on Saturday and Sunday all bets were off. The audience gleefully tittered, giggled and down right roared as line after clever line poked fun at Singapores quirks and foibles and it’s very own English dialect, Singlish. It soon became obvious that the Queen, with serious control issues and a penchant for calling in a lawyer, was intended to resemble Singapore’s esteemed leader disguised in colourful creations of taffeta and lace and an enviable singing voice. The 'speakers corner' was the least human populated area of the enchanted kingdom where Snow White went to escape the clutches of her selfish step mother and feed the cute wild animals of the kingdom (the not so cute ones live in the ‘Outer Limits’ with the dirt, rubbish and the 7 ugly ‘dwarves’ disfigured by the single mandatory enhancement surgery every citizen received at 18). The Queen who always won the heavily rigged annual election...opps I mean beauty contest.... and maintained her status of the ‘fairest in all the land’ by using government taxes to pay herself a million dollar salary, which she then used for further enhancement surgery, soon became aware that she had a rival in the beauty stakes. Someone so perfect she didn’t need the mandatory enhancement surgery. She forced the government doctor to agree to disfigure the physically perfect Snow White but he chickened out and instead helped Snow White escape to the Outer Limits where she discovered things weren’t quite so grimy and ugly as she and all the other citizens of the Enchanted Kingdom, had been led to believe. There was of course a charming prince, a mouthy and painfully (for some) honest mirror and a very Singaporean nanny. The animals of the Singapore zoo even made an appearance in what was such an entertaining production we will most certainly be looking out for more of W!ld Rices offerings this coming year(which include a version of one of my favourite plays 'The importance of being Earnest' by an all male cast) and will definately be in the audience of next years panto.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Home soon

M and I are still in Singapore having a very different Christmas....I'll tell you more when we get home.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Its the 17th of december today and its my birthday.

I am


This according to this site this was the number one song on my birthday the year I was born.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A busy weekend

Saturday was International Day at ISPP. This used to be a bit of a non affair for the kiwis with a possible small showing at the parade of nations. Two years ago this all changed. The call went out and kiwis stepped foward from beneath the fog of their busy Phnom Penh lives to perform, entertain and feed.

This year a choreographed medley of waiata a ringa.....

...swishing, whirling poi....

.......and a thunderous and fiercesome haka.....

...was put to a background of New Zealands best scenery and a contemporary rendition of 'E papa waiari' played on two prominently placed flat screens.

After the performances we fed the crowd with New Zealand ice cream and popcorn and enticed them into our Kiwi movie theatre to watch some of New Zealands best ads and a montage of our New Zealand photos featuring members of the crew put to 'Melting pot' by When the cats away.

A exhausting day filled with comraderie, laughter and kiwiness was enjoyed by all.

That night was the opening night, of a three show run, of the Christmas Panto 'Aladdin under the sea' by the Phnom Penh Players. It had been an intense lead up with a couple of months of rehearsals and preparation in a leisurely manner followed by two weeks of almost nightly rehearsals for M who played Aladdins best friend Zac and hours in the car going back and forth and copious coffees while waiting in cafes for homework to be finished, because there is not enough time between school and stage to battle the war that is the traffic between town and home, for me. But it was all worth it in the end because M was made for the stage and well panto is christmas. We take what we can get when living in a country where there isnt a day off on the 25th!

M hamming it up with widow Twanky.....

.....and his 'girlfriend' Daz

The cast of Aladdin under the sea' Christmas 2008

Later that night our driver told us that he and M had been in the car on saturday morning (racing home to get the New Zealand music I had left behind) when he heard three gun shots just behind them. He pulled to the shoulder, crawling slowly. A split second later a moto with two boys speeds past with a police car full of gun totting thugs...opps sorry I meant policemen... on their exhaust filled tail. This hot on the heels of a similar incident in the land where the gun is law where the 'robbers' eventually turned on their uniformed pursuers in the middle of the road and fired back. Everyone has a gun here it seems. J has already been 'shown' a pistol (similar to being shown who is boss).....gun comes out of glovebox, is stroked and bullets checked, replaced then gun is bedded back down into its 'drawer' owner satisfied J has been reminded that....The Gun Is Law in Cambodia. I guess thats why we get a weeks 'hardship' leave, even the police don't routinely carry guns in New Zealand.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Dancing in 42 different countries

Have you seen this? It's doing the rounds at the moment but I hadnt stopped and watched until today. I'm glad I did because I smiled the whole way through. I have always thought of dancing as soul food and judging by the laughter and giggles you can hear in this video it it is for a lot of other people too.
The colours in it are amazing too.

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Grow a mo

This is Tom James, from Auckland. Chosen out of 171 252 Movember moustaches he is the first New Zealander to win the International Man of Movember 2008. He was selected for the honour for his moustache and for his dedication to the Movember cause.

Movember is a moustache growing event the goal of which is to raise awareness and money for mens health issues specifically for prostate cancer research and support services, and the Mental Health Foundation's "Out of The Blue" programme to help men with depression. According to the website 'men lack awareness about the very real health issues they face. There is an attitude that they have to be tough - "a real man" - and are reluctant to see a doctor about an illness or go for regular medical checks.

Movember aims to change these attitudes and make men's health fun by putting the Mo back on the face of New Zealand men in support of two critically important causes.'

So far this year, New Zealand has raised $760,000 for Movember a figure down on previous years due to the 'global economic crisis'.

I'm not a big fan of facial hair on males or females but since its a such a good cause....

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Human Rights Day is a holiday...

(Eleanor Roosevelt with the Spanish version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from amnestyinternational.wordpress.com)

On the 10th of December 1948, still reeling from the aftermath of World War II, the General Assembly of the United Nations voted, 48 in favour, none against and 8 obstentions, to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That was 60 years ago today.

Have you read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? It is the most translated document in the world and you can see 337 different language versions here or you can watch this elegant version created by New Yorker Seth Brau of CoolHunting for the Human Rights Action Centre. It effectively spells out in a beautiful typographic symphony all of the declaration's 30 articles in less than five minutes to a rift from 'Minds awake' by Rumspringer.

Despite the fact that many countries have adopted some of the declarations principles (such as the right to equal protection before the law or the right not to be tortured) in their constitutions, law courts have referenced them, citizens have relied upon them for protection and every country that joins the United Nations agrees to abide by them...many do not. Amnesty International's annual status report says that people are still being tortured or maltreated in at least 81 countries. That in 54 states people face unfair trial and in at least 77 nations they do not have the freedom to speak out. It singles out nations such as China, Russia and the United States for their failure to adhere to particular freedoms and rights promised under the declaration as well as current 'hotbeds' such as the Congo, Darfur, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Gaza, Iraq and Myanmar. It calls Western governments 'impotent', 'ambivalent' and 'reluctant' when it comes to taking on some of the 'world's worst human rights crises'.

Cambodia has a horrific history with regard to human rights and although things are better today there are still significant human rights violations. Government employees torture, injure, kill, rape and illegally detain. Government officials routinely confiscate or prevent access to personal property, land, farming or fishing sites. Political killings occur during elections. Political opponents are threatened and intimidated, so too are human rights workers in some remote provinces. Impunity for government and the monied or connected is a 'rampant problem'. Child labour is a very real and common problem as is violence towards women that is not addressed by the court system.

In Cambodia today is a holiday. In the past the government has vetoed public celebrations but this year the Minister of Interior Sar Kheng stepped in. Since 'Cambodia is a signatory of this convention (the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)' he ordered the Phnom Penh governor to facilitate whatever events were planned in a letter. A coalition of NGO's called Friends of December 10th have organised events designed to 'mark human rights achievements and also to shed light on rights violations in Cambodia' symbolically tied together with a blue krama (traditional Khmer scarf) and a common theme titled 'We All Need Freedom and Justice.'

In Battambang, at least 1,000 people are expected to fly balloons.

In Banteay Meanchey province, 500 tuk-tuk and mototaxi drivers will gather for a solidarity concert.

In Phnom Penh, 5000 people are expected to march from Wat Lanka to Wat Botum.

On another related note the day before yesterday it was reported that government and NGO leaders have agreed to form an independent human rights body, the first of it's kind, to help tackle Cambodia’s 'law of the gun.'

'The problem in Cambodia is that no human rights body is independent and fair,' Pa Nguon Teang, secretary-general of the Cambodia Working Group (CWG) for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, said. 'Corruption is widespread in Cambodia's courts, which have failed to enforce human rights laws.'

Its a small but significant step forward.

When I grow up I want to be just like you!

Like it or not if you are a parent you are a role model.

It may not seem like it sometimes but your children look up to you. My children look up to me. It's a huge responsibility. I'm not even anyone special; I don't save lives for a living, I haven't written anything outstanding, I haven't discovered anything groundbreaking... but wait .....

I have helped create two amazing boys, boys who are fast becoming men, men who I hope have learned, from me and their father, to be respectful and caring, upright and honest, curious and enquiring.

I hope they have learned that EVERY person they meet can teach them something and that maybe they too have something they can teach that person. That EVERY person they meet is as important as they are.

I hope they have learned to clean up after themselves, to treat the world where ever they are as if it were their own home and to leave enough for someone else even if it looks as if they are the last person to use it, eat it,drink it, need it.

I hope they have learned that their bodies are their temples and as such they deserve the greatest respect and that their neighbours and friends, mates and strangers have temples too which are just as valuable and as valued as their own.

I hope they have learned that it is not what you have in life but who you have that makes you rich.

I hope they have learned that maturity has more to do with the kinds of experiences you have had, and what you have learned from them. Not with how many birthdays you have had or the number of framed diplomas on your wall.

And I hope they have learned that we are all responsible for our own actions even if we were drunk or angry, tempted or pressured, pushed or coerced. I hope they have learned that people make mistakes and that forgiveness is important even if it's yourself you need to forgive.

I hope they know that I'm still learning too and that they are my teachers and that I am so proud of them and of the people they have become. My father once told me that you never really know if you have done a good job being a parent until you meet your children as adults and that it so true. I can't wait to see what else they have in store.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Lucky Miles

(from blinkfilms.com)

Last Night we went to a screening of the Australian film 'Lucky Miles' at Lux, a local movie theatre (with special appearances by the theatre cat who strolled across the stage in fron of the big screen a couple of time completely oblivious to the huge looming desert behind her or to the house full of noisy restless cinema goers). We found a park outside, paid for our 1500 riel parking ticket, climbed the steps to the second floor and the 'premium seating' carefully chosing seats within blowing distance of a fan and sat gingerly on the surprisingly comfortable but ancient seats that settled back just far enough to make you wonder whether they would take the weight of a full sized barang for a full length feature. There was a preview on screen of a Cambodian horror and I dont use that term lightly it was indeed horrifying and playing so loud even thinking was not an option. Eventually it finished and we settled in to the opening scenes of Lucky Miles played using Michael James Rowland, the Adelaide writer directors, personal copy on 35mm film reel the only medium the cinema is equiped to play.

(from istockphoto.com)

Inspired by true stories the film tells the tale of two men dumped with a group of Iraqi and Cambodian refugees, by a Indonesian smuggling boat, on a remote piece of Australia's unforgiving desert coast somewhere between Broome and Perth.

(from eaustraliahotel.com)

They are told by the boats captain, played by long haired rock star (described by Rolling Stone magazine as the Indonesian 'Bruce Springsteen') Sawung Jabo, that a bus to Perth is 'just over the hill'. 'Just over the hill', however, turns out to be nothing but Baron desert (and no, thats not a spelling mistake). Realising they have been abandoned the men split into their national groups, the Iraqis go one way the Cambodians the other. Soon all but two of the men (one from each camp) have been picked up by the Australian outback police and they are soon joined by the nephew of the boats captain who has accidently, in a scene of karmic comedy, blown up his uncles fishing boat and is now as stranded as their smuggled cargo. Iraqi 'I am a fully qualified structrural engineer' Youssif (played by Lebanese Australian Rodney Afif), Cambodian Arun (played by Filipino American Kenneth Moraleda) and Indonesian Ramelan (played by Indonesian Srisacd Sacdpraseuth) argue and bicker their way across the desert, the fourth and most imposing star in the flick, pursued by three accident prone reservists.

(from afc.gov.au)

The film is beautifully shot, frame after frame of stunning camera angles and incredible scenery. The actors are throughly believable; there is plenty of wry humour to drown out the characters harsh past, some joyous victories to counter the various set backs and some beautiful one liners.

Here's the trailer I found on YouTube.

We all really enjoyed the film. It was awesome to watch something on the 'big screen' an opportunity not readily available here in Cambodia that is unless you are into Cambodian horrors played at 110 decibels.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Where elephants weep.

On Saturday night we went to ‘Where elephants weep’ a rock opera that spins a unique twist on Tum Teav, the Cambodian version of Romeo and Juliet. The story line may be classic opera but the music most certainly was not. ‘Where elephants weep’, the brain child of composer Him Sophy, American producer John Burt and librettist Catherine Filloux, capably mixes the high pitched nasal wailing of traditional Khmer vocals, a keening buffalo horn, the rippling rhythmic mass of a reinvented roneat pluah (a traditional Cambodian xylophone adapted to its task with an added row of gongs and an extra set of mallets) and the sombre moan of bamboo flutes with the smoky pulse of the base guitar and the familiar rifts of a rock drum beat.

The story goes that two young Cambodian Americans, refugees from the Khmer Rouge genocide, have returned to Cambodia to reconnect with their spiritual roots by becoming novice Monks for a few months. Sam, who was a successful music producer for Sony, is finding the change and the memories particularly tough and leans on his more grounded friend, Dara. Then he meets Bopha, a beautiful but already betrothed Cambodian pop singer with an arrogant, ladder climbing, gangster, businessman for a brother and things get really tricky. When Sams request to disrobe is denied he does it anyway and goes in search of the exquisite Bopha. He finds her, sleeps with her, nearly loses her, nearly loses himself, finds himself again, loses Dara, finds Bopha who has found herself and finally in true operatic style releases Bopha to be herself, all for love.

Most of the lyrics were in American accented English with subtitles in both Khmer and English. The production, which took a stunning 7 years to come to fruition, was professional and polished. It began at the Cambodian Living Arts Centre in Lowell, Massachusetts (where a significant number of Cambodians settled after escaping their war torn homeland in the late 70’s and early 80’s) where a dedicated bunch of both Cambodian and Americans are working hard at reviving the traditional arts that were all but wiped out by the Khmer Rouge. ‘It's the first opera of mine and Cambodia. With the creation of musical instruments, I am proud of my work,’ said Sophy to the Lowell Sun (April2007). Seen as a ‘bridge between old and new styles’ it is hoped it will indeed spark a rebirth of Cambodian culture especially for it’s displaced. ‘I think when any culture is interrupted by the tragedy of war, it's particularly important to go back and visit those (ancient) traditions, but we are in the 21st century and it's also important to bring those traditions forward,’ offered John Burt after Saturday night’s show.

We certainly enjoyed the experience and will definitely be on the lookout for more. In the meantime we will be in the audience for the Phnom Players Christmas panto entitled “Aladdin under the sea’ and I have just bought tickets for W!ld Rice’s production of ‘Snow White’ in Singapore on the 20th.

After debuting in Lowell in April 2007 the 'Where elephants weep' has finally made its Cambodian premier here at the Chenla Theatre and will run for 6 sell out shows.

I found this on You Tube. It gives you some idea of how it all fit together.