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Exhibition under a dark star

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

Erica Goldberg

Artist Sokuntevy Ouer rattles visitors with her exhibition based on the signs of the Chinese zodiac.

Hotel de la Paix's new art exhibition sTARsIGNS, launched on Tuesday night, was, as the name suggests, based around astrological signs. Sculptures representing the zodiac also carried predictions - but with a twist.

Rabbit people, for example, were told they were boring and asexual, and rat people were told they'd be punished if they did good deeds.

The sculptures are the work of Sokuntevy Ouer, one of the few female artists in Cambodia and a graduate of the influential Phare Ponleu Selpak school in Battambang.

There was an unusual atmosphere at the opening, perhaps aided by dim light, smoke machines and a fortune teller.

Some people weren't quite sure what to make of the 23 mixed-media sculptures on show at the gallery, but the pieces certainly created a buzz.

Gallery curator Don Protassio said, "I've never seen works like this from a woman. Usually female Cambodian artists create things that seem feminine.  These come from a very dark place." 

Protassio showed Scene a piece titled Year of the Goat, which portrayed a goat's head on a naked female torso, as an example of Sokuntevy Ouer's original and bold take.

Protassio also chose this exhibit because of Sokuntevy Ouer's exploration of the tension between traditional Khmer culture and modern values.  He said, "A lot of modern Khmers don't really believe in the star signs, yet they consult fortune tellers to make major life decisions. This exhibit really shows something that part of the daily life of many Cambodians."

Ouer herself is sceptical about the predictive value of star signs.  "My parents are always trying to match me up with the right guy, and they consult the signs. I don't 100 percent believe in it myself, but I wanted to create sculptures that showed the Khmer culture of my family, and previous generations." 

Her inspiration came from books, and she worked with materials like coffee, rattan, and paper.

Opening-nighters told Scene that they liked the works, although some found them too aggressive.

Tuk-Tuk ambulance service planned

Plans are under way for students at a Siem Reap's Global Child School to operate a tuk-tuk ambulance service.

The innovative program involves 24 students who were living on the streets in Phnom Penh prior to enrollment at the Siem Reap school, which opened in April and is run by The Global Child, an NGO that builds schools for street-children in developing countries.

The kids are being trained in emergency services by a volunteer doctor.  

The tuk-tuk ambulance service will be available to all Siem Reap children and will deliver them to the Angkor Hospital for Children.

That's the upside. The downside is that with only one tuk-tuk ambulance, only one hospital delivery can be made in a night.

School principal Pang Sopheap said, "Unfortunately, because the students still have to study, we will be able to take only one call each night and then we have to turn off the phone." 

The tuk-tuk will cost up to about $2,000 and will carry a sign with a phone number sick children can call. The Global Child will begin administering this program as soon as it secures sufficient funding from its board of directors.

School principal Pang Sopheap said, "We will purchase a tuk-tuk and moto this month, and the kids who have graduated from our school will drive it."

Vietnamese ladies invade siem reap

The Vietnamese invasion of Siem Reap continues. Vietnam's Luxury Travel Company has launched two women-only tours to the city from now until November 30, which may be good news for local men. Or maybe not.

The "ladies packages" are apparently "to celebrate" the opening of the company's new office in Ho Chi Minh City this month.

The deal offers a 10-day US$1,999 tour from Saigon to Siem Riep, and a four-day

$999 Angkor temples package.

Included in the package is twin-share accommodation, daily breakfast, tea break, candlelit dinner, spa package, excursions and activities, shopping, guided museum visit and a private chartered boat cruise on Tonle Sap Lake.

German angkor site gets english version

Siem Reap's irascible German writer Johann Reinhart Zieger, aka Reinhart, the Teutonic scourge of the tourist hordes, has just launched an English-language version of his four-year-old German website.

His fervent claim to fame is that his original site is ranked by Google as the world's No 1 German-language Angkor websites. As it might well be, because German-language Angkor websites are presumably thin on the ground.

Much of the material on the sites is drawn from Reinhart's masterwork, his book Angkor Tempel Der Khmer, published by Chiang Mai-based Silkworm Books in 2006.

Having either his sites or his guide book in any way linked to tourism is enough to renders Reinhart apoplectic, and he refers to the tourist trade as "organised crime".

"My book, my websites, my work is strictly non-commercial and are designed for guiding independent visitors," the retired high school teacher stresses.

Aussies make magic with artist's home

Aussie Glen Saunders and his wife Deborah, an award winning catering chef from Melbourne, preside over their own little riverside magical kingdom, tucked away from the main tourist precincts.

Their guesthouse, The River Garden, is the former home and studio of long-time French artist Michel Delacroix, who is probably the most successful, yet least locally publicised, artist connected with Siem Reap.

Delacroix married into Cambodian royalty and his wife owns the property. It's a magnificent retreat from the ordinary world outside, with lush gardens with butterflies, fish ponds, jungle-like stands of foliage, and cosy villas.

As well as being a guesthouse business, The River Garden also used to run Secret Men's Business, which involved male bonding (i.e. drinking, eating and drinking) in Aussie barbecue style, followed by a tour of Khmer Rouge local historical sites, places where commanders hunkered down, where shootings took place and so on. A local tour guide who survived the Khmer Rouge era in Siem Reap told the tales he'd lived to tell.

But that tour has now been replaced by the more popular Cooks in Tuk Tuks - Khmer cooking classes where participants travel by tuk-uk to local markets to buy ingredients and then return to base to cook what they bought.

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