dance cambodia

An exchange of art and culture which carries with it a message of peace and caring.

Our Arrival in Phnom Penh – mon 15th June

We had fun and games leaving Taipei airport as you can see in the photos!

(we are currently in the midst of a tropical storm and when there is a storm the wifi connection slows right down so I will add photos later!)

Flying over Cambodia on our arrival we could see a great deal of flat land, many large rivers and in general a tremendous amount of water. I had not realized that Cambodia was so water logged
Phnom Penh airport is very small, and once we had gone through the various visa lines and passport controls we made it out into the tremendous heat and our first sights and smells of Cambodia.
The air pressure was very different to Taipei, where the air pressure has been heavy through most of our visit, other than a brief respite after heavy rains.
Arn was nowhere to be seen, and unfortunately when I called him it seems there had been a miss communication about our arrival time and he had been there earlier.
So we took taxis into Phnom Penh to our guest house Boddhi Tree Umma.
First appearances Cambodia looks very like India – incredible poor, with small shacks lining the road, a million motor bikes and tuk tuks (open air taxi pulled by a motor bike).
We have since learned that most Cambodians live on less that $1 a day!
Our taxi wove through the streets of Phnom Penh, where there seem to be no rules about driving, or who has right of way at intersections. As long as you more or less keep to your side of the street everything will be OK! We arrived at our little haven, the guest house Boddhi Tree Umma. A pleasant court yard of trees and flowers, a terrace restaurant with THE MOST delicious food, and comfortable rooms. There are apparently 3 Boddhi Tree guest houses in Phnom Penh that are run by an extremely nice Spanish man who has lived in many different places in the world helping people in need. Most recently he has lived for some years in different parts of Asia. The guest houses are staffed by street children who he has trained to be cooks and hotel managers. The art on the walls are done by children from the local orphanage, and the guest houses protect young children from sexual abuse, of which there is apparently much going on in Cambodia. As Thailand becomes more advanced they are bringing in stricter rules about the sex trade, so it is now moving into Cambodia where there is NO protection for young women and children.
We get organic vegetables at the guest house, and I understand as people help in the rebuilding of Cambodia after the terrible destruction of the country by the Pol Pot regime, they are helping the Cambodians to think about issues of the environment, recycling, organic s etc which is wonderful. We met the owner of the guest house last night and he is very interested in the diversity of our group. He has heard that we are dancers and has asked us to give a workshop of 2 – 3 hours for some of the young men that work in his establishments. We will be doing this next week, and then a short performance at the guesthouse. Here in Cambodia, much as it was in India, adventures are the name of the game. People simply respond and things happen. It’s EXTREMELY HOT! We have rooms with fans and mosquito nets. Despite the heat we all sleep very well here.
Quite by coincidence the guesthouse is opposite the Touel Sleng Genocide Museum, which is the high school that the Khmer Rouge made into their headquarters for the detention, torture and murder of many of their victims.

On the second day Laura, Mei and I ventured into the museum. It is a horrendous testimony to the atrocities that were perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge. Hard to face, hard to take, and we didn’t make it through all the buildings. Apparently it is only fairly recently that they have arranged the museum to it’s current look, with for instance, the clothing of the victims inside a glass case. For many years they left it exactly as they found it when Phnom Penh was liberated.
There is a strange peace in the compound of the building as if the victims that died there have perhaps found some peace finally. The museum is controvercial as it’s uncertain how the money is being used that they are making. It is a very delicate because the regime ended just over a decade ago, and people we have talked to are not happy with how the memory of the victims that died there is being respected.
It is only now that some of the perpetrators are being brought to justice for their crimes and there is still a great deal of corruption within the Cambodian government today. It is still very hard for Cambodian women to succeed within the system and injustice is still being perpetrated towards the Cambodian people now, in the name of modernization. Apparently mainly the Koreans and Chinese are moving in to profit from the rebuilding of the country. They are wanting to build sky scrapers in the city for monetary profit, and land is being taken from the people who live here. It’s hard to believe, but apparently they take people out of their houses, drive them in busses into the countryside and leave them there. When they get back they find their houses have been reduced to rubble and new building is taking place. There is NO protection for these people. It’s unimaginable how they must feel after all the terrible injustice they have already suffered.
And how do a people come to terms with the events of the regime that killed millions in such a short period of time, most especially because it was the Cambodians themselves that killed their own people. I would imagine that trust must be a huge issue for them. But despite this we have found the Cambodian people to be unusually beautiful, happy and genuinely friendly towards us. They have a kind of softness that draws us to them.
On the first day I needed to buy a sim card for my phone, only to find out that it’s possible only for Cambodians to buy them using their identity cards.
The tuk tuk driver Mong who drove Renay and I to 3 different mobile phone shops suddenly announced that he had a sim card I could use as long as I promised to give it back to him before I left on the 24th! Can you imagine anything like this happening in the west?
Mong has now become our official tuk tuk driver and good friend. He is a sweet sweet young man with a heart-melting smile.

The Unfolding of our Adventures in Phnom Penh

On the 1st day Arn came to the Boddhi Tree Umma with a young woman friend who he introduced to me as an up and coming actress and singer. He told me that it is still very rare for Cambodian women to be able to be successful in any capacity. There is very little work for women and many of them become prostitutes in order to survive. It seems that abuse of women in still rampant in the country.
I sat with Arn and his friend for some time talking about the role of art in society. He feels passionately about art and is determined to help rebuild the artistic tradition in Cambodia in part through his organization Cambodian Living Arts that we will be visiting next Saturday. It is believed that 80% of the artists in Cambodia (musicians, dancers, actors, opera singers) were either killed by the Khmer Rouge, or died of starvation and over work. So it is important that the few remaining Masters in the different traditions now transmit their knowledge to the younger generations.

We have met with a man here called Fred Frumberg who held a very successful career as a stage manager in Europe, working at the Paris Opera House and for the director Peter Sellers – in a word a VERY successful career. He told us that he burned out in Europe.
He came to Cambodia about 11 years ago (When Cambodia was in ruins).
He responded to the need in Cambodia to make performance and art happen again.
He had an extraordinary story about the 6 day coup that happened I believe in 2006 (might have facts wrong here!). He was producing a play with some Cambodian actors, when the coup took place. Phnom Penh was being bombed (unsure about the details of who was doing what to who). He had missiles passing over his apartment, and many of the actors still came to rehearsal despite the fact their homes had been bombed.
All the ex patriots immediately left the country, but Fred was so amazed and impressed by the commitment of the young actors despite the chaos going on around them, that he stayed. They in turn were amazed by his decision to remain.

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