Saturday, 10 January 2009

Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh's adaptation of "The Sea Wall" out in French cinemas

Ream (Cambodia, Kampong Som), 17/11/2007. Rithy Panh, director of "The Sea Wall", an adaptation of Marguerite Duras' novel
© John Vink / Magnum

Ka-set, Cambodia
By Stéphanie Gée

After a first film adaptation of the famous novel entitled The Sea Wall (Un Barrage Contre le Pacifique) by French film director René Clément, the Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh decided to take over by adapting it to the big screen too. The piece is one of the French author Marguerite Duras' first novels and contributed to bring her to fame some 58 years ago. And the film, starring French actress Isabelle Huppert, recently appointed president of the jury for the next Cannes cinema festival (held in France from May 13th to May 24th 2009) and young actors Gaspard Ulliel and Astrid Berges-Fisbey, is out in French cinemas on January 7th.

In the documentary film Uncle Rithy (2009) directed by Jean-Marie Barbe and introducing Rithy Panh himself, the latter explained his wish to appropriate Marguerite Duras' masterpiece, which he is particularly fond of. He decided to do so but focused on one main matter: what can a Cambodian filmmaker possibly add to this text, and how can he interpret it, considering his own experience, that of a Cambodian man who survived the Khmer Rouge regime and found refuge in France before obtaining a diploma at the Institute for Advanced Cinematographic Studies (IDHEC) in Paris?

By directing this film, Rithy Panh went back to pure fiction, after having supervised a series of documentary films over the past few years, all dealing with the process of remembrance (S-21 The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (2004), The Burnt Theatre (2005), Le Papier ne peut pas envelopper la braise ("Paper cannot wrap up embers")(2007)).

The film adaptation of The Sea Wall, set in the South of Cambodia in the national park of Ream, which offers stunning natural scenes, draws its main story from the female novelist's memories as a young woman. The 1930s. In Southern French Indochina, against a backdrop of colonial system criticism, the shady character of a mother, inspired by Duras' own mother, struggles against the elements and corrupt civil servants working for land registry services. The mother, starred by Isabelle Huppert and the core character of the story, is in charge of a frail equilibrium revolving around her and tries as much as she can to maintain it.

The colonial administration tricked her by making her sign a land concession on the Gulf of Siam, a piece of land which is actually highly liable to flooding and on which nothing can possibly grow. Weary and angry, the character experiences a gradual descent into madness, torn and suffering in the middle of waves of contradictions. But with the energy generated by despair, she sets out to launch an impossible project to fight the fickle tides of the ocean. Having lost a huge amount of savings in her bad business investment, the austere widow regains enough strength and willpower to assert her intention to save her land and that of other Cambodian farmers living in the village from flooding... by building a sea wall.

An outsider in the colonial society, completely ruined, the mother, trying to stop her children Joseph (20 years old) and Suzanne (16 years old) from leaving the nest, accepts to let Mr Jo, a rich Chinese businessman, court Suzanne,- a compromise she made out of a need for money to sustain the small disorientated family torn by the destructive bonds of passion created over the years.

Back then, Mrs Donnadieu, Marguerite Duras' mother, may have failed in her enterprise to tame the high tides which regularly flood the area from October to February and turn the soil into toxic and unusable land. Probably due to a lack of financial and technical means... But engineers commissioned by the French Protectorate in the 1930s and more recently by the French Agency for Development (AFD) - the financial tool of French cooperation - together with the help of other partners, did finally succeed in making the project come true.

In the meantime, between these two consistent projects, the building of dams and land drainage works were more or less abandoned but ambitious works for the redevelopment of six polders in Prey Nup, in the municipality of Sihanoukville were started in 1998 and finally completed eight years later. All in all, the projects required three funding sources from the AFD, as pointed out by the French embassy in Cambodia on its website. Today, thanks to the rehabilitation of 55 miles of dams and 80 miles of canals, around 10,000 families can benefit from some 10,000 ha of ricelands. These massive improvements allowed the average annual rice yield to go from 1.5 tonne per ha to 2.7 tonnes per ha. A Community of polder users was even set up, which makes it a pilot-project, in order to ensure the maintenance and management of the rehabilitated structures and collect fees from families who own a piece of land.

The mother's dreams eventually came true

Former Lodi woman ready to help on a missionary trip to Cambodia

Missionary Nannette Grinnell begins to tear up as talks about her upcoming two-year trip to work with families in impoverished Cambodia. (Jennifer M. Howell/News-Sentinel)

By Ross Farrow
News-Sentinel Staff Writer
Updated: Thursday, January 8, 2009

A nurse who is a fourth-generation Lodian is traveling to Cambodia to help child prostitutes and those who work for low wages in garment and other industries.

Nannette Grinnell, 58, will spend most of the next two years helping impoverished Cambodians with their basic needs. In the process, she will introduce them to Christianity in a land she describes as 99-percent Buddhist.

"She's just an unusual person and outstanding," said Arilee Pollard, a family friend from Lodi.

Working through Operation Mobilization, Grinnell will join missionaries from throughout the world in helping the poor on her mission.

"It was a lifelong dream to do it, but I never had the opportunity," said Grinnell, who spent the past week visiting her mother, Betty Grinnell, in Lodi.

Grinnell has been a registered nurse for 35 years, including two years at Stockton's Dameron Hospital before taking a similar position at Kaiser Permanente in South Sacramento in 2007. She moved to Texas six months ago to stay with her grown daughter before going overseas.

After training, Grinnell will focus primarily on children, some of whom haven't reached puberty, who are victims of the sex industry and labor practices in other fields that would violate American child labor laws.

"It's culturally accepted there," she said.

Grinnell said she will enter an environment where many mothers have died of AIDS, leaving their children to be raised by grandparents or other legal guardians with no income. That's how children become exploited in sex, garment or other industries, she said.

The plan calls for missionaries to develop relationships with grandparents and guardians, provide parenting classes and place children in a day-care center so their guardians can go to work.

"We can't change the (Cambodian) government, and we can't change their economic status, but we can give them the hope of Jesus, because that's the only hope," Grinnell said.

Additionally, she plans to use her nursing training to get families plugged into whatever medical help is available.

Going overseas for two years may be quite an undertaking, but Grinnell is excited to go.

"It's not really an interest; it's a call of my life," she said. "I'm an evangelist at heart, and I have a passion to share the gospel. I have a real passion for children to develop a foundation for the Word of God.

"She took month-long missionary trips to Mexico in 1998 and India in 2000. But Grinnell said she wanted to commit herself for a longer period of time.

"I told God I would go wherever He needed me, and the doors kept opening to Cambodia," she said.

Although many missionaries are right out of college, Operation Mobilization is attracting older people — even retirees, Grinnell said.

Grinnell was born in Lodi and grew up in Placerville. She returned to Lodi in 2004 to take the Dameron Hospital position.

She came to Lodi a week ago from Texas to visit her mother, Betty Grinnell, and tie up some loose ends, like selling her car and her other possessions.

Grinnell will spend two weeks at a conference in Germany, where missionaries from around the world will take cultural training, pray for each other and give encouragement. Then she'll head to Operation Mobilization's Singapore headquarters for more training.

On Feb. 4, she will arrive to Cambodia, where she will spend three months learning the national language — Khmer. Its alphabet has 96 letters, and they're different from letters in the English language. Then she'll begin her missionary work.

When she returns in two years, Grinnell said she hopes to minister to the large Cambodian populations in Stockton and Sacramento.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at

In Brief: Japanese FM to visit Cambodia

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Vong Sokheng
Friday, 09 January 2009

Japanese Foreign Minister Nakasone Hirofumi is to visit Cambodia today and Saturday for meetings with Prime Minister Hun Sen and Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong to sign over an array of grants for demining, health and agriculture. The assistance includes US$2.75 million for infectious disease control and water irrigation as well as mine clearance machinery worth $5.21 million, said a statement from the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Some 244 Cambodians were injured or killed by land mines last year, compared with 317 in 2007, according to the Cambodian Mine Action Centre.

In Brief: Grant for telecomS in rural north

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Brendan Brady
Friday, 09 January 2009

A US$2.6 million grant from the Australian and Swedish governments announced on Thursday aims to extend telecommunications access to Banteay Meanchey, Oddar Meancheay, Preah Vihear and Pursat provinces by developing infrastructure in the desolate northern region to entice service providers. Bun Veasna, infrastructure operations officer for the World Bank, which will oversee spending, said the money would pay for the construction of 33 state-owned transceiver stations - use of which will be bid on by private companies, who would otherwise find the area commercially unviable. Despite a proliferation of telecommunications companies, rural access remains poor in Cambodia given the limited market draw. The project will help bridge the "digital divide" between rural and urban areas, Chin Bunsean, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, which will implement the plan, said in a written statement.

Cambodians seek fortune by betting on their dreams

Friday, 09 January 2009

The Phnom Penh Post

Friday, 09 January 2009

For many punters, interpreting the signs and symbols in their dreams plays a vital part in winning it big in one of the Kingdom’s numerous lottery draws

Cambodians around the country are dreaming of winning it big in one of the Kingdom's numerous mei chnaot, or daily lottery draws. While many test their luck on a regular basis, dreams have played a vital part in both winning and losing for many punters.

Than Sythoun, a 30-year-old lottery aficionado, has been using his dreams to play the game for about two years. He started his gaming career after his paternal great-grandmother spoke to him in a dream, providing him with the winning combination 4098 and the letter A.

"In the dream, I was looking at a fax machine and suddenly these numbers came out on a piece of paper with the letter A," Than Sythoun said, adding that the A stands for the lottery type - in this case, the Vietnamese lottery.

Than Sythoun decided to play a different number combination on the basis of the dream and ended up getting three out of four lottery digits correct, earning him a tidy sum of US$340.

Each lottery draw normally comprises four numbers, and players can bet on two, three or all of them.

In Than Sythoun's first attempt at the game, he guessed three of the four digits correctly using 098 out of his dream combination of 4098. When the numbers 6098 were drawn, he won because he had guessed the last three numbers.

" In the dream I was looking at a fax machine and suddenly these numbers came out on a piece of paper. "

The prizes Than Sythoun and other players can win grow exponentially with the amount of numbers in the combination they dare to bet on.

Ever since he won his first game, Than Sythoun has used his dreams to play the lottery and sees the signs he receives as a blessing from his great-grandmother.

"It might seem weird, but I strongly believe that she helps me when I lack money or am in a bad spirit," he said.

"I often think of her before going to bed, and sometimes I pray for her to give me clear numbers to win the lottery," he said, adding that he plays once or twice a week.

Sometimes a whole month can go by without Than Sythoun dreaming, but he still waits patiently for messages. "I only play when I have a dream," he said.

Don't push luck

Khoun Tan, a 60-year-old worker at the Angkor Beer Company, used to spend from 3,000 to 5,000 riels each day on the lottery, and he says his dreams also helped him to win."

When I had dreams,

I was sure that I was going to win. I could guess what numbers to bet on. For example, if I dreamed about an egg, I would use the zero [in my combination]," he said, adding that he sometimes won more than $100 using this method.

But a while back, his luck ran out."Recently, I stopped playing because I often lost. I had bad dreams almost every night and I could not win anymore," he said, adding that he also felt too old for the lottery circuit.

Than Sythoun agrees that it is important not to force the numbers. He speaks eagerly of the various dreams that have helped him profit but that have also on occasion lost him money.

"I do not go around and try to see numbers everywhere. I try to let the numbers come to me," he said. "Out of 10 games, I win around 7 or 8."

Testing lucky dreams

The Phnom Penh Post decided to put Than Sythoun's theory to the test by gambling 1,200 riels on different number combinations using some of the digits from one of his dreams.

Whether or not this dream came from Than Sythoun's great-grandmother is uncertain. Either way, he was more than happy to share his luck.

"I was walking when an old lady carrying a young baby guessed my age to be 16. She was flirting with me, saying that she had to sleep with her husband first and then we could go to a pagoda," he said, adding that amid the interesting ending of the dream, only the number 16 was worth using in the lottery.

There is an elaborate philosophy when it comes to interpreting various dream signs and symbols, said Than Sythoun confidently.

Hands equal five - the number of fingers on each hand - while man symbolises nine and woman is seven or eight. If you see a dog in your dream, you should use the digit four because of the dog's four legs, and a mobile phone is four as well because of its four corners.

There is even a book on the market on how to interpret dreams for use in lotteries, with over a hundred pages of pictures suggesting ways of converting dream sequences into digits.

"Some poor people like motorbike taxi drivers play a lot and try to find number combination all the time. They hope to change their luck by taking a chance," Than Sythoun said.

Currently, five different companies are offering lottery games in Phnom Penh, making it possible to play four different draws three times per day. In total, that would make 12 different draws that you would have to play if your dream did not specify the exact time and type of lottery.

The Phnom Penh Post and Than Sythoun failed to win any money on this occasion by using his dream, but he insists that if he had used his dream digits in all possible combinations, it would have produced a winner.

"Sometimes I get the numbers right but I do not use them the right way," Than Sythoun said.

Regional garment makers press for more cooperation

Asean garment sector delegates met in Phnom Penh this week to work out strategies for coping with the global economic slowdown.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong
Friday, 09 January 2009

With the global economic downturn hitting textile demand, producers from around Asean say it’s time to buy more regionally and less from China

REGIONAL garment producers pressed for free trade and cooperation to address an alarming drop in demand during a conference Wednesday in Phnom Penh.

Delegates at the Wednesday meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' Federation of Textiles and Apparel proposed a number of crisis-fighting measures, including a move to source raw materials locally instead of from China.

Ok Boung, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Commerce, urged representatives to compete with China rather than each other.

"I want to remind all of you that Asean countries are not competitors. The real competitor of Asean countries is China," he told delegates.

The conference included representatives from Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

"As everyone knows, even small moves towards integration could benefit the region greatly through increased intra-Asean trade," said Ok Boung.

He urged regional producers to source raw materials from Asean rather than China.With the economic downturn hitting the high-end and mid-range markets hardest, Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh urged garment makers to target the lower-end market.

"How are we to survive the current [economic] situation? To survive, we need to find a strategy and fight," Cham Prasidh said. "But we must not fight with each other or compete among member states."

" How are we to survive the current situation? ... We need to find a strategy. "

Van Sou Ieng, president of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, said the lack of locally-produced fabric has driven up manufacturing costs by forcing factories to import raw materials.

He said importing from regional neighbours instead of China would cut transportation costs. "We could sell our garments at more competitive prices and improve the efficiency of processing purchase orders and exporting goods," Van Sou Ieng said.

He added that agreements have been reached with some developed countries to ease tariff restrictions.

"Developing countries have been given some incentives, with the European Union, Canada and Japan allowing us to export garments duty-free," he said.

Van Sou Ieng said some progress had also been made easing regional trade barriers.

"In the past, fabric purchased in Thailand required a 15 percent duty. Now, Cambodia pays no duty. Our buyers also require no customs permit for purchases," he said.

Stronger trade links with Vietnam have also eased the slowdown in Cambodia, Van Sou Ieng said, with as many as 300 cargo containers passing through border checkpoints each day without permits.

The number of cross-border cargo containers had been restricted to 40 per day until a bilateral trade agreement was reached in December.

Van Sou Ieng said similar agreements with Thailand and Laos could be reached within the next five years. But he acknowledged the impact of the global economic crisis on Cambodia's garment makers, saying some 60 facilities have closed or suspended operations in 2008, leaving an estimated 25,000 workers unemployed.

Factories that remain open have received orders that will see production continue unaffected for up to three years, he added.

Indonesia, one of the region's top garment makers by workforce, has also seen layoffs of up to 30,000 workers and production cuts of up to 30 percent, said Ade Sudradjat, vice chairman of Indonesian Textile Association.

He said Indonesia employs 1.3 million garment workers and earned US$10.3 billion from garment exports in 2007, but that 2009 would hit Indonesia's economy hard. "We must deal directly with our Asean friends to enhance trade and help each other become more competitive in the world market," he said.

Le Quoc An, chairman of Asean's textile federation and head of the Vietnam Textile Industry, said global market instability had forced Vietnam's garment sector to reduce costs and look for new markets and additional products.