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Siem Reap Scene...

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Khmer studies centre expands

The Centre for Khmer Studies is embarking on a building project to expand its Siem Reap headquarters, tucked away within the atmospheric, somewhat exotic and extensive Wat Damnak grounds.

The centre is planning a new research building for international and local scholars studying Cambodian culture and politics, as well as to expand its library.

Chief operating officer Michael Sullivan said the architect drawing and specs are now being finalised, and the plan is to break ground and start construction in October or November, with a scheduled completion in April or May next year.

Sullivan is particularly excited about the library extensions - the Siem Reap centre already has a large repository of books available to the public, making it the largest library of its kind outside of Phnom Penh.

But the plan is to use the new extension over the next five years to house up to 20,000 books.

The centre has also just wrapped up its 2008 Junior Resident Fellowship Program which began with an orientation on June 26 and was formally completed on August 22.

The program allows 15 US, French and Cambodian students to come to Siem Reap to live for two months to broaden their understanding of Cambodia, to study Khmer history and contemporary Khmer issues and to undertake small in-field research projects.

Sullivan told Scene, "With this program we built on the successes of the previous year, and once again the students enjoyed the experience of mixing with other students from completely differing backgrounds in what is very much a multicultural environment."

Staff at the centre are now concentrating on the current project, which is a series of fellowships for PhD and post-doctoral candidates. A number of candidates are already in Cambodia, and the rest are expected to arrive early next year. One of the more interesting papers to result from this program will be an examination of Chinese investment in Cambodia, a topic that is of particular academic interest to Michael Sullivan.

Dry year takes toll on honey harvest

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PETER OLSZEWSKI

Danny Jump of Bees Unlimited sees limited honey harvest.

Daniel Jump, a consultant with Siem Reap's Bees Unlimited, reports that the rainy season wild honey harvest on Tonle Sap this year will be limited, and production will be well down on previous years.

This, says Jump, is mainly due to lower seasonal water levels at this time of year, due to low rainfall this year.

"One of the problems is that the water wasn't high enough for the honey hunters to access the bee colonies on Tonle Sap," he said.

The honey hunters had to subsequently turn to other revenue-raising ventures to keep the family income rolling in, and now that the water levels are rising, and some honey gathering is possible, the hunters are committed to their other jobs.

While the rainy season honey, as it's called, is only for local Khmer consumption, the storage of this honey is a major business in Siem Reap, and the collapse of this year's harvest will hurt many pocketbooks.

Galleries offer food for thought

The John McDermott art gallery opening of Sandy Shum's Bhutan photo exhibition was the customary well-attended, be-and-be-seen bash, and opening nighters were quite entranced by Shum's "painterly" photographs.

Her technique is essentially to use the old Polaroid instant print cameras that were popular in the 1980 and swirl and mix the inks while the Polaroid print is still wet, creating a mystical effect.

Mysticism and Bhutan, of course, go hand in hand, and there was a dash of mysticism at the opening night in Siem Reap, with a contingent of monks in attendance and a display of Bhutanese prayer flags. Coloured swatches of cloth and clutches of felt pens were on hand, so that people could write messages, creating their own prayer flags and these were hung in the gallery to "infuse" the prayers into the atmosphere.

Meanwhile, another less mystical but equally moving exhibition was mounted last week at the Alliance Café. This features work by the renowned

Battambang artist, Mao Soviet and indeed it is a tad controversial because it features naked studies of Cambodian women, some battered and bruised, some circled in symbolic barbed wire.

Cafe owner and curator Olivier Muzard explains that these vulnerable nudes are heartfelt representations of the degradations visited on Cambodian women who go to South Korea as wives and are often physically and emotional mistreated by brutal husbands.

Soviet's anguished nude paintings are based on the true story of a local woman whose story featured in the national press.

Finally, The French Cultural Centre ventures into politically correct territory on September 18 with the launch of an exhibition of artist Kchao Touch's sculptures rendered from waste paper. This, according to the centre, has been inspired by "outrage of piles of paper thrown by Cambodian people without thinking."

pub launches managers' night

PETER OLSZEWSKI

Borei Angkor Resort and Spa general manager Philip Set Kao beats rivals to the punch.

Siem Reap's population of expatriate professional and business people has increased considerably during the year, as the city moves away from just being a tourism industry town.

But with the influx of the suit-and-tie brigade, there's been an increasing call for a watering hole where business people can get together to exchange news and notes and to network.

Bertrand Prestaut of L'escale des Arts & des Sens has talked about creating a venue to meet such needs, as has Pascal Deyrolle, the general manager of La Residence d'Angkor.

But Philip Set Kao, general manager of Borei Angkor Resort and Spa, has beaten everyone to the punch with his newly opened Horizon-Blue Pub.

On Saturday night he held a managers' cocktail evening from 7-10pm and was rewarded for his endeavor with good response - he sent out 70 invites and 60 people turned up.

"It turned out to a great night and it was obviously people enjoyed the opportunity to get together," he said. "In the past it has been difficult to find such a meeting place here in Siem Reap and our new pub, with its views of the Royal Residence, creates the right sort of atmosphere."

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