The Norman Geras Reader: A review

09/08/2017

This is a re-post of a review of a book I’ve yet to read from the excellent Harry’s Place. It is about Norman Geras who I discovered through his excellent Normblog which was required reading. A book has been published of his writings, on the blog and through other means. If you like this buy the book here.

Norman Geras (1943-2013) was a significant political theorist, but was better known to most here as the creator of ‘Normblog’, a compelling blend of politics, culture, cricket and much more – Harry’s Place readers will remember his regular interviews with fellow bloggers and his eclectic ‘Writer’s Choice’ guest spots.  Whenever some contentious political or moral issue was in the news I would always turn to Normblog, eager to find out what his take on the latest controversy would be.

There was of course much common ground between Normblog and Harry’s Place (and I discovered them around the same time.) Geras was the principal author of the Euston Manifesto, and a leading light in what came to be known as the ‘Decent’ left (a term he disliked). Eve Garrard offers a succinct summary of his political outlook here.

He was centrally and always a man of the left, but one who became a scourge of those parts of left/liberal opinion which, in his view, had slid away from commitment to the values of equality, justice and universal rights, and in so doing ended up by excusing or condoning racism and terrorism.

However there was one vital difference from HP – Norm never opened his posts for comments …

The Norman Geras Reader: What’s There is There’ (eds Ben Cohen and Eve Garrard) brings together these different sides of Geras’ legacy: academic discussions of Marxism, highlights from Normblog, both light and serious, and companion essays by Alan Johnson and Terry Glavin.

Geras’ Marxism puzzled some of his liberal admirers, and one of the focuses of this volume is his insistence on the common ground between Marxism and liberalism, together with his commitment to anti-authoritarianism and humanitarian intervention.  As a fan of Normblog, I found it rewarding to discover here more detailed and extended discussions of these key topics; In ‘Minimum utopia: ten theses’, for example, he discriminates carefully between the benign and destructive tendencies of both liberalism and socialism, promoting a kind of synthesis between forces sometimes viewed as incompatible. The best institutes and practices of liberalism:

should not be set aside, in particular, on the basis only of a present confidence in some future spontaneous harmony. The great evils we hope to be able to remedy include precisely evils against which liberal institutions have given some protection.(p. 56)

His dislikes, ‘the shibboleths of the modern left’ and ‘morally blind anti-imperialist politics’ (p. 4) also feature prominently in the volume.  In ‘What does it mean to be a Marxist’ he writes eloquently about a fatal blind spot on (sections of) the left: the tendency to treat capitalism as the sole adversary and gloss over evils with a different provenance:

… the democracies of the West flawed, at fault, hypocritical, aggressors, and so forth, while quite appallingly anti-democratic movements and regimes are made apology for, and bathed in the mitigation of that shallow root-causes sociology to which I earlier referred – root causes for which some proximate ‘we’ is always said to bear the ultimate responsibility. Tyranny, terrorism, even genocide, almost cease to be horrors in their own right, evils to be opposed alongside economic exploitation, inequality, poverty and other byproducts of global capitalism. They are, as it were, ‘levelled’ by always being traced back in their turn to capitalism and imperialism, so that they become lesser evils and their direct agents and perpetrators lesser enemies. (p. 113)

Antisemitism was a significant theme in Normblog, and it was good to revisit his excellent essay ‘Alibi Antisemitism’, and its searing critique of Caryl Churchill’s ‘Seven Jewish Children’:

Churchill, however, disavowed [the charge of antisemitism]. She did so on the grounds of what one might call an innocent mind. No anti-Semitism had been intended by her. On the one hand, the blood libel analogy had not been part of her thinking when she wrote the play; on the other hand, those speaking the offending lines in it were not meant to be Jews in general, merely individual Israelis. Churchill is evidently innocent here of any memory of the figure of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, long thought of, despite his being only one character, as putting Jews in a bad light. She is innocent, too, of her own generalizing tendencies in naming her play ‘Seven Jewish Children’ and then linking the broad themes of the Jews as victims of genocide and as putative perpetrators of it in their turn.

The responsibility to protect, the concept of the ‘contract of mutual indifference’, were key concepts both in Geras’s academic writings and in Normblog. In his essay ‘Humanitarian Intervention’ he explores the history of support for this concept, and the problems involved in negotiating competing goods: the integrity of the sovereign state and the imperative to protect. He also reflects on the question of thresholds – how severe must the crime, the human suffering be, in order for humanitarian intervention to become justifiable, particularly when weighed against the risk of an escalation into full scale war?

Although there is much here about war, politics, bigotry and suffering, The Norman Geras Reader doesn’t neglect the lighter side of Norm’s work.  Included here are blog posts on Jane Austen, jazz, cricket, Bob Dylan and Dickens.  I thoroughly recommend the volume to old devotees of Norm’s work – and new admirers.  Terry Glavin, in his epilogue, perfectly sums up what it felt like to first stumble across Normblog:

Reading Normblog always meant learning something, and it was what I imagined it must have been like, hearing the reassuring sound of far-off voices from a wireless in a fishboat galley, with news and analyses of the most momentous events of the day. Normblog was an unapologetically left-wing place, of at the very least a liberal milieu, and yet neither the host nor any of the contributors had lost their damn minds. (p. 249).

15 Reasons To Never Visit Cambodia

16/03/2017

Don’t ever come to Cambodia, the Kingdom of Wonder!

When in Cambodia

1. What is it even famous for?

Angkor-Wat_2399296a-large credit: the telegraph

Angkor Wat, national symbol represented in the flag, in Siem Reap.

2. Temples are just rocksssssssssss

c3193c02829fa0353f8d53d053994df0 credit: Pinterest

The grand gate of Bayon, a gateway to the Angkor Archaeological Park

3. Temples are all the same!

Angkor_Capital_Asienreisender_880pxs credit: asienreisender

The Angkor Archeological Park in a picture. (Just some of the temples)

4. Foods aren’t that great

fried-noodles credit: goankhmerunited

Cambodia could be a hidden gem if you’re an enthusiast of STREET FOOD.

what-to-eat-cambodia-Fish-Amok-960x640 credit: adventureinyou

Amok is one of the most favourite dishes visitor never forget to try!

phnom-penh-01 credit: urbanadventures

What is know for the weird Cambodian cuisine is the insect eating tradition. Angelina Jolie approved.

5. What to even do with that big fresh water lake?

Tonle-sap-floating-village-Cambodia-Siem-Reap-Eternal-Asia-Travel credit: eternalasiatravel

Be hold, the floating village of Tonle Sap.

6. People aren’t friendly

cambodia1 credit: mekongtourism

Cambodians are ranked among the most friendliest nation on earth…

View original post 192 more words

Well said.

30/01/2017

Today I’m re-posting from South Leeds Life can you argue against it? The comments are open:

On The Buses: Frank’s guide to Netiquette

Of all the methods of frittering away our leisure time that humankind has come up with since the advent of actually having time to waste, we have finally reached peak distraction with the advent of arguing online.

While only a few decades ago people would spend their evenings watching Morecambe and Wise or smoking a pipe, or perhaps building a scale model of HMS Victory from matchsticks, social media has swept all before it to leave us with the sole hobby of arguing with complete strangers about the topics of the day.

This is all great knockabout fun most of the time, as long as you’re robust enough to have your ideas rubbished and your intelligence called into question. Leaving aside the keyboard warriors who are emboldened from their usual position of cowardice to issue threats or insults we shouldn’t be afraid of ferocious debate. Only through argument and critical discussion of theories can we reach a place where we can hold beliefs that have some merit. The problem in our allegedly post-Truth era, is the cherry-picking of facts to support our positions coupled with the ignoring of details which detract from the case we are making.

One man saw both the need for argument to arrive at a better understanding of the world and the ways we would seek to dodge arguments that contradicted our own – the philosopher Karl Popper, speaking before the days of the internet, eerily predicted the nature of Facebook political debate when he said “If we are uncritical we shall always find what we want: we shall look for, and find, confirmations, and we shall look away from, and not see, whatever might be dangerous to our pet theories.”

Since the Brexit referendum and the election of Trump the world of online arguing has gone insane and I’ve felt myself becoming increasingly annoyed by those who fall into the trap outlined by Karl Popper.

Last week I reached the point where I had to stop reading online arguments and it was all to do with the Holocaust.

The Jewish community’s links to Leeds run deep and our city’s life has been immeasurably enriched both culturally and economically by their input. You may not know it but last Friday was Holocaust Memorial Day. It is one day in the year set aside to remember the innocent victims of a bestial ideology that wielded its hatred with industrial might in an attempt to wipe an entire people and their history from the face of the earth. This is not ancient history. There are still among us some few who survived to bear witness to mankind’s darkest moment. And those who went on to have families after their deliverance from evil have left with us their greatest revenge – new generations of Jews who the Nazis hoped would never see the light of day or draw a breath and speak among the families of the earth. Their lives are a victory in themselves.

On Friday I realised not just how ridiculous it is for people to shout “Fascist” at every idiotic policy that either Tories or Trump unveil but also how belittling of the unique obscenity that was the Holocaust to constantly be drawing inaccurate comparisons between Germany in the 1930s and the world today. The Holocaust was a unique event – unique in horror, intention and scope – and those who seek to use it to further their own arguments about today’s world tarnish both their own arguments by doing so and the memory of those who were murdered.

Watching a Trump-hater lecture the son of Holocaust survivors about how Trump is a new Hitler made my hackles rise like never before in online debate. Trump may be many things – idiotic, wrong-headed, sexist, blundering – but he is not a new Hitler nor are his policies fascist and to constantly overuse that word undermines the work of bringing judgement to the genuine fascists who are abroad in the modern world.

His policies don’t make him a fascist unless you are willing to concede that Obama was also a fascist. For example, if you use his 90-day travel ban on people from seven countries (bizarrely six of whom ban Israeli citizens from entering their countries) entering the US, or his proposed Mexican border wall, as evidence to label him a fascist while simultaneously ignoring the fact that Obama banned Haitian refugees and deported more Mexicans than any American President in history, no serious person will take your theories with anything other than a massive pinch of salt.

Online arguing requires a coherence of outlook and thought unless you wish to be revealed as hypocritical. You can’t ignore the enforced dress and moral codes imposed on millions of women in the world and say that sexist remarks made 12-years ago by Trump make him the greatest ever threat to female equality if you want me to take you seriously. Likewise, you can’t scream racist at people who voted to leave the EU and ignore the fact that the EU’s policies of “fortress Europe” led directly to the death by drowning of thousands of Africans and Asians in the past three or four years.

When we come to battle clutching our “facts”, prepared to throw them at our opponents and deliver a killer blow to their position, we would do well to apply some rigour in evaluating our evidence.

When you argue online, if you ever want it to be more than simply an exercise in screaming your opinions into the virtual void, be coherent, be like Karl.

 

 

Barang on a motorcycle, day III

06/10/2016

It had been raining in the afternoons in Phnom Penh and rained the afternoon  travelling to Kratie so the thought was that an early start would get the travel out of the way by the time the rains came. Unfortunately breakfast took longer than intended as a result of slow service, getting cash etc it was well into the morning before the leaving of Kratie happened. I was not far out of it either when the rains started. Lightly at first, then the heavens opened and, despite taking shelter in a petrol station, I was soaked. I carried on and got to the morning’s destination.

The first thing I saw was the pictures of the dolphins on the sign in the big picture then the gateway in the smaller picture at the bottom. So I stopped and paid for my boat and a drizzle started almost immediately. Then it stopped then we headed into the rain you could see in the picture (top right) and I was wet through again. I even put on the life-jacket to have something for the rain to hit upon.

After about twenty minutes the rain, it stopped (Bottom top right) and then the boat stopped and things went very quiet. The driver indicated something but I could see nothing, then a fin, then the Mekong Dolphins in all their glory.

Everything I had hoped for, to see these rare, threatened, majestic creatures. On the way back we passed islands which were inhabited and being cultivated. People whose existence is said to be threatened, just like the dolphins, by proposals for dams on the river.

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Back on the road and it was pretty much as it had been the day before. On the left-hand side properties heading down to the river and on the right ones in the forest or heading out into paddies and cultivated fields. A paved road so danger was less. It was never possible to get up much speed as all the time you were keeping your eyes peeled for animals or children running into the road, slowing down when there was a dog or a chicken, or a child who insisted in remaining in the road. The biggest offenders in staying in the road and staring at you were cows.

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As you can see from the map above after a while I moved away from the riverside and traveled through a more rural route which had fewer homesteads alongside the road but more cows in the road. As also seen from the map, at Sangkum I joined National Highway 7 and the quality of the road improved significantly. Most houses were further back and when you went through built up areas people and animals were more aware of the traffic. If they weren’t the lorries screaming through would soon have made sure everyone else didn’t forget. The lorries added to the fun when a hilly stretch came and then they were to be overtaken,  then they would want to pass when heading downhill, and repeat. Then the rain came back.

I dived into the first place I found by the side of the road. Where the above film was taken from. The people running the shop must have been used to giving shelter from the storm to people, I bought some things from them then was offered some food. It was now into the afternoon and I had had nothing since breakfast so the noodles with salad and an omelet was most welcome. You can see how wet I was.

 

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The redcoats are coming! Once the rain stopped most of the journey was uneventful, apart from trying to start in neutral after asking the way in O’Pong Muon and being laughed at  by the local people. Closing in on Stung Treng it started to rain again so I opened the throttle and tried to get there as quickly as possible, finishing up in a pharmacists on the outskirts of town. My thumb on my left, inside just below the knuckle, had got blisters each day from the grip for the handlebars and using the clutch. I had bought the see-through plasters but they had fallen off in the rain and made things worse so I was looking for industrial strength elastoplast type (other plaster types are available) plasters which they had and I was able to put on. Whilst there I rang the guesthouse for directions and, after conversations with a few people, they said someone would come to collect me. Typical of the friendliness I found whilst travelling, the pharmacist brought out a chair for me to sit on whilst waiting and sheltering from the rain.

When the person from the guesthouse arrived the rain had diminished and I followed them to it only to find, coincidence or irony of the day, that there was no water. So, I got moved to their other one which was a result as it was in the centre of town and I could walk to restaurants etc from it. After a shower and change of clothes I walked down to Ponika’s Place, recommended in the guide, for a very nice meal. I was willlingly sold some carry-outs as the owner and partner wanted to get to a birthday party and went back to my room for a read, drink and then sleep.

Barang on a motorcycle, day II

04/10/2016

So, yesterday was get going and recover from the evening before. As I said I have explored Kampong Cham and you can read about it here, here and here. Today I wanted to visit something I had not visited before and then get to Kratie, via Hanchey Hill, which I had not seen before either and the ferry at Steung Trenung.(222 on the map here and the interweb thingy is no better to it.)

kampong-cham-to-kratie

First was something I had wanted to see since pouring over the maps after my previous visit, the last surviving wooden temple in Cambodia (the Khmer Rouge had destroyed all the others but this survived thanks to being used as a hospital) at Wat Mohaleap. I was given a metaled route to follow by the fab people at Mekong Crossing Guest House, who also said the river was very high. Well, they were right as the river said I was not visiting the Wat:

So, I turned back, went back over the bridge into Kampong Cham and headed out of the city on the western side of the Mekong. I headed up route 220, which was just like any English country ‘C’ road passing though villages and with occasional glimpses of the mighty Mekong to Wat Hanchey and, as luck would have it, missed the entrance so had to go back to get to the entrance. As luck would also have it, many people talk about the walk up but, having found the road up, I was able to ride up in comfort to:

A few kilometres up the road I came to Steung Treung, which is a real place with a ferry crossing of the Mekong though the internet does not avow much of its existence. The ferry was on the other side and, on coming back it was clear how strong the river was. I took the obligatory photos and made the obligatory social media comment about the ‘ferry ‘cross the Mekong’:

So, according to the guide that was 31 kilometres done and it was around midday with another 78 to do. So I motored on. Initially it was like the bit before the ferry with largely riverside villages interspersed with areas of forest with fewer people. All the time though looking for someone, a child, an animal running out into the road. After a while the road became higher and the river had clearly broken its banks and the countryside on either side was flooded. Then there were herds of cows, goats, buffalo and other animals being taken back to the house over night. I had got used to avoiding most animals, then all of a sudden there was a commotion, people were running alongside the road and there were throngs of people. I came to a bridge, OK but nothing to see here then I got to the other side and:

The elephant on the left in the picture on the right clearly did not like me. I know people who have been around elephants in Africa and they said that you cannot beat elephants in a charge so I did not wait to find out so it was open throttle and high tail it outta there.

Someone at work had said to me “Why are you doing it in the rainy season” and I hadn’t really thought about it. I had the chance to think about it for the next tens of  kilometres through the drizzle that continued till I arrived in Kratie. It ceased raining enough to get these pictures of my accommodation for the night and then get something to eat.

Kratie mainly talked about the riverfront and the dolphins so, having seen the former I went to bed dreaming of the latter.

Barang on a motorcycle

03/10/2016

Day one. 13th September, school’s out so, with a few friends something to eat and a few drinks to celebrate which meant, unfortunately I was up late and half an hour late to collect the motorcycle. Bag strapped on the back and headed off out to Kampong Cham. A fairly uneventful ride and arrive in tine for lunch and then catch up on sleep from the night before. Something to eat in a nearby hostelry and sleep.

phnom-penh-12000-to-krong-kampong-cham-google-maps

I had previously been to Kampong Cham for a visit and wrote three posts about it starting here. The previous visit was at the end of the dry season/start of the rainy season in May and you can see how much higher the river is comparing the photos below taken from the same spot.

 

Shearer and Mills English Traitors

01/10/2016

Alan Shearer and Danny Mills are English traitors who do not want to see our great country ever win national trophies again but are just seeking jobs and money for them and their mates.

What else can be the explanation for their piece on the BBC saying that England should have an English Manager? Why should there be an English manager? What justification is there for former players, part of failed teams to remain involved with the team?

Read Soccornomics, and look at the best England managers. Are they necessarily English? No. The best English Manager according to the research in the book was Italian.

So, do Mills and Shearer want England to win the World Cup or European Championship? Well the evidence from the piece is that they don’t. They are not interested in getting the best manager possible for the England team. Just an English manager. What if they are an average manager but English? OK seemingly according to Mills and Shearer. What if they are the best manager in the world but foreign? No. According to them. Do we want to win? No. Just lets have an English manager. Step up Mike Bassett.

Then, what is even worse, they call, in their own self-interest, to have an involvement in the England team. Why let a bunch of proven losers anywhere near the England team? They won nothing. OK, so the BBC pays them a fine sinecure for sitting on their collective arses and pontificating about whatever the crowd are saying this week. Before moving on to whatever the crowd say next week. What measurable criteria are there for Shearer, Gerard, Mills et al to be involved in the England team? What can they transmit to the players about winning

No. They are losers. I want winners involved. Have Vaughn on how to beat the Aussies at cricket, Mo on winning at running, Hamilton at F1 and the Scotsman at tennis but do not let any of these dinosaurs anywhere near our football team.

 

Architecture Tour of Phnom Penh by Cyclo II

13/09/2016

At the end of the first part I left people tantalised. (Well maybe I did, maybe you don’t give a toss, for the narrative I’ll continue believing I do) A whole piece about a tour of Phnom Penh by cyclo and no cyclos. What gives, eh? The last picture was the key to the tantalising with the back of our guide and some cyclos. So, to release the tension here are pictures of cyclos from the rest of the tour.

The first two pictures on the right show us mounting up, what other verb can I use for getting on/in a cyclo? The one on the left at the top shows us processing towards Wat Phnom and then they show, from the left, the author at repose in his cyclo, the convoy of cyclos turning left, in amongst the traffic and the start, sort of like the start of the Le Mans! (Wat Phnom is again in the background, we have traveled anti-clockwise from 3 to 6.)  So, now the lust for cyclos is sated I can move on with the narrative, our first stop was at a Chinese temple.

 

From the top, we see the outside of the temple which is in the grounds of s school. Our guide, Virak, said the King was pleased to have the Chinese in Cambodia and gave them the land on which the school and temple are built. It is possible to learn Madarin at the school for $100 a year he said. The people who worship at the temple are from southern China and Taiwan. Next picture down shows the detail of the window and on the right, at the top of the column a Khmer detail. Going in, on the right, we saw the dragon to protect people on the water, which is why the fish are in front of it. On the left was the tiger to protect people on the land and it has plants in front of it. Both have a small dragon and tiger pictured also to reflect continuity. I just like drums which is why that picture is there and the final, main, picture is of the altar.

Next stop was another Chinese temple. This time made of wood. In writing this I found another blog written about the tour (giving a different perspective of it) which also posted a picture (left) of the temple from three years ago. I think it makes an interesting comparison to what we saw.

Our guide said that before the Khmer Rouge there were no other buildings here but the price of land and the largely uncontrolled state of planning and building mean that people build something wherever they can. Obviously the temple has not been used for worship for a long time.

We walked further on and came to another religious building, a former Catholic Chapel which was used for Taikwando and as a school but is also now lived in and is very dark so people need to keep the lights on and I can’t imagine there’s too much ventilation for cooking smoke and fumes.

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We then got back in the cyclos and went to the National Library of Cambodia. Obviously built in the colonial period, we are back in the European quarter with very classical architecture, although the columns share the Khmer feature with the Chinese temple, the only nod to the location of the building. The Khmer Rouge used this as a kitchen and canteen with animals living in the grounds which were slaughtered and then cooked and eaten inside. Some of the books were used for the cooking. The library is in the centre with the stores and offices in the wings, which can just be seen, on the left and the right respectively. Back to the cyclos.

We then toured past the Hotel Raffles Le Royal. (Top right) Built in 1929, what the hotel’s biog doesn’t say is that after the coup in 1970, as part of the republicanisation of the country, it’s name was changed to Hotel Le Phnom and it is as that it features in the film ‘The Killing Fields‘.  After a five year renovation by the Raffles group it is one of the more high class hotels.  Then, bottom right, is the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications building. Another government office building – what’s so special about that? It is not what is there now that matters but what was there before. It is the site of the former Catholic Cathedral of Notre Dame. (Pictured, from a stamp, below) Building work on it started in 1951 financed by the, secular, French government, but it was dynamited in 1976 by the Khmer Rouge. The architect said he was not disappointed by its fate as it had been built on the same layout as the Wat Phnom at the other end of the boulevard and he had never been happy with the challenge to the primeval Budhist pagoda in the city. The final picture on the left is us passing the station built in the 30’s by the engineer who also worked on the architectural wonder that is the Central Market, and it was said that he learned how to work with reinforced concrete on this building before going on to use it so successfully on the market.

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Our last stop was at the former Hotel International which was originally built 1900-1910 On what was Phnom Penh’s busiest shopping streets as the Magasin Paris, the place to get your items fresh from France. It has been altered many times and no longer a hotel; the old signs are still readable on the entrance, i.e.’Horlogerie’, a clock store. The Hotel’s name, in Khmer, is still visible high up the building and you can see where people have built homes on the roof and like the hotel at the start of the tour it is now lived in by many families and the ground floor is given over to shops. Our guide said he had recently seen adverts for the hotel from the 1970’s when the hotel was heavily discounting the rooms, no doubt a function of the uncertainty as a result of the civil war taking place between the Lon Nol government and the Khmer Rouge. We got back into the cyclos and returned to the Post Office Square. If you are in Phnom Penh do take one of their tours, you learn not just about architecture but the history of the city and country, social history and so much more and the enthusiasm of the guide for the subject is contagious.

Architecture tour of Phnom Penh by Cyclo I

12/09/2016

Cyclo. You know those things with a seat in the front and a chap pedaling at the back. Well, the fab people at Khmer Architecture Tours do one of Phnom Penh by cyclo and Sunday morning I did it. Previously I had taken the “1960s Houses and Villas in Toul Kork + the White Building in Bassac” tour and found it interesting, not just in terms of the architecture, but also in terms of the Cambodia history and social history that was learnt. We met at the Post Office, which was a place I knew well from leaving there to travel to Sihanoukville by bus and, more recently, as the place to collect post from my PO Box. The lack of a functioning postal service, as would be understood in the West meant it was more visited by tourists than locals. It was 8:30 which meant I didn’t spend enough time the night before celebrating Manchester being blue. The Post Office, pictured below.

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The middle building with the three arched entrances was built at the beginning of the last century with additions of the red roofed wings in the 30’s and flat roofed wings at the edge in the 1990’s. On the top you’ll see are some loudspeakers which our guide said replaced a cupola when the Japanese were here in the 1940’s. However, they remind me so much of the civil defence system to be seen throughout France which is rehearsed at midday on the first Wednesday throughout the country. I asked the guide if he thought they could have been under the cupola and only discovered once the Japanese removed it but he demurred.

Across the street is a former hotel, (pictured top right) built in the first decade of the last century. After the Khmer Rouge left Vietnamese people lived in it until they left at the end of the 80’s when people working for the Post Office moved in and took over the premises. They kindly let us into the public areas on the first floor but residents on the second were not so keen to let us visit. We went up a stairway to the right of the door and onto the first floor where there were original features which came from France including tiles.(pictured left) In the last century Hotel Grand was built backing onto the building, facing onto the Tonle Sap River and after a time the owner bought this hotel and connected this to the other, the back of which can be seen in the bottom middle left picture.  They were joined together such that a corridor went at right angles at the end of the picture bottom middle right, which was taken from the same spot as looking out onto the courtyard and back of the hotel just after turning 90 degrees. The picture bottom right shows one of the room numbers, still visible and bottom left us with the guide on the landing.

The third of four buildings on the square was built as the Bank of Indochina and became 103702-730419the property of the Van family in the 1965. After the Khmer Rouge it became government buildings until around 2000 when the family got/bought it back from them and it has been fully renovated and is now quite a fancy restaurant, named Van’s. I was recommended the 17:00 – 19:00 ‘happy hour’ and was minded to investigate but rain throughout the time prevented it from happening, maybe another time.

We walked round to see the front of Hotel Grand, sometime called the Hotel Grand grand-hotelManolis after the eponymous owner, but I took no pictures of it.The guide had a picture of how it used to be, similar to the one on the right. The two arches on the left still house a small restaurant/cafe but the ones on the right have been removed to create a KFC. The website for Getty images, which features a similar photo, but not this one below,(for rights reasons) said “Phom Penh’s first KFC opened in a refurbished colonial building along the waterfront. Many older colonial buildings have been renovated in recent years, while others have been razed for new construction. p1110123Others limp on as shabby apartments and businesses..” Hmm, so lets obliterate the front of a classical piece of colonial architecture and replace it with something which looks just the same as if it was built in Dagenham or Delhi. The pictures the guide showed of the hotel lobby said even more what a loss this was to the city, for not much gain.

A proper example of a former colonial piece of architecture sympathetically restored is the coffee shop across the road, also on the quay.

Anyway, we walked back onto the square, across it and then round the back of the former p1170112Police Station. This building was built in the 1930’s to replace the previous police station built there in 1910. No-one knows why the previous one was replaced but the guide explained that this one had an external wall and then a corridor all around the building before the offices, cells etc inside. Allowing the outside wall to take the heat or the rain, air to circulate and the offices, cells etc to be cool without air-con. Intelligent building design in the tropics.

Anyway, the story from the guide was that the building was bought by a company who wanted to raise it and build a skyscraper but it has never happened. So, some people run a business in the courtyard and live, along with other people in the building. The number of trees growing on the building were pointed out and it was said that the roof leaked and that trees (As seen on the roof top right of this picture from the rear of the building) and water, two of the dangers to built structures, mean that unless something is done, it would eventually collapse.

The picture on the right, our guide argued, showed how the architect had designed the building as a coherent whole, the pattern below the window reflecting the arch at the top of the window, as well as the features for a building in the tropics already mentioned, which was reflect throughout the building and that was why this was actually more deserving of renovation than the Post Office and the KFC.

Anyway, I started by talking about a Cyclo tour and all it’s been so far is a trudging around the Post Office Square looking at buildings that used to be something, apart from the Post Office, obviously. So have I sold you short? Are there really any Cyclos? Well you’ll just have to wait for the next installment. Which may, or may not, involve Chinese temples, Catholic Chapels, a library, a destroyed Catholic Cathedral, apartments now shops and a former apartment store. As a hint, one last picture.

p1170116

 

 

Three little words – Khmer will set you free!

04/09/2016

Probably not the ones you are thinking about. The three most useful words in Khmer for a ‘barang’* like me are not the equivalent of the ones the Hump  sang about on this link; here.(It seems WordPress no longer allows the use of youtube on free accounts like this.)

mr-20chanthouNo they are, “Knom chung dar”*, or I want to walk. Reading ex-pat forums one of the most frequent complaints I read is about the amount of times you are propositioned by tuk-tuk (see picture left) or motodop(see below) drivers walking around Phnom Penh. But hey, they are just businessmen, and they are all men – well so far in my experience, seeking to make a living. Why shouldn’t they tout for trade? Complaining about it seems symptomatic to me of one of the dangers of ex-pat existence. Not becoming part of the society you live in and railing against aspects of it you do not like. Why not learn to engage, with a smile? The ones near me have now learnt that during the day when I am not wearing a shirt with a collar, trousers and shoes, and often, carrying a helmet, I am most likely going to want to walk and say so. “Ah dar” they say, with a laugh moto-dop-cambodge-cambodia-phnom-penhand everything is Ok. Others on my walk to the nearby Central Market or the swimming pool are also familiar with it, hey they still tout, but why shouldn’t they, it’s their business. But, and it comes down to something deeper these complaining expats maybe haven’t thought about, when I have been with Khmer friends they would rather ride their moto or take a tuk-tuk than walk. It is culturally not expected to walk, it isn’t said, but it is what the poor do, If you can afford it you do not walk. People do not expect to walk if they can avoid it. Walking is a western affectation. So, if you choose to walk, do not complain about people touting for business, engage with the culture and show you are not just an an affected westerner, just as I do!

My next favourite three words are the ones for left, right and straight-on for when I am in the tuk-tuk or on the back of the motodop. Khmer will set you free!

* As it is the transliteration of another script into Roman I accept my spellings of what I hear the Khmer words to be may be wrong for other people, they are right for me and generally work – that’s what counts as far as I am concerned.


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