Australian songwriter Scott Bywater – a fixture on the local music scene – has lived in Phnom Penh off and on for seven years. Before leaving for France this week, Brent Crane caught up with him about the things he will miss most
It is just an extraordinary piece of architecture. I used it on the cover of a book of poetry a couple years ago called Presence. The best part about it is going around it on a moto or bicycle. The way you can see it turn with different aspects and how it looks different from different angles. I love how it changes colours depending on the weather, if it’s sunny or raining. Particularly early in the morning you come around there and the wind is whipping in your face. I find it quite inspiring. It’s not really a statue. It’s not a building. It represents the great confidence and ambition and potential of the nation when Cambodia first became an independent country again.
Royal Palace park
I like the park near the palace, particularly in the evening when there are families picnicking in the grass. It’s quite nice. People strolling up towards the palace. It was only closed when King Father Norodom Sihanouk died and crowds would gather outside. Now it’s always open. When you go there it kind of feels like a festival. Lots going on, people out in the street, people hanging out. It has that open-air, celebratory feeling about it. And also this wonderful north wall of the palace that’s on Street184. I used to walk down this north wall years ago and always really loved it late at night, all fully lit but with a really golden light to it.
I first went there in 2007 when I visited before I moved here. My mom – who lived in Cambodia for 25 years – had just moved onto Street 240 and lived next door and she introduced me to it. It took me a shamefully long time to visit. I keep going back to The Shop. I should be getting out to other spots, but I’ve known the staff there now for seven or eight years. It’s barely changed. It’s expanded a little bit but it’s still basically the same. It’s a lovely place to be. There’s a nice little community, people coming and going. It has that kind of “everybody comes to Rick’s” kind of feel. It’s one of these places that I always get a warm welcome and feel very much at home.
Open Mic Scene
I love the sheer variety of the open mics here. The way you have the structured band-oriented kind of stuff at Sharky’s. You have the sometimes-inspired chaos of Showbox. The quiet, little ones like at the Gym Bar. Sundance, Paddy Rice, Alley Cat… each one is different and pulls in a different crowd. The open mics are like a funnel that can pull people into the scene. Over and over again, people show up at an open mic and that’s their way into the scene. Every now and again, you get some people who have hardly played at all and they start going to open mics and suddenly they’re fronting bands.
The ‘Golden goose’
Just south of the Royal Palace in the Wat Botum park there is a statue. It’s a big, yellow swan-goose kind of thing. I don’t really quite know the significance of it, but I’ve always been quite enamoured by it. It’s beautifully balanced. If there’s an explanation nearby, it’s in Khmer. It’s one of these funny things. It sort of sits there and I’ve always found it kind of charming. On the very first Cambodian Space Project album, we used a photo of that with Srey Channthy riding on it. Wat Botum Park was one of the first places where I walked when I got to Phnom Penh years ago. There didn’t seem to be any context to that statue and I was quite charmed by it. Just a great big golden bird. And it never changed. So many things come and go here in Phnom Penh, but you could have faith that the bird would always be there.