Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Some new pictures from Cambodia

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Cambodian Artists Respond to Phnom Penh’s Rapid Urbanization

Cambodia's capital city, Phnom Penh, was once known as the “Paris of the East” for its resemblance to the famous European city. During French colonial rule, Phnom Penh boasted spacious villas with French courtyards that were homes and reception venues to both the wealthy French and Khmers.

The mansions and villas are now faded memories of the city's former grandeur before it was left in shambles from the Khmer Rouge regime. Many of these former symbols of sophistication and wealth are now abandoned and waiting to be demolished to make way for skyscrapers.
Skyscrapers are Cambodia's new symbols of prosperity and modernity. While the city skyline is still largely spartan, all that is about to change, with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen endorsing the construction of more skyscrapers in the city by Korean and Chinese contractors.
But this push toward a modern city has a cost in lost history, vanishing natural areas and evictions. 
To increase the development, the government has recently filled in Boeung Kak Lake, which is located in the heart of the city, and evicted thousands of households living in the surrounding areas.
The ensuing controversy has prompted a movement among Cambodian artists and photographers to respond to the rapid urbanization of Phnom Penh.
Going against the tide, this group is concerned with the rapid urbanization of Phnom Penh and the mass demolition of its colonial-influenced buildings. In response, they have created and exhibited works to comment on the issue.
Erin Gleeson, a curator and researcher who has lived in Cambodia for a decade, said there is a strong pattern among Cambodian artists to document and archive the city's landscape, with the anticipation that it could become unrecognizable in years to come.
“Almost 80% of the local artists in advanced practices are committedly making commentaries on the rapid urbanization of Cambodia. These local artists are responding to the change in their lifestyles, culture and environment and some of them are also expressing their personal experiences as they are also residents near the lake that is now vanished,” she said.
Gleeson added that this movement of artists is not pre-planned, but the works seen so far have turned out to be a cohesive collection that presents a similar view.
“Phnom Penh is a flat city, and has never been a concrete city. But, as it develops, the artists here mourn for the loss of that landscape that they are so used to. It is an irony, as we feel that some things are dying, even though the city is growing,” she said.
Among the artists that have prominent works on the subject include Kim Hak, a photography artist that has exhibited several projects in and out of Cambodia, mainly on people living in and among colonial buildings in Phnom Penh.
“More often than not, a new building or skyscraper is constructed at the expense of existing buildings that have historical and social values, including schools and hospitals. I believe that the colonial buildings should co-exist with the new ones, instead of changing Phnom Penh's landscape entirely,” he said.
Another artist, Khvay Samnang, has worked extensively in producing art works to express his views on the vanishing lakes in Phnom Penh's city centre. He has recently exhibited a series of photographs of himself standing in the middle of the now-gone Boeung Kak lake and pouring earth over his body as the shot was being taken.
“My work is for the people. I use my body to react towards the loss of lakes situated in the heart of the city. I am not trying to change the government's mind about how they should develop this country but rather, I am expressing my experience of this loss and be critical about this issue,” he said.
Khvay said he is not against the government developing the land in Phnom Penh. But, he says it has to be done with proper urban planning. “Filling the lake with earth will result in environmental consequences such as increased floods in Cambodia in future years,” he explained.
Responses to these artists' work have been encouraging. Kim said his photographs of colonial architecture have helped raise awareness of preserving some heritage monuments. “When these photographs are exhibited in Phnom Penh, UNESCO wanted to use some of them as exhibits to discuss with the government on preserving these buildings,” he said.
Gleeson said the local artistic community did not produce art works to quickly change people's minds, but rather to engage with the community. “In their own individual ways, these artists want to be initiators of conversations, and not want to let things pass without saying something,” she said.

Cambodia Is Now Open for Business: Richard Stanger

Resource investors are always looking for the next untapped region and Richard Stanger thinks he has found it. President and founder of the Cambodian Association of Mining and Exploration Companies, Stanger has been working to get the word out about Cambodia, a growing, stable country with the right geology for some big discoveries. In this interview with The Gold Report, Stanger gives an insider's view of the secrets to investing in Cambodia and explains why he's expecting a land rush.
The Gold Report: Cambodia's gross domestic product (GDP) is roughly $13.2 billion (B) annually, or around $1,000 a person, according to the Association for Southeast Asian Nations. It's clearly an impoverished nation, but until the last few years, the country has done little to develop its mineral wealth. Why?
Richard Stanger: Mainly because there was almost no information available about the geology of the country. Most of it was destroyed during the civil war. The country is a bit of a secret. People don't know much about Cambodia, or, in some cases, even where it is located. The infrastructure was pretty poor until recently. Roads were very difficult to travel. Telecommunications were really undeveloped. There was almost no infrastructure available for exploration.
TGR: How did you find your way to Cambodia?
RS: I was looking for a country that had the right geological setting and a good government with a legal system that is workable. Cambodia fit that bill.
TGR: What is the country's current GDP growth rate?
RS: It's averaging about 6.5% at the moment. I believe that it will be significantly higher this year. It may be double-digits.
TGR: What metals and minerals is Cambodia prospective for?
RS: It's one of those countries where there are not many outcrops. It's not so easy to walk around in the rocks and find things, but they're there. There's a lot of sediment covering the country. However, the country is very prospective for gold, copper and base metals, iron ore and other industrial metals such as zirconium, graphite and titanium. It covers a wide range.
TGR: What would tempt junior mining companies to invest and explore for metals there?
RS: The key to the country is that it's open for business and has a stable, committed government that wants to develop the economy. There is an economic and legal framework for companies and foreign investors to come and work. The country has great financial controls. It's easy to move money in and out of Cambodia.
The people are really excellent—honest, welcoming and hard working. I can't say enough about them. It's a very safe country. The operating costs are low. There is rapidly developing infrastructure, as well as infrastructure specifically related to the mining exploration industry. There are a number of drilling companies and geological services here.
TGR: Are there any assay labs?
RS: Two recently opened.
TGR: Going back 5 to 10 years, Cambodia is similar to what country?
RS: Some people keep saying Colombia, however Mongolia is a really good comparison. I went to Mongolia fairly early. Nothing actually happened there for five years and then it just started booming.
TGR: After decades of civil war, Cambodia is slowly finding its feet and has established democratic elections under a constitutional monarchy. However, according to Transparency International, Cambodia is the fourth most corrupt nation in the world. What are your thoughts on that?
RS: As an investor, I don't understand that rating at all. I'm kind of perplexed about it, really. That rating is purely perceptual and it's non-empirical. I actually think they just flat out got it wrong. And I'm not the only person that would say that.