Thursday, January 29, 2009

One of the perks...

One of the perks of living in the Penh is cheap DVDs.
Yeah, I know I shouldn't ...but I do ...
There are no genuine DVDs, pirated copies are sold in the markets, malls and in little shops all over town for between 1 and 2USD a disc. Everyone has their favourite sellers. We have three places all in rather high profile areas and all willing to exchange if the copy is not up to scratch (no pun intended).
Until now we have only ever bought the odd children's DVD on sale at The Warehouse or Kmart -$39-95 or $24-95 or even $19-95 (except maybe on birthdays) just didn't fit the household budget and besides, renting from the library was nearly free.

We don't have the luxury of an English language movie theatre, although there is a film festival every year, a French cinema, Khmer theatres playing mostly horror flicks at the same decible levels as a jack hammer and Meta House (which plays mostly documentaries and independently made films). Apparently the major distribution companies, the ones that move those blockbusters around the world, won't put Cambodia on their route until the levels of piracy reduce and with the majority of the population earning less than a US dollar a day (and many still below the poverty line) it is doubtful one would be able to make enough income to stay open for long.

The last six months have seen us amass a fledgling collection of movies from classics to blockbusters, obscure treasures to wonderful watchable modern animations, dramas, comedies, horrors and international movies plus a rather robust collection of television series. M has been an avid movie watcher since his first cinema experience before he was two and barely able to see over the back of the seat in front. He has an incredible encyclopaedic knowledge of the industry and an amazing recall of lines, detail and themes after only one sitting. He has the same insatiable hunger for the written word devouring book after book sometimes complemented by a screen version or two of the novels he reads. He is lucky enough to have landed in the middle of a class at school filled with similar minds and weekends are often spent at each others houses in darkened rooms, prone on beanbags and matresses watching the latest offering from Hollywood or a hunted down 'classic' fuelled by coke zero and peanuts.

A few weeks ago I totally fell for the cinematic poetry of WALL-E and EVE, a 21st century version of Romeo and Juliet. It is definately a keeper with layers that could still be peeled and an important environmental message quietly wrapped in beeps and very human expressions and suggestions in lovable robot vernacular.

Last week I sat enthralled by the animated detail of Horton's surroundings and was tickled by the Seussical prose in A Horton Hears a Who! There's nothing like a Seussicle to make you smile.

This weekend J bought home the big screen so M and I watched Lord of the Rings.

And still waiting in the drawer is the award winning Slumdog Millionaire and Oscar nominated Water, the last in Deepa Mehta's elements trilogy, the visually beautiful, controversal ode to female resistence set in the widow slums of India.

I am thinking a little research on home projector systems is in order! If we start saving now we might just be able to afford one before we leave for another post!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The repeat visit

Yesterday we had a couple of hours to spare so I took J to the museum.

We took a leisurely two hours to wander through the dusty halls of what is reputed to be the among the finest collection of bronze and stone statues in the world this time taking the time to read the labels and inscriptions.

Behind what is left of a huge 11th century bronze sculpture of a reclining Vishnu from the West Baray at Angkor is a room of old photos. Here, we discovered with delight, pictures of the opening of the museum in 1920 Phnom Penh. It has stood the test of time quite well considering the years of war it had to endure. The fact that the photos (in fact anything to do with culture, history and religion) exist is incredible as much was purposefully destroyed by the Khmer Rouge during their terror reign between 1975 and 79. Until 2003 the building's high ceilings were infested with the largest bat enclave inside a man-made structure in the world.

As with nearly everything here (except for the personal pockets of a select few) the museum suffers from a lack of funding. All gate revenues ($3 USD for foreigners, Khmer and school groups are free) are turned over to the Ministry of Finance. Yearly budget demands are helped by UNESCO, grants from other countries and the Cambodian Government. The building needs fairly major surgery but there have been recent upgrades to labelling, new lighting installed (they were marking the ceiling for more the day we were there) and a recently completed ceramics display. They are also working on their own website with links to Museum History, Collection, Khmer Art History, Exhibitions, Projects and Activities.

Increasing the awareness of the value of Cambodia's artifacts is important as the illicit trade in artifacts is still very much alive and well in Cambodia especially along the porous and largely unprotected Thai border.

Heritage Watch estimates $20 million of Cambodia's heritage has been sold since 1988 alone. Sadly they say at least 90% of the material sold on the antiquities market is illegally acquired. There are quite a few stalls in the old market in Siem Reap that proudly sell antiques (at much higher prices than the generic reproductions they also peddle) and after visiting the museum and seeing what is in the glass cases I am inclined to believe these are, in fact, what they say and they are, indeed, pilfered from temple sites.

The problem is not an easy one to solve in a country where poverty seems endemic. There is a long history of temple looting, no complete inventory of as many as 1200 temple sites and little money to devote to education or the actual protection of the relics. Even local and military police are in on the act. Alison, a graduate student who spent last year doing research for her PhD on Cambodian archeology, has written about this article too.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What I miss the most

Apart from family and friends what I miss the most is New Zealand writing, music and dance.

Hone Tuwhare is my favourite New Zealand poet (21st October 1922-16 january 2008). He spoke only Maori until he was 9 but learned the art of gracefully combining words into lyrical stories from his father who was an accomplished orator. His words are now even more precious as they will no longer be added to. He sometimes worked with a great New Zealand artist, Ralph Hotere, but thats another story...

Rain my favourite poem by Tuwhare

I still listen to a lot of New Zealand music. We have our own sound just can't hear anywhere else. Here are a few of my all time favourites.

No Ordinary Thing- Opshop

The many and varied flavours of NZs own Goldenhorse

Run Run Run-Goldenhorse

Northern Lights-Goldenhorse

The unique vocals of Minuit.

Except you- Minuit

The clever lyrics of Pine


A student classic

Gutter Black- Hello Sailor

The Black Seeds reggae NZ style and some great visuals NZ style too

So True- The Black Seeds

Wandering Eye- Fat Freddys Drop

And then there is my favourite NZ dance troup, Black Grace, an all male group of Polynesian dancers who sadly are not together anymore. Here is their awesome showstopping 'minoi minoi'

Minoi Minoi, for those who are curious is a Samoan Folk song which Neil Ieremia's, Black Grace founder and choreographer, grandmother used to sing to him when he was a boy.

And finally we are so lucky in New Zealand to have the Royal New Zealand Ballet who have such incredible range and are simply the best. I miss them!

This is from Abhisheka. Choreographed, scored and danced by New Zealanders, Abhisheka set to evocative music by John Psathas, is inspired by the ritualistic and sacrificial cleansing rites of Hinduism. It was first performed by the Royal New Zealand Ballet in 2004 where we managed to catch it live in Wellington. The design and scenography are the work of another talented New Zealander, Tracy Grant Lord and are beautifully reminiscent of a giant golden chalice. Isn't the sand just beautiful but I bet it itches when it gets under their clothing. I guess thats what they mean by suffering for their art!!

from Abhisheka - music by John Psathas, choreography by Adrian Burnett and danced by the Royal New Zealand Ballet Company.

Not bad for a tiny little island at the bottom of the world!

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Bull Run

The 26th of January marks the beginning of a new year on the Chinese calendar. On this day, by Chinese around the world, the year of the Rat will be farewelled and the year of the Ox welcomed in. Cambodia doesn't officially celebrate Chinese New Year -there are a staggering 25 public holidays as it is- but the large Chinese population do, closing shops and businesses and ushering the New Year in with good luck Lion Dances and traditional celebrations. The Cambodian New Year or Chaul Chnam Thmey (meaning literally Enter the New Year) is a three day event celebrated on the 13th to the 15th of April in keeping with the lunar calendar.

Here is the karaoke version of a Chinese New Year song sung in Khmer I found on YouTube. The Cambodians LOVE their karaoke so much there is a dedicated television channel- not so much fun when you can't find the remote in the gym.

Here is a much catchier New Year song (of course it is- it's a Disney song!) from Hongkong Disney which we visited the year before last.

The Chinese calendar is also a lunar calendar. New Year begins on the first day of the first lunar month and runs for 15 days of prescribed activities, festivities and much eating of traditional New Year foods chosen to invite continued wealth, health and prosperity. Red packets, Hong Bao in Mandarin, with even amounts, except four (odd numbers are for funerals and 'four' sounds like 'death'), of money inside are exchanged. A lot of Chinese superstition uses homophones (words that sound alike) eight, for example, is considered very lucky as it sounds like wealth. On New Years Eve it is traditional for the most senior member of the family to host a huge family get together, the 'reunion dinner',where fish is often served because the word surpluses sounds the same as the word fish.

There are 12 animal signs corresponding to the 12 years in the Chinese Zodiac calendar. The Rat, that presided over much of 2008, is the first and is associated with aggression, wealth, charm, and order, but also with death, war, the occult, pestilence, and atrocities and although he is the bringer of wealth he is also the spender of it all. Sounds appropriate, maybe we all should have taken more notice of that during the last Chinese New Year hand over and the recent events may not have seemed so shocking then!

Thankfully the Rat is followed by the Ox, which is a sign of prosperity through fortitude and hard work- hopefully that will stand us in good stead in the year ahead.

The different personalities of Rat and the Ox have created a bit of history it seems something we would not have been surprised about considering the followiing story. I heard this story during Chinese New Year last year when we were still living in Singapore.

The story goes that thousands of years ago, the Jade Emperor held a race to determine the order of the 12 animals that would appear on the Chinese lunar calendar.The race began and the Ox was leading the pack but the resourceful Rat leapt onto the oxes back and just before the finish line jumped off launching himself over the finish line first. The Ox, although strong enough to maintain first place through the entire race with a sneaky Rat on his back (read into that what you will) therefore came in second, followed by the Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. That is, they say, how the 12 zodiac signs came about.

Many Chinese New Year traditions revolve around hopes and wishes for wealth and prosperity. Many will hope more specifically this year, I imagine, that the Ox will usher in a better economic outlook after all a 'bull market' is associated with increasing investor confidence which should in turn stimulate investors to once again participate in the global market (stock or otherwise). A ‘bull market’ is also sometimes described as a ‘bull run’ as it takes off, so here for your musical enjoyment is an incredible classical guitar piece entitled appropriately ‘Bull Run’ I found on YouTube.

'Bull Run' played by Kelly Valleau

Saturday, January 17, 2009

WOTY 2008?

The search is on for Macquarie Dictionaries word of the year (WOTY). Last year the committee of three announced it to be 'pod slurping'- a noun describing the downloading of large amounts of data to an MP3 player or a memory stick- because it has 'an inventive and sensuous appeal' and because 'the most important criterion for word of the year should be linguistic creativity and evocativeness, rather than simple worthiness or usefulness' and also because pod slurping 'dips its lid to pod, a potent little word of our times'. Not a term I can say I have heard banded about the corridors I frequent and not nearly as colourful or as intriguing as 'arse antlers'-a tattoo just above the buttocks, having a central section and curving extensions on each side- the winner in the fashion catagory for the same year...I can't imagine why that didn't win!

The year before it was the over used and sadly over exhibited 'muffin top'- the roll of belly that appears at the top of ones too tight low slung jeans (or any other pants for that matter).


The 19 catagories, which the nominated words are divided into; business, health, sport and technology etc, are joined this year by 6 new catagories; entertainment, communications, genetics, law, tourism and ecology reflecting what presumably currently dominates the minds of 21st century Australians. The five words each catagory holds were chosen by a panel, although some may seem more obscure than others, for their relevance to the community involved. A sporting term like 'tunnelling' may not be generally or widely known but (apparently) it is common amongst Aussie Rules players, commentators and fans. Or 'machinima'- the creation of 3D animation films using the existing visuals of the game for use within a computer game environment -which is presumably thrown about casually amongst the computer fraternity.

In the running are the likes of; 'fanta pants'- to describe a red head, 'BFF'- meaning best friends forever and 'bromance' -a non-sexual but intense relationship between two males. 'Climate porn' -exaggeratedly alarmist predictions, about the progress of global warming and its effects on the world, 'water footprint' -the amount of fresh water a person or group uses and 'ecolabel' -a sticker providing information about the environmental friendliness of a product.

Visitors and subscribers to the website can vote for the word which they think has made 'the most valuable contribution to the English language in 2008' in each category. The final and ultimate winner for 2008 will be announced in early February. Choose wisely!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Museum visit

Yesterday I went to the museum with M's grade 9 class. It has been a while since I was parent help on any school outings and I have got to say helping with a class of 14 and 15 year olds is a breeze compared to remembered outings in the company of very hands on, energetic primary school classes with wandering tendencies and frequent toilet urges.

The visit was part of a design and technology class. Their brief was to examine the various exhibits and sketch, document and date any patterns or elements of design that caught their fancy as part of their research into conceptualising and crafting a pewter pendant.

They started outside in the green leafy garden with significant enthusiasm, heads bent over sketch books, tongues in the time honoured concentration position, before moving into the breeze cooled interior where they split into smaller natural groups to explore the long corridors and the large square shaped courtyard. No cameras allowed in the museum proper but the gardens provided a few good shots.

Located near the Royal Palace, an open block or two back from the riverside, Cambodia's National Museum provides a calm quiet setting for a predominantly sandstone collection of ancient Khmer art from both the Angkorean and pre-Angkorean eras off set by some more recent artifacts and implements and a gallery of old photographs in a frequently changing exhibition of the way Cambodia and it's people used to be.

Most guide books I have read suggest a visit to the museum before going to the temples many of the heads, statues and lintels have come from but I think I found more relevance having already visited the original setting for the various pieces of Angkors famous temples. It was fun being able to mentally place the demon heads back into their row at the south gate of Angkor Thom.
The museum, built between 1917 and 1920 by the then governing French, is housed in a terracotta tiled structure of traditional Cambodian design with pitched angles and open high ceilinged spaces.

The quiet courtyard in the middle of the structure, home to four ponds in a cruxiform shape anchored by a central pergola and immaculate manicured hedges and shrubs, is a great place for reflection and a reviving coffee.

We were there for about an hour, not really long enough so I will have to make time for a repeat visit. I can't wait to see what the kids produce!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Jiggery pokery in Hastings

There has been some jiggery pokery in Maraekakaho Rd, where J spent most of his formative years.
They are just figuring that out now?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

It must be love

It’s our 16th wedding anniversary today.

We have been together for 21 years, more than half my lifetime.

My dad married us in a simple wooden church in front of our friends, families and B our first born who nearly bought the house down when he realised the church was full of people he knew and began to point them out to his pop, who was busy being ministerial.

This is our song

It was playing as we walked down the aisle, J, B and me.

I carried daisies.

I thought I was in love when we married.... and I was a way....a kind of one dimensional way.....It’s hard to be in love when you are still learning to love yourself. I am much more in love now than I was that day....and I’m pretty sure I now know what love a very multidimensional we have grown together kind of a way. We began with nothing and now we have everything. Each other, two awesome boys and a lifetime of shared experiences.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Christmas Singapore style

Boxing Day sales? Not in Singapore. In Singapore the mark downs start on Christmas Day. That’s right Christmas Day.

M and I woke late on Christmas morning and decided we would honour our unusual Christmas by going to the movies, something we can’t do in Cambodia.

We headed down to the MRT and squashed ourselves into the train with the rest of Singapore, very grateful we only needed to go two stops.

The movie theatre was busy but not extraordinarily so. It wasn’t until after the movie had finished and we found ourselves back outside on Orchard road, did we discover what Singaporeans do on Christmas day.

They shop.

Hardly a surprise really –I read somewhere - it is the number one leisure activity on the little red dot and since the majority of the population isn’t even Christian-they are Buddhist- the meaning of Christmas for many Singaporeans, it appears, is ‘on sale’.

We allowed ourselves to be pushed along the pavement from Cineleisure towards Takashimaya stopping every so often as the swell would allow to people watch.

'Christmas in the Tropics' is a carefully planned and orchestrated event designed specifically to attract tourists to Singapore. Last year there were 5 million people on Orchard road, one million of them were tourists. There is plenty on offer, for those with a commercial consumer oriented Christmas in mind, with free entertainment, celebratory events, special promotions and of course shopping.

I read in the Straits Times, while we were there, that a tourism board survey showed that one in five visitors last year planned their trips to coincide with Singapore’s Christmas celebration. No doubt the Tourism Board is hoping that this year would not be any different despite the 'global economic crisis'. I have got to say that if the queues were anything to go by on Christmas day people in Singapore have not stopped spending...yet. I did read, though-in the same paper- that many did say their spending over the Christmas period was going to be the last spending for a while.

The theme for the 25th annual 'Christmas light up' was 'A sweet Christmas on Orchard road' but there was also a Christian flavour I hadn't noticed last year with huge molded wise men, camels, shepherds and of course a Mary , Joseph and their donkey to go with the dangling sweets, candy canes, giant cupcakes and playmobile like candy coloured lolly family.

I am not quite sure how the gladiators were supposed to fit in...

These shepherds seemed a bit more Christmas story appropriate.

There were groups from different churches performing too.

These ladies are from Korea and have just finished a dance using tamborines.

Quite a large block of Orchard road was closed off to traffic for a free concert -which we didnt stay for- a float parade...

...and some line dancing

The place was riddled with these guys...

....but I'd be surprised if there was any trouble at all.

We went and had a fortifying cappuchino and a caramel frappuchino from Coffee Bean

when we re emerged it was dark.

Time to go home and eat our Christmas spoils.

Merry Christmas Singapore style!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

I hope your New Years eve rocked as much as mine did this year. Good bye 2008...not a bad year at all for us.....hello 2009 I am looking forward to everything you have to offer!!