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KIWI broadcaster puts down roots

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

PETER OLSZEWSKI

New Zealander Dean Williams gets ready to run Miss Wong.

Siem Reap's newest bar owner Dean Williams was, until last month, a staff member of Radio New Zealand National, for which last year he had produced a show called Our Changing World.

Inspired by that theme, he has certainly changed his world. In 2007, he took a leave of absence from the radio station, came to live in Siem Reap and ended up managing the popular restaurant Abacus for four months while the owner Renaud Fichet was in France for emergency medical treatment.

On Renaud's recovery, Dean returned to the Land of the Long White Cloud,but discovered he could no longer call New Zealand home because it was too cold  and too expensive. He promptly quit his job, returned to Siem Reap, began writing for The Phnom Penh Post among other things, and now has signed a take-over lease for the Blue Chilli Too bar in a hip and happening alleyway behind Pub Street.

In September the bar will reopen as Miss Wong, an old-style Shanghai-themed cocktail lounge where spirits and wine will also be plied.

New gm takes reins at sothea courtyard

It's a homecoming for well-known Siem Reap hotel personality Sarah Moya, who worked at Century Angkor Hotel during 2003-06, first as director of sales and marketing and then as acting general manager for 18 months.

Now she returns triumphant, as one of the region's few female fully-fledged hotel general managers, at the Sothea Courtyard boutique hotel planned to open early December.

The Sothea is one of a slew of five-star boutique hotels slated for launch in Siem Reap to exploit the new high-end trend for small, intimate but lavish digs for discerning travellers who eschew the anonymous multistorey big-dollar, big-ticket chains.

This has prompted the emergence of global boutique hotel chains, as typified by Sothea's owners, the Preferred Boutique "collection", a division of the Preferred Hotel Group.

The Sothea Courtyard will be an "elegant" 39 all-suite resort, and in the company's press release the now plebeian word 'hotel' has been abandoned for descriptives such as "boutique brand",  "luxury property", "luxury boutique environment" and  "boutique experience".

This, says the release, means the hotels "provide a dynamic combination of strategic sales, marketing and technology solutions."

Which probably means there are no crap cocktails with lurid paper umbrellas, and no semi-naked-lady swizzle sticks.

In other hotel news, a new general manger, Joffrey Gris, started on August 1 with another already-well-established 16-room boutique hotel, La Maison d'Angkor, owned by Phnom Penh medical entrepreneur Dr Garan and a small group of French and Swiss investors.

This is Gris' first appointment as GM and also his second Cambodian work stint - he was here four years ago working for a tour operator.

Tiny eatery displays lacquerware

PETER OLSZEWSKI

Virginie 'Ninie' Pichot displays some of her lacquerware.

Question: is it Siem Reap's smallest restaurant, a busy lacquerware studio, or Virginie Pichot's home?
Answer: all of the above. The restaurant Chez Ninie has just opened with a grand total of three tables and a choice of anything on the menu providing it is the one main meal on offer for the day.

But owner Pichot's real passion is reviving the craft of lacquerware, and the real raison d'être for the restaurant is as a venue to display her work.

Lacquerware is well-known to art collectors worldwide and is created by applying lacquer to wooden objects, imparting an almost gem-like lustre. Although the craft was developed in both China and Japan, it became popular in the region and is being revived in Cambodia after almost disappearing.

Traditional lacquerware is still a big industry in Myanmar, and contemporary pan-regional adaptations sell in high-priced boutiques in Thailand and Vietnam.

Pichot renders her creations, which bridge contemporary and traditional, in her sauna-like studio above her restaurant, and the results of her work are on display and for sale in the petite dining salon.

Some of her work is exported to Europe, and some is also on sale in Siem Reap's Red gallery and in Orient Express hotel galleries.

Scene is aware of only one other local artist doing similar work, Phnom Penh's  Mean Heang, whose fairly traditional items are displayed in Siem Reap's Tiger Lily gallery.

Exquisite ultracontemporary Saigon-created lacquerware can be seen at the Wa Gallery at Carnets d'Asie, home of the Angkor Photo Festival.

Artist manipulates polaroids of bhutan

The exhibition opening and Cambodian book launch of Dreaming of Prayer Flags by American fine art photographer Sandy Shum will be held on September 4 at McDermott Gallery at the Old Market.

Siem Reap, recently highlighted as "Southeast Asia's new art capital" by Travel + Leisure magazine, is attracting artists from around the region and providing a fertile ground for artistic exchange between Cambodian and foreign artists, and this exhibition is an example of such exchange.

Dreaming of Prayer Flags was born during Shum's four-year sojourn in Bhutan's remote Zhemgang from 1994 to 1998. Shum revisited Bhutan several times in the following years and completed her project in 2007.

Shum creates her images by manipulating photographs taken with an old Polaroid SX-70 camera and the now extinct Time-Zero film.

She works on the photographs by hand, physically manipulating the pigments to create a textured quality that resembles a painting.

 "It was in Bhutan, surrounded by prayer flags, where I learned impressionistic photography from Paula Wenzl. With impressionistic photography I found a way to convey the dream-like, magical quality of Bhutan. Paula generously gave me an old Polaroid camera, opening the doors to a life beyond my dreams. When Polaroid stopped producing the Time-Zero SX-70 film necessary for the impressionistic effect, I immediately bought all I could." Shum said.

"With the sober realisation of the impermanence of my art form, I longed to return to Bhutan to honor the land where I had first learned it. Dreaming of Prayer Flags contains some of my very first works and some of the last I'll ever be able to create with a Polaroid."

Deciding she wanted to publish her photos in a book, she needed text that would fit the mood of her work and collaborated with writer Karma Singye Dorji, whose stories describe growing up in Bhutan.

She said, "I feel privileged to have Karma's lyrical stories enriching my photographs. To me, each story is a wonderful union of our creative expression."

Spitler school to reopen a bit larger

The Spitler School Foundation, founded in 2006 by husband-and-wife team Daniel and Pamela Spitler from Peoria Arizona, has closed its 260-student school in Ang Chagn Chass village near Siem Reap for the holidays and will reopen in mid-September.

It will then add a fourth-grade class and welcome about 70 new students starting kindergarten, bringing the student population to about 330.

A new teacher has been hired, bringing the total number to eight.

Also on leave is Sala Bai, a much-acclaimed hotel school that annually provides free training to about a hundred disadvantaged Cambodians. On August 1, it graduated 92 students from its sixth intake. They earlier sat for exams after returning from internships at Sala Bai's 16 partner hotels.

The school's ability to continue offering free occupational training is boosted each year by financial support from different partners, including fundraising events such as that held during the Australian-based Hotel and Accommodation Management magazine awards night for hotel and accommodation excellence.

Fundraising for Sala Bai through its partner Orion Hotels School held at last year's awards ceremony generated US$22,000. This year, the awards were held in Sydney last Thursday, August 14, and Sala Bai is waiting to hear if the 2008 target of $26,000 was met. Awards night attendees also viewed a video about Sala Bai's Siem Reap work.

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