Sunday, April 27, 2014

73 Phnom Penh

New Khmer Architecture on a visa run.

Thailand doesn't want skint westerners not spending enough or paying tax. Therefore the authorities only allow holiday visitors one month on a tourist visa, by which time the "we're here for the temples and food" brigade should have spent all their holiday saving money. Keeping them for longer doesn't make much more financial sense.
Visitors on work permits are given stays of a year at a time, though we have to "show ourselves" every three months. It sounds it but it's not rude. All we do is pop in and out of the country, or nip in for a few boring hours at an office on the Rama IV boulevard so the uniformed folk at Immigration can plop another stamp onto our passport. Most non residents chose to pop out of the country to somewhere close. There's a fair few of us who fly in and out of Phnom Penh, short time, on "visa runs."
On my run to PP I like to home down at the homely Foreign Correspondents Club and stay for a few nights before catching the plane back home. On my latest trips I've taken time to photograph some "New Khmer Architecture" from the 1960s and early 1970s. There's nowt New after the early 1970s given that the Good Old Khmer Rouge emptied the streets, killed the architects and brought urban life to a halt.

I've been reading up on a Cambodian architect called Van Molyvann. He's dead interesting and stil alive in his mid eighties. However, I did come across one syrupy and gushing article, nauseatingly written in the present tense, by Claire Knox. Phnom Penh Post, Friday 25th 2013 that had me going bananas at my computer.
I appreciate Claire's research and work, what I'm unhappy about is her style. It's a personal thing of mine. She starts, "Vann Molyvann, Cambodia's most revered architect, sweeps a creased hand over rows and rows of glossy books lining his teak bookshelf."
When I read such flowery drivel I spark off. I've a mental picture of Claire trying to do a Karen Blixen or Jane Austen or feeble, fluffy, emotional tart, writing up her Lonely Planet journal in a Phnom Penh hostel coffee shop on a three dollars fifty a day budget, with a daypack containing a thousand quid Nikon a four hundred quid iPhone, but no deodorant.
I get irritated and a little cross. "Cambodia's most revered living architect." I'll take that on. Okay everyone, name five Cambodian architects. I'm not a cynic (all the time) but Claire's not persuaded me of her architectural criticism credentials in that opening salvo. So she's not going to grab my attention and trust to convince me that she is one to tell me Vann Molly is up there on the top of this week's revered hit parade.
While I am on the first sentence, could we define "revere."
In my dictionary, here on my desk, it states "to have great respect for (someone or something): to show devotion and honour to (someone or something)". Revere might not be (one hundred per cent not be) the over embellishing word I would chose. Perhaps that's as I've a background in market research, surveys, attitudes and images.
"(Intro) Good afternoon, I'm conducting a survey about Cambodian architects and I would like you to tell me which living architects from this list (Showcard One, tick each as mentioned) you a. revere b. respect c. worship d. devote yourself to e. honour f. think is a good architect."
(On completion of "Part One. Living Cambodian Architect Section" go to "Part Two. Dead Cambodian Architect Section" Showcard Six...)
I haven't finished with sentence one. Not yet I haven't. "Vann Molyvann sweeps a creased hand over..."
"Sweeps a..." That would be Vann Molyvann's hand would it? I'm presuming it most likely is. Or is it a mannequin's hand with an artistic coating of latex to get the creases on. Maybe Vann Molyvann is sweeping his recently amputated left hand over the books as he holds it in his right non amputated hand, a little like how I flick a feather duster over my bookshelves. Being completely daft I could suggest the hand, a hand, is a hand from no one to do with Van Molyvann, for example, a hand recently blown off a victim of some mine clearing activity up on the north west frontier. Please. "Vann Molyvann swept his creased hand." Or even better, "Vann Molyvann swept his hand." 
That's why I've strained the syrup. I am saving others from shouting at their computer screens as I did. I've macho'd the style and toughed up the diction. I'm sure Claire will understand and not get hissy. 

Molyvann. My Legacy Will Disappear.
Rewritten by Me from some drivel written before by Claire
27th April 2104
Vann Molyvann swept his hand over rows of books on his teak bookshelf; books on the Angkorian Kingdom, Swiss chalets, the Italian Renaissance, Le Corbusier, 1960s modern Japanese architecture, Cambodian artisans and ancient Greeks.
Molyvann's work during the 1950s and 1960s, the heyday of the King Norodom Sihanouk era, created some of the nations most iconic recent architecture; the National Sports Complex (now the Olympic Stadium), the Ministry of Finance, the White Building, the Institute for Foreign Languages, the Independence Monument and the fan shaped Chaktomuk Conference Hall, to name but a few. He believes the design of the Olympic Stadium is his magnum opus.
Vann Molyvann was born in Kampot, a coastal town in the Cambodian south, in 1926 and studied in Phnom Penh before he was a given a government grant to study law in Paris in 1946. However, he found his true calling learning architecture at L'Ecole des Beaux Arts. He absorbed the teachings of Swiss / French architect and urban planner Le Corbusier, as did other young Cambodian students; Lu Ban Hap, Chhim Sun Fong, Seng Sutheng and Mam Sophana.
The group became what is now known as the "New Khmer Movement" and were asked by Sihanouk to spearhead the design of new and remarkable civic structures after Cambodia took independence back from the French in 1953.
Molyvann, the most qualified of the group, was appointed Chief Architect of the Kingdom and Director for Urban Planning and Habitat. In thirteen years he was responsible for creating approximately one hundred buildings. I asked what it felt like to be accountable for the planning and design of a city aged thirty. He shook his head and with a smile said, "Of course it was an exciting, humbling experience for a young man - can you imagine?"

Molyvann's eyes sparkled when he recounted his experiences with Sihanouk.
"Sihanouk and I were colleagues. I had great respect for him. I can tell you a story about the way he gave orders, which was inspiring. One day in the sixties he called me, a French trained Khmer engineer, a physician and a few others. We had a meeting as the Royal Palace, and he said he had just come back from Indonesia. He said they have just built independence but they have plenty of universities, why don't we? This is the future. He said, you, Molyvann, you will create the Royal University of Phnom Penh. And I received a small Italian car, and went on a hunt for students and teachers, scholars, to create the council for the university.
Vann Molyvann built the linear housing blocks under the Bassac area project (which included the National Theatre Preah Suramarit) which contained the Grey and White Buildings (although Lu Ban Hap was credited with the latter) the only attempt made by a Cambodian government at a housing ownership scheme for civil servants.
"I was very proud of this. Each apartment was cross ventilated with cool, open space. But the ideology behind it was very close to my heart; allowing those who rented the houses to become owners after fifteen years. Cambodians are too poor for this to happen now. The ones there now (in the White Building, now slums) will never leave unless they are well paid, which is great. It is theirs. I am passionate for their rights, for housing and land rights."

Molyvann's doctoral thesis "Modern Khmer Cities" addressing the development and planning of Asian cities was completed in France when he was 82. He says he wrote it as a cathartic plea to the government to prompt better foresight into the planning of Phnom Penh; particularly the destruction of historic buildings.
As investment continues to flood Phnom Penh many colonial and New Khmer buildings have been ripped down and skyscrapers built in their place. The Grey Building is now the Phnom Penh Centre. The National Theatre has been razed.

Molyvann opened his book and scanned the section he has written on the country's property decrees and articles established since 1999. "These laws make me feel desperate for the Khmer people. I feel extremely sad... It is a systeme totalitaire. There is no hope left for my buildings. I believe most of them will go. I cannot elaborate any more. I am sick of it."


Saturday, April 26, 2014

72 Tuol Sleng


I've been to Tuol Sleng more than a few times. On my last visits to Phnom Penh I've chosen not to return to Tuol Sleng, S-21 and instead think about what I've seen and read. I've already got my stories.

The photograph above shows two.

It is a grubby photograph mounted in a crude frame. The woman was taken and killed by the Khmer Rouge, along with her son. They were killed shortly after. Every death was documented at Tuol Sleng, a converted school building in a western suburb.

The picture hangs inside one of the schoolrooms, reflected in the glass, with barred and barbed wire windows to keep inside the fifty plus people inside shackled to rusting iron leg braces. Some of the schoolrooms had been converted into dozens of individual cells where more important prisoners were held. The bricks in the bottom right of the photo show the remains of one of them.

I took the shot on a glorious, sunny morning. Outside behind a trestle table Vann Nath was signing booklets to fund a charity. Vann Nath was one of Tuol Sleng's few survivors.

Friday, April 25, 2014

71 Phnom Penh

At the Foreign Correspondents Club, Phnom Penh again...

...drinking chilled white in the bar. I do appreciate the history and sense of this place.

Meanwhile, foreign correspondents in other parts of Asia (Japan) were writing.

No End In Sight To Thailand’s Political Unrest
by Pavin Chachavalpongpun
The Japan Times

April 22nd 2014 Kyoto - More than six months have passed since protesters launched a campaign to topple the elected government of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawtra.

During this period the agendas of the protesters have shifted several times, from objecting to the ruling Pheu Thai Party’s controversial amnesty bill to fighting against the so-called corrupt Thaksin regime. It is convenient for the protesters to substitute Thaksin with his sister Yingluck. They have accused her of being his puppet and reproached her for inheriting corrupt policies from him.
What was meant to be a short-lived battle has turned out to be long and dangerous wrangling between the two sides. The crux of the problem does not lie with the widespread corruption supposedly committed by the Yingluck government. Indeed, the protracted conflict is a part of the transitional royal succession. Thailand’s much-revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej is in his twilight years. The network monarchy that he built has become shaky and directionless now that the end of his era is near.
The only heir apparent, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, is not well loved by the people because of his troubled past and hedonistic character. But this does not explain why the network monarchy is not willing to support him as he waits to be enthroned. The seemingly intimate ties between Vajiralongkorn and Thaksin have gravely worried the conservative royalists in the network monarchy. They fear that once Vajiralongkorn becomes king, their political position and economic status will suffer.
In Bangkok, talk is growing about the increasing internal struggle in the palace. Conservative royalists do not approve of the crown prince and may seek to install the more popular Princess Maha Chakri Siridhorn as the next monarch. But in accordance with the succession law, she is ineligible to be enthroned so having a female monarch remains wishful thinking.
Realizing they have much to lose if the planned succession goes ahead, the conservative royalists have attempted to disrupt the handover of power in the royal court by creating chaos that will lead the military to take control of politics, and subsequently the succession process. This may explain why the anti-government protesters, obviously endorsed by the monarchy, took to the streets of Bangkok in the first place.
But after months of political interruption, there is no sign that the Yingluck government has wobbled. Its confidence partly derives from the solid backing from its supporters in the red-shirt movement. And the military has not judged it as timely to stage another coup for a myriad of reasons. The army learned lessons from the 2006 coup and the deadly crackdowns on the red shirts in 2010. The coup gave birth to the red-shirt movement, whose main agenda has been to reject military’s political intervention. A new coup would provoke the red shirts to resort to violence.
Moreover, there is fragmentation within the military. Not every soldier would agree with a coup. Some are more sympathetic toward the Yingluck government and the red shirts, particularly the low-ranking military officers who come from the poorest regions of Thailand, which are Thaksin strongholds.
As a military coup is not viable now, conservative royalists have employed other means to try and remove Yingluck from power. The Constitutional Court, the Election Commission, the Anti-Corruption Agency and the Human Right Commission — all have found ways to delegitimize the Yingluck government. The court has been rather active in pursuing cases that might lead to Yingluck being forced from office. This is not the first time the court has played a political role. In 2008, it ordered the resignation of two Thaksin-backed prime ministers, Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat. Will history repeat itself?
The two-day gathering of the red shirts near Buddha Mandala Park, at the outskirt of Bangkok on April 5 and 6 signified that they were ready to protest should the Yingluck government be ousted by one of those independent institutions. At the gathering, core members of the red shirts took turns rousing the crowd with their speeches.
Although references to the monarchy are taboo in Thailand, many of the red shirts hinted that the driving forces behind the anti-government protesters were the network monarchy and a key member of the royal family who did not wish for a planned royal transition.
Thus the future of Thailand remains bleak. The royal transition is a lengthy process so the political conflict will drag on. If the conservative royalists continue to punish their enemies through illegal means so they could take charge of the royal succession, the political game will likely end in bloodshed.
Many in Thailand have begun to ask if a civil war is possible.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

70 Sanam Luang

History Repeating.


The Dead Kennedy's on their single "Holiday in Cambodia" used a photograph taken by Neal Ulevich, showing the lynched, dead body of a left-wing student being defiled by ultra royalist right-wing activists in 1976. The photograph was awarded the Pullitzer Prize in 1977.

History, today in Thailand, is repeating itself...

- - - - - - - - -
Radicalising Thailand: New Political Perspectives (2003).
G.J. Ungpakorn, Contributing editor. Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University.
"In the early hours of 6th October 1976, Thai uniformed police, stationed in the grounds of the National Museum, next door to Thammasat University, destroyed a peaceful gathering of students and working people on the university campus under a hail of relentless automatic fire. At the same time a large gang of ultra-Right-wing “informal forces”, known as the Village Scouts, Krating-Daeng (or “Red Gaurs”) and Nawapon, indulged in an orgy of violence and brutality towards anyone near the front entrance of the university. Students and their supporters were dragged out of the university and hung from the trees around Sanam Luang; others were burnt alive in front of the Ministry of “Justice” while the mob danced round the flames.

Women and men, dead or alive, were subjected to the utmost degrading and violent behaviour. One woman had a piece of wood shoved up her xxxxxxx. Hopefully she was already dead. Village Scouts dragged dead and dying students from the front of the campus and dumped them on the road, where they were finished-off. A young man plunged a sharp wooden spike into the corpses while a boy urinated over them.

Not only did the state’s “forces of law and order” do nothing to halt this violence, some uniformed members of the police force were filmed cheering-on the crowd."

Article continues here...
- - - - - - - - - -  - - -
Those Defaming The Monarchy Are "Trash" To Be Removed.
The Nation. Pravit Rojanaphruk. April 23, 2014.

"So says Dr Rienthong Nanna, the leader of a new ultra-royalist vigilante group. The group that Rienthong, a retired major general, founded on Facebook is aptly named in Thai, "Organisation for the Removal of Trash of the Land".
To Rienthong and his supporters, those who criticise or offend the monarchy are no longer regarded as humans, but as trash. Rienthong, director of Monkutwattana General Hospital, rose to fame literally within days after leading the latest vigilante crusade to eliminate all expressions of dissent, criticism and defamation against the royal institution.

"I don't accept differing ideas from those who think differently by defaming or citing academic freedom that enabled lese majeste acts [to occur]. I can conclude that these people who think differently are trash of the land," he declared on the organisation's Facebook page last week.
Besides the call to hunt down all those who insult the monarchy, Rienthong, who appears to be in his late fifties, is also calling for the practice of "corporate loyalty responsibility"...

As of Monday, the organisation's Facebook page was asking for police to refrain from taking any action against the group, which will arm itself with war weapons for its own safety and protection."

Thai Activist Who Opposed Lese Majeste Law Killed
The Associated Press. April 23, 2014.

"BANGKOK — A pro-government activist who opposed a law punishing critics of Thailand's monarchy was fatally shot Wednesday in the capital, police said.
Police Col. Thanawat Watthanakul said Kamol Duangphasuk was shot by gunmen on a motorcycle in a restaurant parking lot in northern Bangkok. Kamol, a poet also known as Mainueng Kor Khuntee, was a member of the "Red Shirt" political movement which supports Yingluck and her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thailand has been plagued by political strife since a 2006 military coup ousted Thaksin from office, after demonstrators accused him of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Kamol was a strong opponent of Thailand's lese majeste law, which provides up to 15 years in prison for anyone who defames the country's monarchy. A newly formed vigilante group has threatened to hunt down people who oppose the monarchy, describing them as trash.
Kamol's poetry had a hard political edge, and he advocated that the Red Shirts organize in a military fashion at the local level in order to protect Yingluck's government.
Yingluck faces court rulings that could force her from office, in what her supporters call a "judicial coup."
The judiciary is seen as part of the Thai establishment, which has long been hostile to Thaksin. Thaksin's supporters believe the country's elite felt their privileges threatened by Thaksin's popularity."
- - - - - - - - -

Monday, April 21, 2014

67 Tirana

Early Spring 1992 and again at Easter.

- - - - - - - - -

66 Little Marlow

A tricky place is this one. September 9th, 1991. About 4.00pm in the afternoon.
I can laugh now, recognize the signs, stop and sort it out. Back then I struggled with that. Three bottles of Paracetomol bought barefoot in M something and a few nights in Wycombe's general hosptital.

And I can laugh with the lyrics about the lass in the Rolling Stones number; Chrissie Shrimpton, Joan's sister. "Well, it seems to me that you have seen too much in too few years."

Sunday, April 20, 2014

65 Bangkok

Stan's got a cowboy hat and a wig...

...he's also got chemo therapy. His wavy curly knackered gray hair is falling out. His beard, wavy curly knackered gray, is hanging on in. As are his pubes. So Stan says.

My mate of ten years more was in the pub yesterday - lunchtime - drinking a bottle of Lao and surfing the internet for free.

The cowboy hat's got Ronaldino embroidered on the ribbon facing out to the front. Which is weird. The wig's got lively weighty pom meechee wichee wah strands of long straight medium brown hair, about a foot long or so, sewn in. Which is mad.

Cowboy hat, long straight brown wig hair, pasty drawn face, and same old same old goatee beard.

Stan's not fighting cancer. Stan's taking the piss out of it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

64 Acropolis

When I was in Athens in the summer of 1991 I had another poster moment...
I'd spent a fortnight lazing on beaches and hopping around the Islands off the mainland. My sun tan was the best I'd ever had and the two weeks off working in razor blades had worked their magic. Completely rested, but with that "oh, back to work in x days" knowledge.
The early morning ferry had docked bang on time and I had Athens for a day before flying back home to Marlow and the Great West Road. First stop had to be The Acropolis.
I hiked there and with no one else up to the base of the hill waited for the gates to open. Bang. In through the Propylaea, the ancient welcoming gateway, and I got the framed view of the Parthenon, ahead and to the right.
I was in a picture on my middle school stairwell again. I was the photographer of the Greece poster that featured in 1970s travel agents windows. Child emotions kicked in. The whoa ho whoa stuff of  the "I am here, yes I am here, I'm in the book, I'm in the picture" pinch myself and yup it is really happening moment. Over on the top of the hill, to the left, the Erectheion looking pretty small in comparison to the Parthenon.
From emotion I bounced forward a decade to thought and the history of architecture Ancient and Classical lectures in Nottingham. It's easy to understand why lecturers lecture on certain things when those things are seen in the real. In a classroom with no frame of reference their students and kids can't truly get a grip on context and importance. Take the youngsters out into the field and present the reality and it all slots into place. Another airline poster moment.
Think about seeing the Parthenon - in a photo on the wall behind a six o'clock studio newsreader talking about a problem in Greece - without knowing what the stones are about; that would be listening to The Jam in your bedroom on an 1970s Argos catalogue cassette radio with an acceptable speaker. You can hear just about hear the lyrics and get the tune. Walk in front of the Parthenon and that's like watching The Jam play live at the Hammersmith Odeon. Stand in front of the Parthenon loaded up with architectural history lectures and The Jam at Hammersmith becomes the The Jam at Hammersmith with a healthy shot of amphetamine. 
I just did a quick search for the prospectus and I notice they are still running similar programs to the arts students in Nottingham today 

"BArch Bachelor of Architecture. Architectural Humanities 1: History of Architecture.
This module offers you an introduction to the history of architecture from ancient times to the present day. A two-hour weekly lecture aims to familiarise you with major architectural typologies and the social and technological changes that brought them into being."

I opted for going deep into Greece and the Greeks putting my hopes they'd crop up in the end of year exam. Plus, the Romans; they seemed to attract a weird bunch; pseudie republican Americans for a start looking for their identity, and an excuse for power crazed senators and big armed forces. Rome seemed to be about being a bloke and having a TV mini series, having parliamentarians stabbed and copping off with horses around the indoor swimming pool. Leather breastplates and short skirts, whacking breasts and giving Nazi salutes. Not my cup of tea The Greeks however. Well. The Greeks seemed far more cool. Togas for all. Wandering around. Thinking and chatting about stuff. Making up plays and setting them in nice odeons and theatres.

When it came to Greek architecture they had it up on the Romans there as well. The Greeks got in first and set the way ahead. The Three Orders, the Five Orders. Bannister Fletcher was the bibke text that formed the backbone reading to get us through that.  I’ve since bought the 1975 edition from a second hand shop.No pencil underlining and no notes in the margins… 48 lines per page 12 words per line Monotype Plantin

1975 edition, ex library, clean, no lines on the page,

Writing the lecture notes with a marroon Rotring pen, held bolt up right to be cool. Blackest of black ink on the paper, cool for essays and sketches, but flippinh hard to write quickly enough for an exam.

Pevsner was the text that got us all through the Gothic. We had a third slab on Modern Architecture. The last I found the most interesting but the most confusing. mingled up. De Dtijl with this and that with the Bauhaus and then the Ard Deco and the Art Nouveau and Gaudi going berserk and Le Corbusier coming in and being clean and all sorts. The modern term was what got me going, all the white stuff… the Schindler’s Factories in the Schindler’s List movies. Square, sharp and clean. I was doing it in the days before they added Charles Jencks and Norman Foster and inside out buildings and post modernism. My history stopped in the 1950s and it began in 400BC.

And here I was.  In 400BC. Link with the poster on middle school in 1973 and in the Architectural Tower in 1983

 Parthenon, Propylaea, Temple of Athena Nike, Erechtheum

Eleusinion, Brauroneion, Chalkotheke, Pandroseion, Arrephorion,
Sir Banister Fletcher's A History of Architecture has been the standard one volume architectural history and continues to give a concise and factual account of world architecture from the earliest times.

This unique reference book places buildings in their social, cultural and historical settings to describe the main patterns of architectural development, from Prehistoric to the International Style. In the words of Sir Banister Fletcher, this book shows that 'Architecture ... provides a key to the habits, thoughts and aspirations of the people, and without a knowledge of this art the history of any period lacks that human interest with which it should be invested.'