Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Olympic Market - 1979 and 2010.

Just south-west of the stadium across Sihanouk Boulevard is one of the city’s largest covered markets. The pictures from 1979 show a huge open area, with a red-tiled covered market covering a fraction of the modern unit. I grabbed these from the 1979 John Pilger documentary “Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia. Much of the footage used in this film came from a slightly-earlier East German documentary “Kampuchea- Death and Rebirth,” which was the first film made after the intervention in January of that year which ousted the Pol Pot government. Much of the city was abandoned and deserted at that time, it was a brief period though, and life quickly returned to the capital. One local man described it back in the early 1980s as looking similar to the current Tuol Tom Pong market, as in a series of shack-style stalls with corrugated metal or tarpaulin roofing. Since then a huge concrete building has been built in the central area.
The first of new pictures shows a general front view of the market. You can see how the gas station and stalls behind it use the same sort of central reservation that is visible in the old pictures. The modern building covers the area bordered in the old pictures by trees and vegetation, none of the asphalted areas seem to have changed. The next new picture shows a couple of innocuous-looking corner houses, you can see that they are the same structures as those near the upper right corner of the market in the old pictures. The Olympic flame sign can be seen in the close up of the rather utilitarian-looking front of this market. The last picture shows the southern-side of the building with its interesting ribbed-roof. None of the shop-houses on the opposite side of that street appear to be more than a few years old, but the distant ones might be the same as those in the 1979 view. In one of the 1979 shots you can see the open ground around the nearby stadium in the background, it's mostly enclosed by buildings now.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Best and the Worst

I don’t mean to criticize either of these establishments in any way, I’m sure they try hard in the difficult field of junior education. The first is next to Wat Tuol Tom Pong, and its location, above a metal-works, seems far from ideal. This small factory produces cement-mixers, small cranes and other pieces of relatively heavy machinery. Seven days a week the noise from the angle-grinders, welders and hammering can be heard throughout the neighborhood, it’s hard to imagine what it might sound like from the floor above, perhaps they have industrial strength sound-proofing. The other school pictured, which has just had a makeover, is on Nehru Boulevard (Street 215), in the Psah Depo area, I have always had to admire its ambitious moniker.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Olympic Stadium Part II

I wrote a bit about this place before, not much has changed about the place since but the northern and eastern perimeters, which were for years used by various businesses ranging from newsstands to coach stations, with plenty of motorbike spares outlets and shoe stalls in between, have recently been moved on , and it’s surprising to see how much space has been freed, quite a few hectares. The space is being cleared for an Olympic Committee Center, which hopefully could be the start of a concerted effort to tidy up the whole facility, which has seen little real progress in years although it is relatively well-maintained.
There’s a comparison between the view in 2005 and 2010, and you can see a fair amount of construction went up in that time. What isn’t obvious is that some of those buildings actually took years to put up, and there were long periods when the whole project was abandoned, however now it’s a fairly popular mall and car-park. The company that developed the land on the west of the stadium entered an agreement with the then FUNCINPEC-controlled ministry that ran the place. They were supposed to refurbish the stadium and grounds, but did little other than a white-wash, and their construction projects were stopped for quite some time because of this. I'm not clear on the exact details, if anyone knows better I'd like to hear.
The other pictures are from 1975, I knew the stadium had been used as a military base, but I didn’t know it was also used as a helicopter base. The pilots actually designated the place themselves, as there was huge confusion in the last period of the war, and their normal base at Pochentong had become unusable due to rocket and artillery attacks. The last of the helicopters based there headed off at 2 am on April 17th to Kampong Chhnang, they reported that several others were left behind so these would be the ones in the admittedly low-quality pictures.
There’s also a frame-grab of a voting station at the stadium for the 1993 UNTAC sponsored elections.

The first picture was taken by Tom Monorom whose other pictures and writing can be seen here: http://tommickx.wordpress.com/

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bon Om Tuk / Water Festival

This is the busiest festival in the calendar for Cambodia, and starts again tomorrow. The other main festivals generally involve dispersal of city and town dwellers to their ancestral villages, so although the celebrations may be larger, they aren’t so obvious because they are spread out. This is more about rural people coming to town, and huge numbers get concentrated around some spots, making it difficult at times to get around. The festival is usually very friendly and pleasant, although the aimless nature to some of it creates a strange atmosphere at times.

The first couple of pictures are from sometime in the late 19th or early 20th century, the following two black & white images with the steamer on the river are from 1930 and 1932. The following four color photos of the racing boat, crowds and strange looking naval craft are from 1955. The next color picture of the boat race is from 1960, I'm not sure where it was taken, but it doesn't look like Phnom Penh. The second last picture with the UNTAC ship by the quay is by Serge Corrieras and was taken in 1991. The last picture shows some crowds on the quay in 2006.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Chruoy Changva Bridge

In 1966, the Sangkum Reah Niyum Bridge, later renamed the Cambodia-Japan Friendship Bridge, was built with funds provided by Japan.I've only ever heard foreigners refer to it as "The Japanese Bridge," somewhat of a misnomer as there are a huge number of Japanese bridges all over the country. It is known locally as Chruoy Changva Bridge because it links the city with the peninsula of that name, and leads on to National route 6, which can take you to Siem Reap or Kampong Cham and the Northeast.
It was mined twice in 1973, apparently by North Vietnamese sappers, and eventually destroyed, its two middle spans dropping into the Tonle Sap river below. It was eventually repaired in the early 1990s, again with Japanese funding.
The first picture shows the bridge in the late 60swhen first built, and the following was taken sometime in the mid 70s, it shows a ferry operating from the base of the destroyed structure.This is the spot where American journalists Sydney Schanberg and local journalist Dith Pran among others were held after being captured shortly after the city fell on April 17th 1975 to Khmer Rouge forces. The scene was later recreated in the 1984 Roland Joffe movie “The Killing Fields,” although the movie was actually shot in neighboring Thailand.
The third and fourth show the bridge around 1991, you can see a UN ship parked on the quay and the water festival boat races going on in the foreground. It is also interesting to see warehouses and buildings on the river side of Sisowath Quay, where now there is just park. This picture and the following was taken by Serge Corrieras.
The final picture shows the newly repaired bridge in around 1993.

Monday, November 1, 2010


A bit of a detour from Phnom Penh, about 200 kilometers in fact, is Bokor mountain, probably my favorite place in the country. Its name comes from the mountain’s similarity to the hump of a cow. At its best vantage points there is a steep cliff hundreds of meters high which ends in the lush and noisy canopy of a vast rainforest which stretches another ten kilometers or so, almost to the coast. In this relatively flat country it is quite remarkable.
The plateau at the top of the mountain has no history of human habitation, due to its inaccessibility. There are hill-tribes that exist in the immediate vicinity, but on lower elevations. French explorers reached the plateau around 1912, and it was decided not too long afterwards to build a hill-station there. To those unfamiliar with the concept, a hill-station was a facility built by colonial authorities on hills, with resorts, hospitals and hotels available to those who needed respite from the insufferably hot plains below.
The road to the mountain winds more than forty kilometers around the edges of little hills, culverts, ravines and bridges in dense jungle at first, but later evens out towards the top. This was built with corvĂ©e labor, which was the French administration’s attempt to collect taxes from people who couldn’t pay them, by forcing them into civil engineering projects. In this particular project many of the laborers would have been Vietnamese prisoners from nearby colonies, rather than locals, however this doesn’t excuse the huge death-toll amongst workers. Some estimate that as many as 20,000 people died on the construction of the road.
Eventually the road was finished, and development gradually took off. There was a “marie” or mayor’s office, a hospital, a church, a post-office and some hotels which at times in their history served as casinos, along with a few private residences in the surrounding area. There were also huge farms on the plateau experimenting with and growing different temperate vegetables for the resort, and of course many new villages to house all the local staff and farmers. The area became embroiled in war in the late 1940s and at first the hotel was used as a hospital, but was abandoned after being set on fire by a group called the "Black Dragon." It was rebuilt in the early 1960s and officially opened again in January 1962, withe the addition of a casino. It again became cut off by fighting in the early 1970s, and was off-limits to visitors for the best part of the next three decades. There was fierce fighting on the mountain after the 1979 Vietnamese led intervention, and for many of the following 20 years the area was fought over, changing hands from government held to DK held and back again innumerable times. Very little of this is apparent now, there are just a few concrete shells of buildings and weeds, some bullet holes and blown-up corners on otherwise sound looking structures, and until recently at least, a skeleton of a anti-aircraft gun emplacement on one of the hills. Of course it’s being developed now, I’ll write more on that later.
The big picture with the Volkswagen campers in the foreground is from I’d guess the early 1960’s, and is my favorite picture of the Bokor Palace Hotel. It also proves that scratching graffiti over any suitable surface is not a new phenomenon up there.
Most of the other pictures are visual comparisons I made between various buildings as they looked in 2005 and how they appeared in the 1968 movie “Rose de Bokor”. At the time I couldn’t find many old pictures of the area, so they are low-res frame grabs rather than the clearer images I’d have preferred. Some of the other pictures were taken at night on long exposures, and were artificially lit with a mag-lite.