Saturday, November 30, 2013

Micheline Dullin

Micheline Dullin is a French photographer who spent the years between 1958 and 1964 taking some amazing photographs of Cambodia. She was also for some time Norodom Sihanouk's official photographer. Some of her work will be on display this weekend on Sisowath Quay.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Church of Som Bien

In the distance in this photograph are the towers of the Church of Som Bien on Chrouy Changva. Unfortunately I don't know anything about this church other than that it no longer exists. The picture was taken sometime between 1946 and 1962.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Hun Sen Boulevard

A whole lot of attention was placed on the filling in of Boueng Kak lake in central Phnom Penh in recent years. Much of this was well-deserved, as it involved the eviction and displacement of thousands of local residents. I've written about this in previous posts, it was a public park in the early 90s but gradually became filled in with slums. One reason I think it got so much attention was because it had a backpacker area within it, so was noticed more. The view from the verandas facing the lake was pleasant, especially in the evenings as it was one of the only places to see the sunset in the city, in most other areas this was obscured by buildings.
However, a project that dwarfs that one in comparison has been ongoing for the last few years, and has received little attention in the media. The Boueng Tumpun wetland/lake is about 10 times larger than Boueng Kak was, but as it lies south of the city dyke at 271 not many have noticed. Again, I've previously posted on this area. Boueng Kak was around 120 hectares, but Boueng Tumpun is about 1000. It is also far more important in that the main drainage from the city flows south to this wetland. It has been farmed for morning glory and other plants for as long as anyone can remember, and supported a large community of subsistence agriculture.
The filling in of the verges of the area began long ago, but was halted. Around 2009 it became a major project, and although the municipality claimed it was only going to build a road across it, to join Monivong Boulevard with Highway 2 in Ta Khmao, this initial idea has been expanded.
The plan now is for a 60 meter wide boulevard with a central division, and a park somewhere in the middle. It will be 9 kilometers long when completed, as a guess I'd say 4 km has been graveled but not tarmacked yet, further than that is still just sand fill. Retaining walls have been built at various points along the length, so obviously there are plans for development along its length.
The official statements when filling in began stated that the plan was not to fill in the major part of the wetland/lake, as it serves as a natural filter for much of the runoff water/sewage that flows south from the center city. This water then flows further south and eventually into the Bassac River.It appears that this idea has been revised though and a number of cross roads will be built across the wetland, and it is also apparent that the western part has also had a considerable amount of filling in.
Until not long ago, it wasn't obvious how large these plans were, I've been around the reclaimed area for a few years, but was amazed on a recent visit how much progress has been made. Some of the roads may relieve congestion on other over-used routes to the city, but there are big plans for an expansion south, as can be seen from the pictures.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Sen Monorom Park

It's a bit of a stretch to call this a park, it's just a small triangle at the junction of Russian Federation and Monivong Boulevards. I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone actually using it as a park, it's just ornamental. Previously it was the site of a rather tired-looking PTT gas station, as you can see in the middle picture that was taken during Khmer New year, in April 2010. The gas station had existed for decades, in the background you can see the Canadia Bank Tower, which had only recently been completed and was at that time the tallest structure in the city. The bottom picture shows the fencing surrounding the statue of Ganesh that was mainly carved in-situ, it was taken in December 2011. The top picture shows the park as it appears today, with the almost finished Vattanac "boot" tower behind which dwarfs the Canadia tower in the foreground, it's at least 100 meters taller. It doesn't look a lot larger in the picture, but is actually quite a bit higher. The small park does certainly look a lot prettier than it did when the service station was there, although the statue to me is rather blocky in shape and lacks the natural flow and smooth curves which most ancient Cambodian statuary has. It's still a vast improvement on the previous garage.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Ting Mong

These are what appear to be scarecrows commonly seen in the northern part of the country, but aren't used to scare crows, but to scare away evil spirits. They are often armed with fake machetes, guns or even rocket launchers.
 A friend took this picture in Kampong Thom province. What's unusual about this one is the "appendage" between its legs.

For more, check here: Insanely creepy Cambodian scarecrows

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Isolated Villages

Poom Kompong Roteah is a small village that is probably only 40 km from the city center. To get to it, you have to drive north on National Route 5, almost to Oudong, but then just past the new Prek Kdam bridge take a small turn off to the right along an unsurfaced, muddy and rutted road. A few kilometers later you have to get a small boat across the Tonle Sap river to the village.
I've been there a few times over the years, and little has changed. I'd say it's quite typical of many of the small isolated villages away from any main roads in the countryside. The one "road" running through the village doesn't connect with the Prek Kdam bridge, so that's why you need to take a boat.
Nobody has a car there, and on my last visit I was there for about 4 hours and saw one motorbike and one ox-cart go past. There isn't much or any money around, the people survive on subsistence farming, fishing and the odd bit of generosity from relations in the capital. When I checked the local shop they had barely anything to sell, the ice-chest had a few of those silver-packaged sweet drinks in it and a few jars of preserves. There was no ice in there.
What I found interesting was the construction of some of the houses. I have relations there, and the village evacuated to the Phnom Da area in the early 70's because of heavy fighting in the area, and then eventually had to move to the capital as the fighting drew closer to the city.
Some of the houses have concrete pilings and elaborate stairways that were obviously the bases of much nicer dwellings before the war destroyed them. Now they have woven structures on top, the cheapest building material available. One you can see in the pictures was built on the ground under the pilings, a very unusual arrangement in an area that sees regular flooding in the rainy season.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Wat Sarawan

Said to be one of the five original pagodas in Phnom Penh, in common with the other ones there are few original buildings in the compound. The nearby Wat Ounalom was supposedly inaugurated in 1443, but there appear to be few if any buildings that are more than a century old, and most are far more modern. Wat Sarawan is remarkable in that it contains what are arguably the most ancient Buddhist scrolls in the country. Written on parchment, these religious texts tend to decay in the tropical climate and a great many were destroyed or lost during the tumultuous years of the past few decades.
One striking structure that remains on the site is a red brick tower that appears to be particularly ancient. The Serge Corrieras photograph of children playing in front of it in 1991 shows it looking on the verge of collapse. What is even more surprising is that in 2012 this building which was obviously refurbished in the subsequent years looks even older now. The colonial-style slatted windows are falling apart. As far as I know it is only about one hundred years old but one would be easily fooled into thinking it is much more ancient.