This year has been a pivotal one for Cambodia. The return of the opposition leader Sam Rainsy and the July elections have changed the political landscape.As well as upheaval, there’s plenty of hope. Here are some of the highlights, from the movers and shakers of 2013, and a few from us.
Artist Sopheap Pich
Favourite art exhibition: “Chov Theanly at Java Cafe several months ago. Theanly uses the human figure in a photo realist manner to convey stories of aspirations and yearning in a way that is sincere and direct. Although I found some weaknesses in his paintings – things that I am sure he will do differently later – he doesn’t shy away from the technical issues that are challenging in figuration such as depicting specific characters of his models.”
Favourite new artist: “Yim Maline. Maline, who is from Battambang, studied in France for a few years and has been living in Siem Reap for the past several years. I first saw her works through Sa Sa Bassac a couple of years ago. I was struck by her detailed pencil on paper drawings of surrealistic depictions of childhood, either dreams or memories or the combination of both. I am a big fan of things done with acute attention to details and I’ve always been an advocate of drawing as a basis for any visual artists, especially emerging ones.”
Political analyst Chea Vannath
Significant political moment: “The day opposition party leader Sam Rainsy returned was the most significant political moment in 2013. Not his return but the crowd that went and greeted him. That was historic in the Cambodian context. Before, people did not dare speak up or stand on the street. To have to more than 100,000 people lining up to greet the opposition party leader is a big step in the political Cambodian history. Somehow Prime Minister Hun Sen became more acculturated to democracy. He didn’t violently react to the protest. So this was a turning point for democracy.”
Ruom collective photographers
Most intense moment: Covering the clashes near Monivong Bridge [on the first night of protests after the election]. Thomas faced the hardest moment when a young man was shot dead right in front of him, which really brought the danger he was in photographing the riot crashing down”
Funniest moment of 2013: Our funniest moment, amongst many, was maybe when in front of the British Embassy Rainsy staff confused the Australian flag with the British flag, it was during the three-day protest which started off with delivering a petition to the UN and the following days Rainsy and Sokha visited several embassies.
Biggest disappointment of 2013: The end of Breaking Bad. We’re just simply disappointed that it is over and there is nothing of its scale to take its place.
Luu meng, star chef
The best meal I ate: “I had a nice natural, small salmon at a restaurant in Paris’ Rungis market. It was very nicely cooked, with a touch of steaming cooking oil and mild seasoning. It was a beautiful meal with my partners and team. It’s not easy to get this kind of quality in Cambodia. I dreamed one day maybe we can.”
The best meal I cooked: “What really made me happy was helping Cambodian rice [winner of the ‘World’s Best Rice’ award in November for the fragrant variety]. I was part of the charge to choose the rice, and it became the best rice in the world, and we made a beautiful menu. We served the premium rice with prahok, or with bong kong [giant freshwater shrimp] and with green mango salad.”
My greatest moment: “Winning the Un Certain Regard award at Cannes in May for my film The Missing Picture was a great moment for all of us. When you make a film it’s not only you, it’s the many, many people around you also. And in every big competition when you are lucky to be nominated you come with your film but also with your country with you. So I was very happy to see young people’s reaction on social networks. They are proud.”
Ou Ritthy, political analyst
The most significant political moment: “The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) secured 55 seats of the 123 National Assembly seats during the July’s national election. This election result suggests the fact the winning parties have a nearly equal and balanced legislative power, if CNRP joins the National Assembly. The election result has created a more confident political climate for CNRP’s supporters and helped reduce political discrimination against opposition supporters by CPP’s local authorities especially village and commune chiefs, due to almost 50 per cent of the votes the CPP and CNRP obtained. Additionally, peaceful protests and demonstrations of opposition CNRP’s supporters, garment factory workers, local community people, land and environmental activists, Buddhist monks, sellers and so on are happening everyday nationwide. Impressively enough, when CNRP’s supporters from provinces come to protest in Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh populaces especially the middle class have supported them with food, water, and clothes. This is positive in the sense that Cambodian rural and urban people are being well bridged.”
Kavich Neang, Young filmmaker
Best moment: “I am very humbled to say that my best moment of the year in Cambodia was when my first mid-length documentary film Where I Go [following a young Cambodian-Cameroonian boy whose father was stationed in Phnom Penh during the UNTAC period] was opened for the public audiences, especially for Cambodian audiences. It is quite important for me to share my work and the history of Cambodia to the new generations of Cambodia. Our history is something we need to understand now and we should carry it with us. Another best moment is when I started travelling with my film to international film festivals [it was screened at Busan Film Festival in South Korea among others]. I really enjoy what I am doing. This year has inspired me a lot in term of film skills and also the people and filmmakers I met. My next goal is to learn and produce more films about Cambodia.”
Kounila Keo, Blogger
Best moment in technology: “The best moment could be when many voters were empowered by social media to keep each other informed during the elections or when the Minister of Information broke the news of the result of the 2013 elections on his Facebook page. Technology has never been this fun!”
The Cambodian Space Project
Srey Chanthy, lead singer’s best performance: “The jail in Australia, a show for 300 prisoners who were mostly aboriginal. It was a very special moment, they kept me locked in the control room while the musicians set up then when I came to sing I think they expected to hear English and no-one could understand my language. It was a bit scary but then everyone including the prisoners and the guards were very excited by our concert.”
Julien Poulson, band member’s best night: “A show at the FCC where we were joined by Blind Nyel and The Musicians of Bou Sra [Bunong ethnic minority musicians] made me feel lucky to live in a place where diverse cultures can come together. The moment when Nyel Cla, ‘Grandpa Tiger,’ jumped on stage to dance with us was amazing: the 91-year-old danced like a 30 year old.”
Mu Sochua, CNRP lawmaker-elect
“2013 was the year of a new beginning for those who gave it all to the electoral campaign for the Cambodia National Rescue Party. Pdho or ‘change’ became the word that had a political, economic and social significance. On the campaign trail, people from across generations shared the same dream: a better, fairer Cambodia.”
Alan flux, Designer for A.N.D
Best fashion find: “A pair of winkle-picker flip-flops from BKK Market – a snip at $5. And the best thing we made for A.N.D was a tiny range of black jersey dresses with a rather hilarious kitten cartoon print in neon pink – sold out very soon and we even had a small tussle or cat fight over the last one.”
Tep Vanny, Land rights activist
Human rights victory: “When Yorm Bopha was released [on bail, in November]. Also, this year the Boeung Kak activists received three human rights awards. I went to The Hague in Holland to collect the Golden Butterfly: A Matter of ACT Human Rights Award at Amnesty International’s Movies that Matter Film Festival. We also received the Leadership in Public Life Award by Vital Voices in Washington DC, and the Freedom Award in Malaysia earlier this month. Winning these awards is so important, because it makes our feeling of community even stronger. Before, people didn’t know much about Boeung Kak but now they do, and it sends a message to the government about human rights issues in Cambodia.”
Best new species
2013 was a red letter year for Cambodian ornithologists with the discovery of a distinct new species right under their noses. Researchers announced in June they had discovered 100 birds belonging to the the species they are calling the Cambodian tailorbird – including one within the city limits at Choeung Ek. The small wren-sized bird has a cinnamon-coloured tuft on its head and a loud song.
Best opposition party holiday snaps
There has been speculation that the partnership between opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha was only a marriage of convenience. But (nearly) all doubt was cast aside when Rainsy posted photos on Facebook of his weekend away with Sokha in October on Rabbit Island. Rainsy was shown frolicking about on the beach.
Best new openings
Neighbourhood restaurant: A toss-up between Mexican charmer Alma and Italian powerhouse Piccolo Italia Da Luigi, or, simply, ‘Luigi’s’. Alma’s beloved for its home-cooking and delicious dulce de leche but Luigi’s got the great pizza and jovial Sicilian owner, Luigi, who is rumoured to be setting up a Russian Market branch. Street 308; Alma, #43 Street 123
Neighbourhood bar: From the people who brought you bar.sito and Public House, meet Seibur. Like Tokyo’s tiny 10-seaters, but smaller: barely six people can fit. It’s stylish as hell and the drinks are strong and well-mixed by two of the city’s friendliest bartenders. Plus, it’s next door to Luigi’s. Manhattans, Espresso Martinis and more go for $5. Street 308.