MY PHNOM PENH: Peg LeVine, academic

Anthropologist, clinical psychologist and sculptor Peg LeVine recently testified as an expert witness at the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
Anthropologist, clinical psychologist and sculptor Peg LeVine recently testified as an expert witness at the Khmer Rouge tribunal.

MY PHNOM PENH: Peg LeVine, academic

Anthropologist, clinical psychologist and sculptor Peg LeVine recently testified as an expert witness at the Khmer Rouge tribunal. Over two decades of research trips to the Kingdom, she’s studied both cultural and spiritual destruction under the Khmer Rouge regime and the ethnography of communities from Phnom Penh to Battambang. While in town, LeVine sat down with Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon to talk about the places in Phnom Penh that have spoken to her

Cine Lux

Cine Lux

One of my favourite excursions, personally and ethnographically, is to go to community movie houses in Phnom Penh. My favourite neighbourhood cinema from the late 1990s is closed and, as far as I can tell, the Cine Lux may be among the last ones standing. It requires protection as a heritage site. It is a cultural feast for all the senses. ​Children, youth, adults and elders go in groups to watch horror films. They grab each others’ hands very tightly and scream aloud when haunting or raging spirits roam and possess characters or raise havoc in a village. The influx of shopping-mall cinemas in Phnom Penh that offer polished Hollywood or documentary films is quickly advancing. A new self-contained audience culture seems to be upon us. I ponder the loss of community-shared and induced expression should the Cine Lux close. 

The National Museum

The National Museum

My most cherished place of all is the National Museum of Cambodia. While researching Khmer rituals during the late 1990s, I encountered the kindness of Dr Bertrand Porte, director of conservation and restoration. He invited me into the back room: the “sculpture conservation room” [to think]. There, Buddha head sherds sit like puzzle pieces on tables waiting for revival. When I am in [Phnom Penh], you will also find me at the National Museum on Sunday mornings. As a sculptor, I like to take wax or clay balls into the museum garden and sit on a bench to form a maquette. If you go there at dusk, you will hear the resident bats as they pour out of the rooftop.  

Secondhand bookshops on Street 240

Secondhand bookshops on Street 240

The secondhand bookshops in Phnom Penh, mostly on Street 240, I hope will always be there. They represent Phnom Penh’s nature as an intellectual gathering point. When I spent time in the city, I would browse through the books and pick one up and sit down at a café like the Shop and read. At cafés like that you meet all sorts of interesting individuals: painters, writers, musicians, poets and researchers. It’s a really refreshing and unique intellectual environment. It makes Phnom Penh special to me.

Chum Neas Hospital

Chum Neas Hospital

I am a trauma psychologist, and many of the kids in Cambodia are second if not third generation survivors. Poverty, violence, birth defects . . . the list is long. And it is the rare centre that includes monks, traditional healers, not as an addendum but as part of the assessment process. Chum Neas was the psychiatric hospital used by the Khmer Rouge. Even today, people are wary of it. I have consulted there from time to time on child cases with intense trauma because they account for generational trauma, and include animist perceptions of trauma in their assessment and interventions, which is a brave thing to do – their scope is wider than even Buddhist-based practices. 

Animist symbols in Phnom Penh’s back alleys

Animist symbols in Phnom Penh’s back alleys

These symbols are a kind of spirit guard that wards off illness and harm. I was unsure of their meaning when I first saw them, in Battambang province, but catalogued them so I might determine if it was culturally relevant in other regions of Cambodia. I was told by some Cambodian mental health colleagues in Phnom Penh that these symbols only existed in remote regions. I wanted to verify this, so I asked my tuk-tuk driver – who I’ve known for over 20 years – if he had ever seen these symbols in Phnom Penh. He had. He took me to see some near the Royal University of Phnom Penh. They’re a symbol of the relationship between the cultural and cosmic fabric of Cambodia.

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh’s Jet’s Container Night Market shuts down

    The famous Jet’s Container Night Market in central Phnom Penh has shut down due to the high cost of the land rental, company representatives claim. Jet’s Container Night Market is the largest such market in Phnom Penh. It operated for just over two

  • Hun Sen rejects ‘rift’ rumours spread by ‘stupid gangsters’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday denied a “rift” among top leaders of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), and rejected claims that Senate president Say Chhum and Interior Minister Sar Kheng were set to be removed from their positions as rumours spread by “gangsters”.

  • EU ambassador to Cambodia: Rights a ‘work in progress’

    The EU ambassador to Cambodia has called human rights “a work in progress” and said the 28-nation bloc has “carefully” noted last week’s statement by the government on taking further steps to strengthen democracy and the political sphere in the Kingdom. The EU marked

  • Assembly passes amendment to Political Party Law Article 45

    The National Assembly on Thursday unanimously approved a proposed amendment to Article 45 of the Law on Political Parties in a move that could pave the way for former senior opposition leaders banned for five years to return to the political stage. As expected, the 115 ruling