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29 May 2011

O Flower of Battambang

A number of Cambodia's 24 provinces feature in the popular music of the country and bus journeys between them are notable for the almost constant stream of Khmer music, typically with accompanying video.  (On one bus I travelled in, the owner had replaced his rear view mirror with a small TV screen for benefit of his passengers!)

Although Battambang is over a day by bus from Kratie, and I'm yet to visit, one song that has caught my attention is 'Champa Battambang' (literally 'Flower of Battambang').  I hadn't heard it for some time so today I Googled it and found the recording above from Sinn Sisamouth, a star of the Khmer music scene in the 50s, 60s and 70s believed to have been killed by the Khmer Rouge.  Many of his recordings were destroyed but this and others have surfaced and, luckily for me, loaded to Youtube.  (An mp3 is available here.)

The song is full of sadness already but the old posters in the video add to this when you imagine what was lost in terms of arts and culture in 1975.  Artists were a target of the killing fields and you can only wonder what people like Sinn Sisamouth might have gone onto if his career hadn't been horrifically cut short.  Thankfully groups like Cambodian Living Arts are working to rebuild this once vibrant part of Cambodian life.

The lyrics of the song have been translated as follows, perhaps Dengue Fever should do a version as part of their own revival of the Khmer rock and roll scene (one American band and countless others have already done so, see below).

Oh Battambang!
The centre of my heart!
It was hard to say goodbye
Since the day I’ve been away from you
I worry and think about everytime

Oh Battambang!
The cycle of my destiny
I can’t stop missing you
If you were my spouse’s previous life
May you not forget our past time

It’s been long time ago, do you remember?
You are my breath
To you I always hope
Smile and hope to be yours

Oh Battambang!
Since long time I wanted you
When will I see you again?
I feel sad everyday
Because of wanting Tchampa Battambang!

25 May 2011

CRD TV (& Gordon Ramsey)

Water pumping by Denise Marika

The Cambodian Rural Development Team (CRDT), where I'm currently working, were lucky to be visited by artist and film maker Denise Marika.  She took it upon herself to make a series of short films documenting CRDT's work with some of the poorest communities in Cambodia.  They also offer an insight into rural life in this country, the results can be seen here.

Also, I've been informed that Gordon Ramsey's visit to Cambodia is now on Youtube so, for those who missed it, here is his journey in four parts (See them full screen here):

19 May 2011

Gout and about

"The king of diseases and the disease of kings"

After a fun weekend with a rolling roster of visitors to Kratie I noticed a dull throbbing pain in the big toe of my right foot.  By Monday night it was strong enough to make it difficult to sleep.  It felt like I might have broken my toe but there wasn't any incident or event that would have caused this.  Luckily I was already heading to Phnom Penh on business so booked to see the doctor on Wednesday morning.

A blood test and an Xray later I was diagnosed with gout, the so called rich man's affliction because of its association with overweight men who drink a lot of booze.  (One great thing about Google/Wikipedia is the wealth of information you can get within seconds on health problems.)

Accounts of the condition go back to the ancient Greeks and, in 1683, Thomas Sydenham wrote:
"Gouty patients are, generally, either old men, or men who have so worn themselves out in youth as to have brought on a premature old age."
There is therefore the possibility that the heady days (or nights) in my 20s have now bitten back (on the toe!) with a vengeance.  There is also a curious subscript which is that in my (much much) younger years some friends and family nicknamed me Grand-dad because of some of my old-aged habits, one being my propensity to sleep at any opportunity... That said, 32 years of age does seem a bit young for this type of thing.

Two bits of good news are that it is curable with some drugs and plenty of water, and that I now join a rather illustrious group of historical figures who also suffered from this condition, to name a few: Alexander the Great; Charlemagne; Henry VIII; Queen Anne; Christopher Columbus; Nostradamus; Leonardo da Vinci; John Milton; Isaac Newton; Alfred Lord Tennyson; Thomas Jefferson; Benjamin Franklin.

I'll end with some more from Thomas Sydenham, a description of the symptoms, but, I must confess, slightly more severe than my current episode:
"The victim goes to bed and sleeps in good health. About two o'clock in the morning he is awakened by a severe pain in the great toe; more rarely in the heel, ankle or instep. The pain is like that of a dislocation, and yet parts feel as if cold water were poured over them. Then follows chills and shivers, and a little fever... The night is passed in torture, sleeplessness, turning the part affected, and perpetual change of posture; the tossing about of body being as incessant as the pain of the tortured joint, and being worse as the fit comes on..."

15 May 2011

Sports and Socialising

Kratie in May is a busy time with holidays coming thick and fast and families trying to squeeze in wedding before the rains begin in earnest.  It's hot, sticky and to give a flavour of all the action here are a few random happenings from the last couple of weeks.

 It's raining quite regularly now and this means that mosquitoes are breeding faster than we can swat them.  Have no fear, to the rescue is the 'Rechargable Electronic Mosquito Bat' at the bargain price of £2.50.  This device is surely worthy of an innovation or design award of some description.  Let's run through some of its features and benefits.

Pesky mosquitoes like to come out when the light starts to fade so an inbuilt torch to assist in sighting the bastards makes it advantage Sam.

The bat is used like a tennis racquet.  Search and, with a swift forehand, destroy blood-sucking parasites.  Not only am I protecting me and Gilly from being bitten but I get some exercise too.  Maybe it'll help keep my squash game at a reasonable level in the absence of any courts here.

Perhaps most satisfying is the sound of success.  Every malaria- and dengue fever-carrying blighter that passes through the 'net' of my racquet get a fatal electric shock.  This is accompanied by a noise that is just like the cartoon sound effect of an electrocution.  As the video above shows it's even enough to give a grown man a shock.  When you're really lucky the insect gets caught up in the racquet and sets up a ricochet of electrocution, with accompanying zapping sounds.  Put simply, this might be the best couple of quid I've ever spent in my life, match point!

 Perhaps less satisfying was the acquisition of some badminton racquets from a volunteer who recently left.  This wouldn't be noteworthy if it wasn't for the uplifting message on the case...

 Can't say fairer than that.  You may recall similarly positive words found on our rice cooker and other kitchen appliances...

Mosquitoes aren't the only animals that have been dying around the house lately.  After Gilly pointed out to me how cute the 'smallest gecko in the world' was, I later found it drowned to death in one of our many buckets used for managing our household water.

Geckos are actually great allies in the fight against mosquitoes so it was sad to see one kick the bucket (!) but later we saw this huge one on our balcony so all is not lost.

 Having been away for so long with her broken fingers Gilly was surprised to bump into her whole office at a volleyball tournament on a Saturday afternoon.  This is after not seeing them for over two months.  The full title of her employer is the Provincial Office for Education, Youth and Sport so maybe it shouldn't have been such a shock to find out they were organising the whole event.


The final was played out between the red and black team in front of the Governor of Kratie who arrived just in time in his huge Lexus.  Black won with some strong plays (above video) but not without a few points lost on the way (video below).

The teams then had to stand for about an hour while various important people gave rousing speeches which I couldn't understand and almost put me to sleep.  (At least I had a chair...)  This closing ceremony culminated with the awarding of various prizes and then a trophy to the black team.  It was all wrapped up in time for us to go and enjoy a post-tournament fruit shake by the river.

We've been enjoying having visitors this weekend, provoked by the three public holidays given over to the King's birthday.  (We should show some more respect to our UK monarchy through the process of granting bank holidays in their honour...)  Paul from Mondulkiri showed his respects by tucking into a foetus egg.  Those in the UK may be more familiar with this Cambodian delicacy following Gordon Ramsey's recent exploits.  Gilly and I have avoided them so far but it's a lottery and we could have one thrust upon at any moment...

John was also up from Phnom Penh where he has been known to dine on another less Cambodian delicacy, the quadruple-bypass burger.  True to form he ordered three dishes in one of our favourite restaurants, somewhere that it can be difficult to eat just one because of the never-ending supply of rice provided.  He only took away a small doggy bag having successfully polished off the (literally) lion's share of what's pictured.

Rain delayed play on Saturday as trips to the dolphins and a walking tour of Kratie town had to wait for an intense tropical storm to pass.  The rainy season is firmly in effect and watching it pour from the balcony could become a regular pass time.

All of the activity finally took it's toll on me and Gilly continues to photographically document my sleeping tendencies.

More socialising this week came in the form of a wedding.  (No-one we know, but when did that ever stop anyone!)  This means that Gilly gets to dress up in ridiculous sequinned outfits.  I think when she asked what I thought of it I found it difficult to muster up anything more complimentary than "absolutely disgusting".  Still, with Gilly riding pillion, I stepped out with her just in time to get a thorough soaking on the five minute ride to the wedding.  The rain started just after we set out and stopped the moment we arrived.

If you thought Gilly was bling, check out the bride in the middle.  She's the sister of out landlady, the lady in the red.  I'm smiling despite being soaked through.

I dried up in time for the dancing, here I'm learning some steps from our landlord and his son.

Gilly picks up some moves too.

So, a busy couple of weeks in Kratie Town.  Death (of animals), dancing, downpours and dropping off aplenty.