Among the trove at Google are newspapers from the 1970s, including this edition of The Vancouver Sun from June 20, 1970, just about a month after Lon Nol had ousted Prince Norodom Sihanouk as Cambodia’s head of state.
By that time, Sihanouk had taken refuge in Peking. And the world was just coming to fully understand Cambodia’s “mercurial” leader.
When I would visit a Cambodian farm or factory, and it would be known that I had met Sihanouk, the workers would look at me with mouths agape and misty eyes and touch my hand and ask, what had he said, what was he like?
The diplomatic corps admired him for strictly opposite reasons. They knew him as a warm and extremely generous host, a man of sensitivity and genuine thoughtfulness. This was his social aspect. By day they wrestled with his true character … that tough, analytic and extremely knowledgeable master of the Asian political game. This was the Sihanouk that has until recently been largely ignored: playboy princes make much better newspaper copy.
There’s more at the link, including additional stories about Cambodia from the period.
The recent closing of Bread is Ready, Coffee is Done comes as a curious casualty in Phnom Penh’s ongoing coffee shop explosion. The Boeung Keng Kang eatery opened about six months ago on Street 57 in a neighborhood filled with high-end coffee houses.
The few times I had been there, the place seemed no better or worse than any of the other shops in the neighborhood, and it always seemed to have customers. So it was a surprise to see laborers hammering away at a gutted interior this afternoon, in perhaps the first indication that the BKK coffee-house market has reached a saturation point.
Most people can instantly identify a Zippo. Even non-smokers recognize their significance, their signature click-clack closure and the gleaming, chrome-plated heft of what has become the ultimate macho lighting device.
The Zippo has become deeply entrenched in Americana. Like smoking, it became a badge of rebellion; a trademark of toughs and hard cases. As such, it’s always been nearly sacred to US soldiers.
Beginning with WWII the Zippo was practically standard issue for GIs. They could be purchased at any PX for less than $2. It was a utilitarian device and, for many, a prized possession.
“They’re a sturdy and very strong lighter that can work on many kinds of fuels. So they’re quite practical, and the military has always liked the Zippo ever since it was introduced in 1932,” says artist Bradford Edwards, whose collection of Vietnam conflict-era Zippos has become the subject of an impressive coffee table book, “Vietnam Zippos: American Soldiers’ Engravings and Stories 1965-1973.”
During a book launch at Monument Books in Phnom Penh, Edwards explained that since 1992 he has collected the intriguing, disturbing, and sometimes downright humorous, Zippos of former US soldiers in Vietnam. Combing through shops and markets in Ho Chi Minh City, he estimates he looked at more than 100,000 before settling on a permanent collection of more than 300.
What he discovered was that the Zippo played a very important, personal role for young soldiers in a decidedly strange land and dangerous situations. They reacted by inscribing, by way of local engravers and makeshift carving tools, their thoughts, fears and emotions on the clean “canvas” of the Zippo’s shell. Understandably, many were homesick, most were angry.
“Vietnam Zippos became the ideal protest vehicle,” writes author Sherry Buchanan in the book’s introduction. “They escaped the brass’s attention more easily than Afros, Buddhist swastika medallions, Tibetan prayer beads and the ‘Make Love Not War’ slogans on helmets that incurred the disapproval of the powers that be.”
The result is what Edwards calls “trench art,” deeply personal inscriptions that shed light on the mental state of these young GIs, and additionally the mindset of any soldier in any life-threatening situation.
“The Zippo was a blank surface — a canvas — waiting to be embellished. A corollary would be the tattoo. It was natural that they started expressing themselves on the Zippo,” Edwards says. “It’s not just about the Vietnam conflict; it’s all conflicts. But in the Vietnam conflict it was this vehicle that best mirrored what the GIs were thinking. You really get the sense of a person struggling, often to stay alive or to see their loved ones again. Many want to see the conflict come to an end. There’s lots of yearning for peace and messages specifically expressing how much someone misses their wife, girlfriend even ones who’re missing their mom. They’re really touching and universal.”
“Vietnam Zippos” is a handsome book. Through vintage photos and striking graphic design it manages to aptly frame the iconic images of 1960s American culture. The Zippos are presented artfully, and the inscriptions themselves are priceless in their admixture of pop culture references, anti-war slogans and bawdy boasting. As Edwards puts it, they range from the “profound to the profane.”
A few of the classics:
Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for I am the evilest son of a bitch in the valley.
I’m not scared, just lonesome.
Ours is not to do or die, ours is to smoke and stay high.
You’ve never really lived until you’ve nearly died.
A self-professed “Army brat” originally from the US East Coast, but mostly from California, Edwards has spent much of the last 15 years in Southeast Asia, mostly bouncing between Hanoi and Phnom Penh. As the middle son of a Marine Corps colonel who served two tours of duty in Vietnam in 1966 and 1969, the 53-year-old Edwards says he had the Vietnam conflict in his life since “day one.”
Since 1997, Edwards has had four art exhibitions at the FCC Phnom Penh, including “Between Beauty and Blight” in June 2002, and his most recent exhibit, “Borrowed Memory,” in January 2006.
Earlier this decade, Edwards met Sam Bottoms — the actor who played the acid-tripping surfer dude Lance in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” — at a party in Southern California.
“To have gotten one of the few surfer Zippos in the war, and then to meet ‘Lance’ and then tie this pop culture circle: It’s the most amazing coincidence of my life thus far.”
Or is it? Each Zippo is stamped on the bottom with the word “Bradford,” the town where every lighter is made by the Zippo Manufacturing Company of Bradford, Pennsylvania.
This article was originally published in the November 2007 issue of The Wires.
Call it social networking for real life travelers.
Tripptrotting, an international organization with headquarters in Pasadena, California, has chapters in more than 500 cities across the globe. The group facilitates introductions between people from different cultures, essentially connecting travelers with knowledgeable locals to show them around town.
“Triptrotting is a great platform for travelers to get a true taste of local cultures and for local hosts to expand their global network of friends without having to leave their town. It’s a new way to make friends,” says Elma Placido, an advisor to Triptrotting who lives in Phnom Penh.
The Phnom Penh chapter is holding a networking event at The FCC Phnom Penh on September 9.
As it currently stands, Placido says meeting people from around the world typically involves just connecting with people on either Facebook, where you connect with people that you already know. Another option is Couchsurfing, but that seldom fosters long-lasting relationship, as people only meet for a short period of time when they travel to places.
“It’s a hit or miss on whether you would actually have something in common,” Placido says.
The biggest benefit of Triptrotting compared to Facebook or Couchsurfing is that the organization connects members with people they otherwise would have never met, she says. Triptrotting uses a special matching algorithm that helps members connect with people who they think they would be interested in meeting. “The matching algorithm looks into things like your interests, personality and background, and suggests Triptrotters that you would be the most interested in meeting,” Placido adds.
Placido, a native of the Philippines who has lived in Phnom Penh since 2002, was a member of Couchsurfing before she discovered Triptrotting.
“When I heard and read about Triptrotting I found it interesting, and their idea is very fresh and different than Couchsurfing. I decided to apply as their advisor recently,” Placido says.
A merchandising manager in the garment and textile industry, Placido loves travelling, something made possible from her line of work.
“This line of works takes me everywhere, to several countries in Southeast Asia from the Philippines, to Bangladesh, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Vietnam and, in more recent years, Cambodia,” she says, adding that she also makes occasional business trips to Europe and the USA.
It was her husband’s career in the garment and textile business that brought the couple to Cambodia before she winded up working in the same line of work. “With all my experiences in other Southeast Asian countries, Cambodia is the most interesting country,” Placido says. “I fell in love with this country, with the people itself, with the culture.”
At the upcoming event, or “Trip-up,” Placido hopes to sign up 200 to 300 new members for the organization, which established a chapter in Phnom Penh about six months ago.
And that’s just the beginning.
“I’m hoping to have at least 1000 plus new members,” she says.
Admission for the Sept 9 event is $5. For more information about Triptrotting, visit www.triptrotting.com.
The silhouette of a tiny Cambodian turtle hangs suspended in perpetual motion against inky, swirling bubbles.
A grubby Indonesian girl, staring forlornly at something unseen beyond the camera, fingers the padlock fastening her ankle to the floor of an opium den.
The rear view of an oversized Minnie Mouse wanders incongruously through tendrils of mist creeping through a Chinese village.
From the artistically abstract to the hauntingly graphic, these are among the stills that will take centre-stage at November’s Angkor Photo Festival in Siem Reap. The annual event, launched by a team of predominantly Western photographers in 2005 with the intention of fostering emerging Asian talent, showcases poignant works inspired by the cultures, politicking and ideologies of both East and West.
Today, far more than a simple exhibition, it is fast becoming a creative powerhouse promoting the region’s most gifted photographic artists to a global audience.
Not only does the festival showcase the work of Asia’s most promising young shutterbugs, alongside that of their counterparts from other parts of the globe, it also serves as their “stepping stone” to international exposure, according to programme coordinator Françoise Callier. A series of public events, to which entry is entirely free, the main focus is in fact the shutterbugs themselves.
A year after making its debut, the festival — the first of its kind in Southeast Asia — founded its own NGO. Anjali Children’s Photo Workshop offers underprivileged children, many of whom previously begged on the streets to support their families, the chance to catch up on their schooling while being tutored in the art of professional photography.
The students’ work now forms a core part of the festival, which this year comprises a lively programme of 12 indoor and outdoor exhibitions, seven evenings of slideshows and free Angkor Photo workshops at which internationally renowned professionals will give hands-on training to 30 of the region’s recently discovered prodigies.
Since its inception in 2005, more than 180 young photojournalists — from Cambodia, China, Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and Nepal — have passed through its doors, perfecting their art en route. For many, the skills they mastered under the festival’s curatorship have proved a vital catalyst in forging international careers.
The proportion of photographers from within the region has increased every year since 2005: of the 110 exhibiting this year, 60 hail from Asia. Among the masters is Mak Remissa, he of the suspended turtle, who is widely regarded as one of the most successful Khmer photographers of his generation.
A graduate of Phnom Penh’s Royal Fine Arts School, his work has been shown in France, Canada and the US. One of his most celebrated series, inspired by the traditional Khmer proverb “When the water rises, the fish eats the ant; when the water recedes, the ant eats the fish,” reflects “a terrible disaster for human beings as a result of mutual oppression according to a specific situation. Eventually, no real success prevails for any group,” he said.
This year’s exhibits are as diverse as they are dynamic. Florence-born Pietro Paolini captures the technicolour daubs of inmates’ clothing against the drab walls of Bolivia’s notorious San Pedro Prison in La Paz. In War for Freedom – Libya, Oslo’s Eivind H Natvig, a documentary photographer, perfectly preserves the image of a rebel fighter at an army base in Benghazi “sorting ammunition as he prepares for conflict.” Other highlights for 2011 include accounts from Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, along with a special focus on Asian street photography.
The Angkor Photo Festival will be held from November 19-26 in Siem Reap. Complete schedules are available from the APF Web site.
The roots of blues music start deep in the fertile soil around New Orleans, Louisiana, where the muddy Mississippi River pours into the Gulf of Mexico. From there they follow the river north to Natchez, along the back roads into Clarksdale, and then across the Mississippi state line into Memphis, Tennessee.
By most accounts, the blues evolved from work songs and field “hollers” sung by rural black labourers in the early 20th century. Singing helped alleviate the anguish of being poor and oppressed.
Few of those early crooners would have ever imagined that some 50 years later, the music of downtrodden African-Americans would turn into something of a global sensation, reaching not just beyond the Mississippi River basin, but across the oceans to Europe, Australia and beyond.
Misery, it turns out, likes to ride shotgun.
“Blues has always been a passion for me,” says Jonas “Little Duke” Hasting, a slide guitarist from Sweden who formed his first blues band in 1976 at the age of 13.
Called the Blues Benders, the group covered Willie Dixon and Elmore James numbers. Jonas played bass. In high school, the budding Stockholm guitarist happened across a Texas bluesman nicknamed “Master of the Telecaster,” and the electrified sounds from his Fender guitar changed Jonas forever.
“When I was 15 I heard Albert Collins play his guitar, and I realised that the bass was not for me,” he recalls. “I swapped it for a second-hand Levin hollow body guitar and never looked back.”
From Collins’ early influence, Jonas immersed himself in the stylings of American blues. Three decades later, he is the namesake and lead guitarist for Little Duke and The Mekong Blues Messengers, who play The FCC Phnom Penh on September 10.
“We have a quite wide repertoire, with the classic amplified Chicago blues style as the base,” he says of the Messengers, rattling off a who’s who of influences from the Chicago scene: Hubert Sumlin, Jimmy Rogers, Buddy Guy, Elmore James, McKinley Morganfield, Robert Lockwood, Little Walter.
Yet just as quickly Jonas returns to his Lone Star beginnings — Albert Collins and T-Bone Walker, he continues, and let’s not forget “some younger white Texas musicians: Stevie Ray Vaughan , Johnny Winter and Kim Wilson.”
Kristen Rasmussen, from the US, sings lead vocals for The Messengers. Australian Ken White plays harmonica. Americans Chris Hilleary and Steve Miller round out the line-up on bass and drums.
Kristen, a classically trained vocalist, first took the stage at the age of 10, when she performed “Tomorrow” from the musical Annie on Singaporean television.
“As a girl I was fixated on show tunes,” she says, “and I dreamed of being on Broadway.”
As Kristen got older, her musical tastes evolved.
“When I started studying classical voice, I learned how to sing differently, but I was never moved by classical music the way that I have been moved by blues, soul and jazz,” she says. “I like the raw sound of blues — it’s just more soulful and real to me.”
Ken offers a more lyrical perspective.
“The sweet melodies and irresistible harmonic chord progressions of the dusty roads less travelled is a great attraction to blues,” he says. “The fact that it speaks of, and reminds us all of, the hardships once endured by travelling musicians of the southern U.S., and the soul, passion and truthfulness that pervades blues and endures the generations of our time is unmistakable.”
Little Duke and the Mekong Blues messengers play The FCC Phnom Penh on Saturday Sept 10.
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Up in the jungles of Kratie, on the lesser traveled side of the Mekong, a novel experiment in tourism is under way. Called the Mekong Discovery Trail, the plan promotes getting tourists off the well-trodden path, exposing them to the undiscovered awe of northern Cambodia, and delivering some of the promises of tourism to a swath of the country still waiting to cash in.
Awe is not mere hyperbole. The trail runs through the provinces of Kratie and Stung Treng, and it includes the “famous” Kampi dolphin pools, the flooded forests of Stung Treng and the breathtaking Khone falls.
Yet for all the region’s abundance of natural beauty, the project is not without some major hurdles.
Koh Trong has the trappings of an idyllic tropical island. But it’s nowhere near the sea. To get there, you must drive five hours north from the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, to the town of Kratie, along a potholed road scattered with oxen, bicycles, chickens and children. When you reach Kratie, find the concrete staircase leading to a makeshift boat dock.
Hold your breath as you walk the brittle plank to the old wooden ferry that will cross the Mekong River, here a swathe of murky brown water gliding towards the sea. Bring some patience: the ferry will leave only when it is full.
Safely on the other side, cross the beach and clamber onto the back of a motorbike taxi driven by a jovial middle-aged woman wearing pastel pyjamas. Your luggage can go on the front of the bike, or between you and the driver. Just hold on tight as she negotiates the “road” – a thin path of bamboo sticks suspended over the sinking sand.
And that’s just to get there. As might be expected, Koh Trong offers no running water — or electricity or hotels or restaurants or any other trappings of modern industrialized life. The only place to stay is with the locals. Amenities are sparse. Mosquito nets and public bathing are the norm.
Clearly, the Mekong Discovery Trail is not aimed at the average traveler. But if you’re adventurous, your own private Cambodia is there waiting for discovery.
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Enjoy a romantic evening out with us at FCC Angkor!
Exploring the adventurous capital of Cambodia over three days.
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Special offers and more from FCC Hotel in Phnom Penh
The FCC Romantic Temples package is a re-energizing 3-day affair designed for couples.
The FCC Temple Adventure tour offers you the best highlights that Siem Reap has to offer while giving you the flexibility to venture off the beaten path.