Whether it is drawing, meditating or practising martial arts, taking up a new hobby can help you find balance in your frenzied Phnom Penh lifestyle
Photo by: Sovann Philong
Aikido students practise their moves at Olivier Marchesin’s school in Phnom Penh.
The first step towards starting a new hobby, or continuing an old one, in new surroundings can sometimes be a big one. Excuses such as: "I don't have time" or "I'm sure that doesn't exist in Phnom Penh anyway" are common and leave many of us spending way too much time sitting at the local bar. Though a drink here and there doesn't hurt, why not try exploring some of the capital's other activities?
School of Art
American artist Marc Pollack runs drawing classes in a beautiful, light and airy villa on Street 258.
According to Marc Pollack, anyone is welcome to join his classes, whether they have drawn before or not.
"Many people say they have no experience, but once they start drawing I can tell they have drawn before," he said. "But I am also proud to say I have taught some extreme beginners."
"When people first come, I ask them to draw a self-portrait. Later on I ask them to do it again - it's very interesting to see the difference," he said.
Classes are run throughout Tuesday, with a morning class (8:30am-11:30am), afternoon class (4pm-6pm), and evening class (7pm-9pm), teaching general drawing skills with weekly changing themes. The three-hour Saturday class, starting at 9.30am, is titled "Anatomy Drawing", meaning the drawing of a live nude model, and generally focuses on a particular part of the body.
Classes cost US$20 per class, or US$5 for volunteers and 5,000 riels for Cambodians. Please call Marc on 092 429 710 or email [email protected].
Wat Lanka forms a peaceful oasis between busy Street 278 and the hectic Independence Monument roundabout. Meditation sessions for both locals and foreigners have been run here for 12 years.
"People of all faiths come here to meditate," explained the venerable Yos Hut Khemacaro of the Khmer Buddhist Foundation. "Some come out of curiosity, while others have meditated for a long time already."
For first-timers, the session starts with a short introduction to meditation, its purpose and technique, how to sit and why the practice is beneficial. Participants are then encouraged to meditate on the cushions in the main building's top hall for at least 30 minutes.
"It's a learning process, I usually encourage beginners to come regularly to develop their practice," Yos Hut Khemacaro said.
Through the practice, students are taught the concept of mindfulness through which they begin to notice phenomena in both the mind and the body, Yos Hut Khemacaro explained.
"You learn to know things as they really are," he said.
Yos Hut Khemacaro also maintains that meditation develops a concentrated mind and cultivates the ability to fix one's attention on one object at a time.
A monk for 45 years, Yos Hut Khemacaro described the cross-legged meditative position as easy and comfortable. For beginners, however, it may not quite seem to be the case.
"If something aches, don't ignore it, focus on it instead and it will go away," he advised.
Meditation sessions take place at Wat Lanka on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays between 6 and 7pm, and Sunday mornings between 8:30 and 10:30am.
Sessions are free of charge and you can simply turn up. Wear comfortable clothing that covers shoulders and legs.
"Aikido is a peaceful martial art," said Frenchman Olivier Marchesin, an aikido instructor in Phnom Penh. "Its purpose is to resolve conflict without violence - it's not a competition and it's not about attacking your opponent," he continued. "Through practising aikido you learn how to avoid danger and anticipate things occurring around you."
A newcomer in town, black belt holder Marchesin started teaching aikido some three months ago. "Both men and women come, but so far it is 100 percent French," he said. "In fact, there are more people in France doing aikido than in Japan where this martial art comes from."
The classes, which go for 90 minutes and are held Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 7pm on the terrace of Marchesin's flat just off riverside.
While aikido is also suitable for children, Marchesin prefers his students to be at least 15 years of age, as he says having a mix of adults and children makes instructing difficult. A month's pass with unlimited classes costs US$30. Please call Olivier on 012 811 234 or email him at [email protected] for more information.