(Left to right) Philippe polishes his favourite figurine; for sale: heirloom Child Buddha. Photograph: Scott Howes/Phnom Penh Post
“Seven antique Indian eroticas engraved on ivory in three framed items with silk backgrounds. For each frame, $300.”
At two meters tall, thin, with straight back and proud posture, long white hair tied to a ponytail, Philippe Decoux, 72, cuts an unusual figure. An empty bottle of Don Peringnion stands in the hallway that leads into the spacious living room full of an eclectic mix of antiques: old Buddha statues, Chinese silk wall carpets, colonial French cognac flasks, and various figurines. On his windowsill are numerous bulbs of garlic – to keep the thieves out, he says – and a screensaver from a horror TV show he produced for Apsara TV plays on his desktop. All the antiques, he says, come from his work as a foreign correspondent and producer for French and German TV. Today, the French national is responsible for ARD (German TV) production in Cambodia, Burma, and Laos.
Why are you selling all your antiques?
Look around: this place is a mess. I got too much stuff and can’t put things on the walls.
I don’t want to mess them up. When I drill all the plastering comes out.
I have had the stuff long enough. Look at that child Buddha [a wooden carving from the 19th Century]. I got that from my great-great-grandfather who was an administrator in Hanoi, in French Indochina.
Don’t you want to pass that down to your children?
No, my son was blinded in Sihanoukville on New Year’s Eve four years ago by some a--hole with fireworks. He lives in Australia now and customs don’t allow anything into the country made of wood. They would destroy it.
Does your family have a history of immigration to Asia?
My father came to China to learn Chinese. But before I came to Southeast Asia in 1974 I stayed in Latin America for a few years, filming documentaries for a French airline that is dead now.
I don’t see any Latin American art here. Have you already sold everything you bought on that trip?
I travelled from Mexico City to Panama with all my camera equipment and my then-girlfriend in my f---ing Mini I had bought from France. There was absolutely no space in the car left. All we bought was a raccoon on a San Salvador market.
There was a vendor who had a male and a female. We bought the male and travelled with it for three months and on the way it got so horny and lonely. We brought him back and to the San Salvador market, and when the vendor put him back into the cage with the female, the female slapped him as if she was saying “Where the f--- have you been”.
Do you call yourself a collector?
I am definitely not a collector. Wherever I went I scanned through the markets pretty quickly because I never have much time and I just bought what I like. There is a story I did for TV related to every object I bought.
Can you give me a few examples?
I bought the statue of the Mandarin priest (19th century) in Saigon in 1985.
I was there because of the 10th anniversary of the liberation of Saigon. From Macau I got the Chinese cigarette ads on silk (1920s) in 1989. That was when Macau returned to the People’s Republic of China.
In 1992 I found the silk carpets (19th century, Mongolia) in Ulan Bator.
I was covering how people were tearing down a Stalin statue.
Do you have a favourite object; one you wouldn’t sell?
[He picks up a figurine fixed on a wooden foundation. It resembles the mythological winged horse Pegasus]
This was fixed on the car bonnet of a Hamilcar, a handmade French car from 1936. There are only 10 left in the world
I found that in Jalan Surabaya in Indonesia back in 1975.