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Singing tree serves up alternative vibe

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

PETER OLSZEWSKI

Singing Tree owner and manager Vanny Sinn has a spiritual attraction.

The alternate lifestyle is alive and surviving in Siem Reap in the guise of The Singing Tree Cafe, just off Wat Bo Road.

Owner-manager Vanny Sin said the "child-friendly" garden cafe offers more than just healthy food. It also serves up a steady diet of 'alternate' fare such as talks about permaculture, ashtanga yoga and meditation sessions, and Al Gore and John Pilger movies.

The cafe has a distinct feel reminiscent of fashionable Western 'alternate energy' coastal resorts such as Byron Bay in Australia, and indeed, Vanny Sin explains, Byron is a former stamping ground of her husband Michael Batura.

Four years ago, Batura set off from Australia on the classic hippie spiritual odyssey, planning to become a monk in India. But on the way he became sidetracked, landed in Cambodia, met and married Vanny Sin, and brought the concepts of munchies and brownies to Siem Reap.

The Singing Tree provides year-round food plus physical and spiritual fodder such as yoga, mediation and Pilates for locals.

Then, as peak season looms it reintroduces its annual monk chat sessions for tourists.

Vanny Sin said, "Monks come here every Saturday to give an introduction to Buddhism. This attracts lots of different groups of tourists but isn't of great interest for the locals.  "The tourists love the opportunity of being able to meet monks and chat to them."

Happy herb diners get a bit too happy

Warning: Siem Reap's Happy Herb Pizzas may not necessarily provide a happy experience.

This was borne out by an incident last Friday night at Ivy Guesthouse 2, which spilled out into the street outside The Phnom Penh Post Siem Reap Bureau and into the foyer of the four-star riverside Riviera Hotel.

Tourist police and security guards were called to quell one backpacker who went psycho after allegedly dining on a Happy Herb pizza.

An hour later his mate also lost the plot, turned troppo, and started smashing and bashing.

Both men were subdued but then vanished down a side street, disturbing Khmer residents, and later the Riviera Hotel reported that one of the men was causing a fracas in the foyer.

The men were subdued again and sent to bed with stern warnings.

Next morning two sheepish backpackers were given a vigorous verbatim report of their apparently herbally induced indiscretions. They were also shown the damage they caused, and the bill.

Siem reap students win scholarships

PETER OLSZEWSKI

PEPY director Mary Bylander spearheads Khmer language literacy drive.

Three Siem Reap students are 2008 recipients of The University of Cambodia's Samdech Techo Hun Sen's Vision-100 Scholarships.

The Siem Reap bright sparks are Kiry Samnang, Sao Phol Reasey, and Taing Leangchhoung.

Scene suspects more local students will score scholarships in coming years, due to a surge in educational organisations and NGOs in the province.

The most recent of these is Phnom Penh-based PEPY, which will now open a Siem Reap office under managing director Mary Bylander. 

PEPY last week held its first Khmer Literacy Camp in Chanleas Dai Village, Siem Reap Province, prompted by the realisation that while many students are becoming literate and conversant in English, they can't read or write in their own language, Khmer.

The main goal of the literacy camp, said Bylander, is to inspire students to read and use the Khmer books available in the library. 

The library, to which PEPY added 1,200 books last year, is a valuable resource to the students, but many children who are at a low reading level are intimidated.

Some of the literate kids are encouraged to advance and create computer programs to help younger peers learn to read and write Khmer.  Using Scratch, an innovative MIT-developed software on low cost XO computers from the ‘One Laptop Per Child' initiative, these students draw and program characters, create animation , and design simple games to help teach the less advanced students.

High-end housing gets blessing

Siem Reap's first upscale apartment development, the riverside Butterfly Residences, was launched last Saturday in a party atmosphere.

Most of the buyers were the linen-shirt-and-expensive-jeans brigade from Ho Chi Minh City's moneyed expat community and the push into Siem Reap from this quarter is now seriously under way.

While the Vietnamese expat buyers have initially invested in the apartments as rental units, some, such as David Appleton of Edge Marketing, were so taken with Siem Reap that they are leaving their options open  and may use the apartments residentially.

The apartment complex was blessed in the morning by monks from Wat Phras Prom Rath. This was done partly as a cultural acknowledgment, and partly as an appeasement to the monks who involved themselves in the project in the planning stages, apparently ensuring that the building would not be an eyesore and that the height would not compromise the pagoda.

The monks are understandably edgy about development around the pagoda because earlier this year one of Siem Reap's tallest buildings, the Angkor Trade Centre, was erected slap-bang next to the monastery, dominating part of the skyline. Now every morning when the monks in the pagoda look up, instead of mediating on a heavenly expanse, their vision is polluted by the excesses of modern Western capitalism and supermarket displays.

Meanwhile, the developer of the Butterfly Residences, the Frangipani Property Group, a Hong Kong-registered company, is planning a complementary niche market boutique hotel, the Butterfly Hotel, next door to the apartment block.

Costly saltwater kills seafood biz

Restaurants specialising in bringing live seafood from the aquarium to diners' plates have virtually disappeared from Siem Reap due to cost of buying seawater to keep the fish alive.

The price of seawater ‘imported' from coastal areas around Sihanoukville and Kampot has been skyrocketing and by mid-July  restaurants were being charged $5 per 30 litres of seawater, with some restaurants estimating their weekly bill to be around $30.

Most restaurants have since pulled the plug on live fish fare. The Chinese-style Seng Fatt Live Seafood Restaurant, for instance, no longer lives up to its name.

The restaurant's general manager, Ming, said that fish can only stay alive if the seawater is constantly changed.

"We lost so much money on it, with the fish dying really fast if the water was not kept fresh, that we stopped stocking live fish. We could not really keep them alive out of the sea," he said.

Frediric David, a consultant for the Live Blue Crabs company, said blue crabs are no longer delivered live to Siem Reap outlets.

"The expense of keeping seafood alive in Siem Reap is too great for most of the restaurant owners," he said.

"Live seafood needs a special aquarium for proper storage and it can be very dangerous to not treat seawater carefully as it can become harmful and spread disease."

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