Archive for September, 2016

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.

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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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