Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - The King who would not stand upsets B'Bang's facelift

The King who would not stand upsets B'Bang's facelift

The King who would not stand upsets B'Bang's facelift

B ATTAMBANG - It's still the same military frontier town its always been, with its

entrenched macho image, but there's been a subtle change of late.

It's... well... prettier.

Thanks to the Committee for the Beautification of Battambang, established in February,

this battlefront city has swapped some of its grunt for gardens, and AK47s for azaleas.

Eleven new parks have been built in the city center in the past year. "People

say that in Battambang province, one hand carries the gun and one carries the flower.

We would like people to look more at the flower," says committee chief Seap

Nim Thin.

Plans to makeover the town were drawn up in 1991, but the committee was only formed

and work begun at the start of this year in response to Phnom Penh's directives urging

provinces to spruce up their public works.

Battambang chose beauty as their number one priority. Later this month the governor

will judge which of the eight districts has achieved the most spectacular transformation.

But though Phnom Penh was pushing for changes, it wouldn't bankroll these expensive

cosmetics.

"The Government wanted improvements but said it couldn't afford to pay for them.

So we held two lotteries which raised $30,800. The governor's fund [from provincial

taxes] raised another $34,300 and then we appealed to private companies and charities

who gave another $8,000," Nim Thin said.

As well as statues and fairylit fountains, long strips of parkland down wide boulevards

have been lain. Its largely been a success, raising morale and attracting evening

crowds.

It's not been smooth though, and high drama surrounded the rebuilding of the largest

statue ever seen in Battambang. This task has so far been riddled with bad luck and

timing, and has had one disastrous outcome.

The 11-meter statue of legendary Khmer King Dom Bong Kron Nhong, on the busy roundabout

at the entrance to the city, was in April only days away from being finished after

12 months of construction.

According to a 1,000-year-old legend, Dom Bong Kron Nhong was a poor cattle herder

who lived south of Angkor Thom temple. He found a magical staff which gave him great

powers and he eventually became King of the Angkor civilization. When another man

challenged his leadership, the King threw his staff at his opponent. However, it

missed and landed in Battambang. The city means "Lost Stick."

But while builders were lunching nearby - after having put the finishing touches

to King Kron Nhong's nose - the statue collapsed in a pile of cement and twisted

steel. There were no other casualties.

The unceremonious demise of the $14,000 statue became a widespread local joke and

now, amid rumors that the original project engineer has not been seen since, people

are watching the second attempt with wry interest.

"The steel structure wasn't completely finished, the cement wasn't quite dry,

it was a very windy day and the wind pushed it over," says Public Works deputy

Seang Som Em.

However, eyewitness Patrick Kelly saw it differently. "It was a nice, calm day

with no wind. I was walking down the street toward the statue when suddenly I heard

a huge whoomp noise.

"I saw a big cloud of dust. My first thought was that there had been a road

accident. It took a while for the dust to settle and then I thought 'There's something

up ahead.'

"The statue had just snapped off at the thighs. The whole head and torso fell

backwards. There was no proper reinforcing inside, the weight was too much and over

it went," he says.

Statue No. 2 is well underway and Som Em says it only needs another months work,

if only the construction team would return from Phnom Penh. "They are too sick

to return at the moment," he said.

Meanwhile, the redesigned King now stands upright leaning on his staff. Vice Governor

Nam Tom decided the first pose was bad luck, and perhaps the King's legendary staff

should be put to practical use.

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