Siem reap Scene: 23 Jul 2009

Siem reap Scene: 23 Jul 2009

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
John McDermott.


John McDermott's big project for this year was fatherhood, and that happened pretty much on schedule. But his second-biggest project, his book, is running slightly behind time. It now looks set to be launched late August.

The book, the quintessential collection of all of McDermott's early and now iconic temple work, was reported in mid- 2007 by The New York Times to be "imminent". In January McDermott told the Post, "That book's been imminent for a long time, and there are lots of reasons behind that which I won't go into. But it's about there now." He said then the self-published book would be printed "hopefully before July". At that stage he wasn't sure if he'd print in Italy or Hong Kong, but Italy won the day.

McDermott travelled to Italy and spent 10 days at the printers just before his baby was born in Bangkok, and the imminently imminent book is being printed right now. McDermott hopes to see advance copies soon.

A launch is planned in Siem Reap for possibly August, and this will also coincide with an exhibition of new Angkor work by the celebrated photographer, who The New York Times said "may be the Ansel Adams of Angkor".

McDermott took a long rest from photography to steer his business interests, but in the past year he bought a couple of new cameras including a panoramic camera. His new work will form the basis of the new exhibition.

The large residential property project slated to be developed in Siem Reap by Cambo Fund Ltd is still on hold, following several earlier still-on-hold notices during the year.

Douglas Clayton, the CEO of Leopard Capital, which has a 24-percent equity stake in Cambo Fund, said, "We do not yet have shareholder consensus as to what is the best use of this land in the current market environment. So it is on 'on hold' like most projects in Cambodia."

Leopard, in its monthly newsletter for November 2008, reported, "The plan of Angkor Residences is modest in its goal to develop and sell 200-250 units over the next 3-4 years at an average price of US$1,400-$1,600 per square metre. Management informs us that a competing residential project in Siem Reap has been successfully selling units at a significantly higher price."

This reference is to the Butterfly Residences riverside complex, mainly developed by Vietnam expat interests.

Leopard also reported in its November newsletter that Cambo Fund had acquired 2.6 hectares of land (80 percent of the planned total) at an average price of US$167 per square metre. Management is now negotiating for the acquisition of a few adjacent land plots. If successful, these will be incorporated into the design and upcoming pre-sales launch." To date, Leopard has not publicly released further details of land acquisition.

Earlier this year, AltAssets estimated that Cambo Fund was developing the residential property project in Siem Reap "for around $1.8 million".

When the going gets tough, the tough get going and open a second business to help prop up the first. At least that's the business model that emerging Khmer restaurant entrepreneur Hang Seak is adopting.

Since 2005 he's been running Home Cocktail restaurant in the Wat Bo precinct, but just over two weeks ago he opened a second Home Cocktail in the usually busy Pub Street Precinct. He's taking a gamble, and therefore it's fitting the new venue is situated in premises hastily vacated by gambling concern Cambo6, which was decommissioned literally overnight by Hun Sen's crackdown on betting outlets.

Despite the grim economic times and loss of revenue from his first restaurant, Hang Seak has sunk $30,000 into his new venture. "The big quiet has descended on my first restaurant, and that's why I've opened this new one,"he said. "At least in this Pub Street area there are more crowds, and I am hoping the business from this new restaurant can support and fix the first business."

A culpable tourist sheepishly admitted to his friends last week that he had pocketed a palm-sized piece of Angkor Wat to take back to Britain as a gift to his mother.

Speculation in Siem Reap denotes that it's not uncommon for tourists to steal a relic for a souvenir. But the heritage organisations charged with conserving the monuments say small-scale theft is not a widespread problem. Philipe Delanghe, programme specialist in Culture for the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, or UNESCO, said pilfering has not been discussed in heritage meetings and is not an issue.

John Stubbs, vice president of field projects at the World Monuments Fund, said stealing from temples was "supremely selfish" and short-sighted.

"If each of the 2 million visitors who visit Angkor annually took away an authentic stone souvenir from the place, in time there would be nothing left of the fine stone carving that people expect to see."

But the looting of stone sculptures has diminished in recent years due to improved policing and airport bag inspections, he added.

This is the final issue of Phnom Penh's Post's Siem Reap section to be published on Thursdays.

From Friday, July 31, the section will appear in a colourful new weekly liftout, 7Days.


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