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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Corridor diplomacy: behind the summits

Corridor diplomacy: behind the summits

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(R to L) Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen and US President Barack Obama wait for other leaders in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Reuters

(R to L) Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen and US President Barack Obama wait for other leaders in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Reuters

''This guy must be making a killing,'' overheard a reporter at Cambodia’s historic ASEAN summit this week - the first attended by a sitting American president.

A killing petrol station burger-joint, Mike’s Burgers, did indeed make this week as the political heavyweights, diplomats, security and the media scrum at    the summit crowded around the Peace Palace food stall.

Mike’s had been invited as the exclusive food stand to serve at the event.

Aforementioned journalist claimed food booth was so busy he could not get a seat.

The burly, black clad secret services looking official overheard was certainly enthusiastic about the distinctly American cuisine on offer- the classic, greasy American bacon and cheese burger, apparently- but Mikes owner Chenda Im insisted he served up meals with an Asian twist: Mekong fish burgers with tartare sauce, and Teriyaki chicken burgers were a hit, he said.

“We sold close to 5000 burgers, which was almost all of the burgers we had, it was indeed very lucrative for me, but I will not disclose how much I earnt” he said

The entrepreneur had been earlier tipped off the president himself had planned a visit to Mike’s flagship restaurant, and although he told the Post he was “heartbroken” the drop-in had not eventuated, he consoled himself with the hope one of the “many, many secret service, FBI-looking men at the stand” had delivered a burger to Obama at the summit.

“I was asked by ASEAN organisers a couple of weeks ago to serve food at the event and was very excited - I had to go through intense security procedures first though.

“If Obama had visited I would have charged him the full price - we are here to serve everyone. I feel I truly represented the good food we have on offer in this city. Mostly the Americans wanted drinks and sodas from the US - vanilla and cherry cokes were a hit,” he said.

Meanwhile, a delegate dinner held on Monday eve on Koh Pich did not go down as well for some, with the wife of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, Datin Seri Paduka Rosmah Mansor, telling 7 Days it had “started very, very late… we weren’t called to arrive until 9.30pm.”

She was invited by Hun Sen’s wife, Bun Rany, to a “first ladies lunch” at the Cambodiana Hotel the following day, yet the host cancelled on Rosmah and her Laotian, Japanese, Indian and Singaporean counterparts due to illness.

“She had a very bad fever, from the air conditioner at the Koh Pich dinner, which was blowing very hard,” Rosmah said. When asked whether she got along with the politicians’ wives, Rosmah said “they were all friends.”

“I’m quite easy, I talk to everyone, which is how it should be…I make a point to get to know all of them… you never know when you may need their assistance or help- it pays to be close to each other.”

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Had she met Michele Obama?

“Yes I have, a few times. Three or four times. To me, she is a very good mother and wife. It depends on your priorities, I am lucky my children are grown up, so I can do my role as first lady, I can do charity and social work much more…my husband is very busy, so I need to occupy my time as well, if you have small children like Michelle your priority is your children.

“When I have spoken to her, she speaks like a mother, like a normal mother, you don’t think you are speaking to a first lady of America, she talks about kids, what they do together, I sit down with her and we just laugh and laugh and laugh, as two mothers you know.  

“Michelle is so fun and easy to talk to, she is full of humour, I enjoy speaking to women with a lot of humour, it puts you at ease. You don’t feel that you have to hold back.”

And the president himself?

“He looked a bit more serious last night. I’m not judgemental. What I see is what I see. Maybe he was tired. After the election especially. I’m sure he has spent sleepless nights during the campaign. He looked not his usual self, laughing and joking away, he has a lot on his mind, especially with what’s happening in the Middle East,” she said.

Rosmah said she had spent an hour on Sunday afternoon at Steung Meanchey NGO the Cambodian Children’s Fund, founded and run by ex-Hollywood producer Scott Neeson.

“I was very impressed, it’s a very noble thing he has done… I think it is very noble of him to leave his profession and life to take care of less privileged children,” she said.

The Malaysian delegation dined at Japanese restaurant, Kanji, and was impressed, and had ordered in food from the Malaysian restaurants Nonya and Café Malaya, “very tasty,” she said.

Rosmah also took the chance to purchase metres of Cambodian silk from Sentosa Silk to take home to her personal tailor.

“I think this region really concentrates on weaving silk and they really have perfected it…they have improved technique, the design, every time I come here I see all of the exuberant colours, it’s really beautiful, I really like them.

“There is great embroidery in Cambodia, they are good at that, it’s not as expensive as Malaysia.

A staff member at Raffles who did not want to be named told 7 Days the hotel’s Ambre boutique, selling vibrant, fitted silk dresses and coats, were prepared for “any politicians who may drop in.

“When Hillary Clinton last stayed in August she and her entourage came in and bought several lovely, silk jackets,” she said.

Tuk tuk usually hovering around the entrance to the lavish hotel had been cleared off around a week before the event, to make way for the re-elected President and other leaders such as Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, driver Naruk Kun told 7 Days.

“I guess we’ve lost a bit of business…we’re now all up by Old Market where competition is fierce,” he said.

 

Hairdresser to the White House

Jazz singer, school teacher and hair extraordinaire, Deborah Knight, says she was “pleasantly surprised” on a balmy Siem Reap eve in November 2010 when she received a visit from an American Embassy official who had trekked from the capital to temple town request something special of Knight: an Australian native who has been based in Cambodia for the last three years.

It was one week before the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was due to check in to the Sofitel, in town to visit Angkor and a human trafficking NGO.

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Clinton’s entourage had been given her details as the town’s top hair stylist, and the liaison official now had her head in a basin in Knight’s petite Sivutha Boulevard salon in a trial run for the politician.

“After that they deemed me good enough to do her hair. I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone about it and had to go through an intense security check.

Of course, I did her hair at the Sofitel - as if the Air Force One entourage could fit in my salon. When I arrived I met all of the personal secretaries. She had booked a whole far wing of the Sofitel, and I was greeted by two hefty men, they checked my bag, and I had scissors which had to be cleared, then I was frisked.

After about 20 minutes I was taken to her suite where she was waiting with just two female assistants.

She was very matter-of-fact, ‘what you see is what you get’, very polite and down to earth. We had some chit chat for a bit - she asked why I was here, what my children think of me being in a developing country. She seemed very motherly.

She greeted me with wet hair, she said she’d like it blow waved and then sat there looking though reams of documents and discussing work and information with assistants, every now and them we’d continue light chit chat.

She said she’s been to the temples but had worn a hat so didn’t need to worry about her hair and enjoyed them and we talked about the heat.

It was a great experience. Her job seemed very high-pressure but she has an air of calmness about her…a well-oiled cog is how I would describe the team - everything has to go to plan, people do this and that, by the time I finished her hair

I sat in the lobby for her to get dressed, she thanked me very much and then it was all systems go: within minutes they were in the car to the airport.

There was no way I could ask any personal questions. She did pay a small fee and also tipped me. My friends thought I was telling a lie… when I showed her the photo their jaws dropped. My children thought it was hilarious.

I was asked again this August while she was in town for ASEAN and went through the whole procedure again, but received a message the night before to say she had cancelled, she had to leave immediately the next morning.”

To contact the reporter on this story: claire.knox@phnompenhpost.com

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