owl art studio goes to Cambodia

IMG_1148cambodia-map

February 2013 – going to Cambodia

what did i know about the place?

Angkor Wat –

the Killing Fields –

‘Sideshow:  Nixon, Kissinger, and the Destruction of Cambodia’  –  William Shawcross

that’s about it –     towering ancient ruins lost in the jungles; and a long-ago movie of madness and slaughter, part of the American Empire’s Vietnam-adventure legacy

IMG_1412

part of the 2012 carving project ‘Band of Owls’ was the usual research on carving and statues: a volume that arrived in owl art studio through the typical route – the charity shops – had some wonderful imagery

IMG_1507

and the seed was planted, the thought watered and the idea grew: could we get there, have a look for ourselves? come February, say? an excellent time to be away from England…

and verily, owl art studio goes to Cambodia

via

Hong Kong where we tried to order coffees: $12 – thank you, NO

IMG_1007

IMG_1508IMG_1511

finally! after a long LONG journey, into Phnom Penh … HEAT, even in the evening: a big change from winter in England.

IMG_1014

we are heading for friend Annika’s place; she’s being teaching English there for a couple of years now. ‘ask the driver to head for the market nearby’, says she, ‘i’ll meet you there’.

so it’s into a tuk-tuk, the chariot of Asia, with a motorcycle serving as a trusty steed, and the open air cooling us off as we take in the passing parade – well better than being sealed off inside a metal capsule, and we head into the City.

IMG_1015Annika lives away from the main travelers’ area, which was over by the river, the Mekong.  we seemed to be the only Westerners in the quarter, making us automatic Circus Centre.

when traveling, events arrive at an accelerated rate … adventures arrive a mile-a-minute, in a cheerful minor-key fashion. the tuk-tuk takes us to the market, drops us off at the corner restaurant, open-air tables with a cooking area in the corner.  there, we meet The Family:  make our first Cambodian friends … and we’re not in the country an hour yet.

we have arrived in Phnom Penh.

IMG_1034 IMG_1035 IMG_1039 IMG_1046 IMG_1049

here starts a pattern that continues through the Trip:  sit down, pull out the sketchbook – kids gather round, adults follow, to watch the pencil flow, we all smile at each other, conversation kicks off, as far as the language difference allows – the younger generation seems to have some capacity in English, certainly beyond my capacity in Khmer …  though shy, once started, it does get on, fueled by benevolent intent…

IMG_1050
pondering the magic trick…

and once the critical mass is right (this can often mean an audience of all of one) – i may just perform the magic trick …

The Magic Trick:  the red hankie!!!   it is presented … it disappears!  it reappears, it disappears, it reappears, it fails to disappear – ! the magician is puzzled and distraught:  he asks for help:  ‘ 1-2-3- BLOW!!!’  it disappears!     and so on …

always a winner, that, it transcends the language barrier, for one thing, and will generally get everyone smiling … dear me, the mileage from that one sleight-of-hand trick over the years  … someday i really must learn another trick, expand my repertoire …   some day …

IMG_1166

dear lord, what cute kids, big eyes charming smiles and hardworking talented fascinated artists … this seemed to hold true through all the journey.  i was traveling with my usual two sketchbooks, the smaller one in my left pocket, the larger one in the shoulder bag.  the smaller one soon became dedicated to the younger generation; i’d pass it over for their input whilst i worked in the larger one.

Phnom Penh.

what a raw city …

what a wall of raw emotion hits, when i realize that this city, this culture, these people suffered insane genocidal madness during my own adult lifetime … that is, about yesterday.  intellectually one can be aware of Life and History, at a remove:  to be confronted with the reality square in the face hits full force on the emotional level.

the Killing Fields are advertised as a visitors’ destination, signposts and tickets available, even as Madame Tussauds in  London or EuroDisney in Paris.  the fabric of the society was guillotined apart:  ‘Year Zero’:  some mad fantasy of creating Paradise by starting with a blank slate – wh;ich required murdering all the educated classes, those with spectacles, or soft hands … and to justify this, run them all through a torture chamber before execution, to have all sins against society confessed, noted, and recorded for posterity.  (the torture chamber, a former school, is also available for visits)

who in Hell thought this was a Good Idea?  where were all the adults when the playground bullies got their hands on the wheel?  one young Cambodian fellow said to me:  ‘and the West stood by and watched it happen’

how did this happen?  pull on one string from the tangled knot and leads to many others – the colonial madness of the Superpowers, France, America, power struggles by proxy, the Vietnam debacle, the secret invasion of Cambodia

at one point in history, travelers apparently noted the rural lifestyle of Indochina to seemingly be as near to a Golden Age as it got, the climate, the beauty and health of the people… there is of course never an actual Shangri-La, but – how did it all manage to fall so far?

statistic: between 1975 and 1979 , 25% of the Cambodian population died or was murdered.

we noticed a marked absence of older folk.

AYE WELL

and yet life goes on … the spiritual acceptance inherent in a Buddhist-orientated philosophy seems to help cope with That Which Is, apparently

the people are  charming, the city is not:  let us get out of here, head North up to the Angkor Wat area, the ancient temples that we’ve come to see.  it’s a day’s journey, apparently, and can be done by boat:  what a wonderful option.

UP THE MEKONG

TO SIEM REAP

IMG_1430 IMG_1429

what a wonderful voyage, gazing at the shoreline, waving at the boatfolk along the way … very nearly overdoing it with the sun, a redoubled strength as  bounces off the water into our white European faces.  always more interesting, a boat ride along a river, rather than in the open sea, having something to look at rather than the bounding wave.

at the top of the river we do enter a lake, the, which spreads out wide and remarkably shallow at this time of the year, mud coloured, with bamboo poles shoved into the bottom for navigational guidance.  an odd phenomenom, this lake:   when the monsoon rains hit, the incoming volume of water reverses the flow of the river:  it flows back into the lake, rather than draining it, resulting  in a huge stock of freshwater fish, happily for the local populace.

and so we arrive, luggage on shoulders, up the gangplank, to be met by a placard with our names on it: we’d prepaid the boat-ticket fellow for a hotel, including the ride from the boat.  a genial shy fellow, the tuk-tuk driver – but – bad news:  ‘the hotel is full up: we must go elsewhere’  WHAT?! FRAUD!

my emotional energy leaps gear into fullblown confrontational outrage mode – and then we get an laboratory level example of cultural differences

as an old India Hand, i’d perforce developed a certain hard-edged carapace for dealing with the Hustle of the East, where nothing works as planned, everyone views the traveler as a Financial Opportunity, and no-one hears you until you shout.  this takes some adjustment from the newly-arrived normally courteous visitor; at first you’re embarrassed by the loud rude Gringo; then you try to get things done yourself, and you realize what it takes to get through … not always, not invariably, of course, but sometimes:  often enough to have that ready as a tool in one’s coping arsenal.

such at least was my heritage from various travels in India:  in Cambodia, not so.  courteous compliance and regret came from the desk clerks and the driver, to my outraged protests; and an immediate refund of the deposit.  i was stunned, having  been convinced that it  would vanish into the great unknown – the sensation of pushing hard against an unknown barrier and falling over … well, damn, eh?  how wonderful.  i apologized for my loud tone, for any offence given … it was a great introduction.

the new hotel was a marvel: sweeping central staircase of polished hardwood; comfortable rooms, own bathroom, television, air-conditioning … and a reading light beside the bed:  this last the true hallmark of civilization.  £10 a night, or $15 american, the local currency:  coming from London England, ‘Ripoff London’,  an incredible bargain.

our man the tuk-tuk driver asks if he can be our chauffer and guide for our temple tours – ‘how much?’ we ask; his price is in line with what the other travellers have told us; he seems a nice fellow, sure, why not?  and so we meet Ra, and make another new friend.

IMG_1459 IMG_1458

talking with fellow travellers has given some perspective on pricing:  its not the actual expenditure that sways one’s emotions; its the sense of being taken advantage of.  ‘what’s the correct price?’  everything is cheaper than in the West … and man these people deserve a break:  we have so much they have so little.  the reverse side of that particular medal is of course that you can’t fix the whole thing all by yourself, and you’ll burn out if you try … so find the happy medium, keep smiling, and when you err, err on the side of generosity.

above all, don’t let a sense of outrage spoil your happy day.  Mark and i were discussing a price difference at one point:  it translated into 20p UK money.  ‘what can you buy for 20p in London?’  ah … deep thought … it’s a very short list:   -matches;  -the ‘I’ newspaper, [the very cheap condensed newspaper];  a completely inadequate donation to the collection at a Meeting.

keep it in perspective.

we end up spending a good ten-days-plus in Siem Reap.  effectively a village, you can walk around the central points of interest, the canal/river with its bridges; the various markets and restaurant areas; our hotel right there in the middle of it all.

Time Expands, whilst traveling:  tons more happens in a day then when at home in a familiar pattern.  we soon had our regular restaurants and juice bars, hang-out places, folk to greet, casual shopping all along the streets … after the first day we started getting up at 5:00 every morning:  beat the heat.  by noon, my idea of Heaven was a seat in the shade with a heavily iced beverage:  wonderful temples, yes, so much to see, so much to draw, but dear lord i’m frying …

DSCN0428

pacing, that’s the ticket

tickets:  you need to buy one to visit the Temple Complex.  available are:  one day; three days; or seven days, a full week.  owl art studio has come a long way to look at these marvelous carvings:  let’s do it right.  we’ll have the seven-day pass, please

IMG_1444IMG_1445

turns out that is in fact a LOT of temple visiting … we take a day off here and there, to return refreshed to the tour.

there is indeed a huge amount to see, and in all its magnificence it is well documented elsewhere… herewith a few highlights only, to give the flavour.  the style moves from Hinduism to Buddhism over the roughly three centuries, 900 – 1200 AD, of the empire’s peak:  an incredible amount of work, fascinating in its variation, representing an infinity of skilled craftsmanship.

many the cheerful encounters, over meals or coffee, with fellow travellers, swapping observations, tales and tips with the odd gem:

a charming, friendly couple from Western Canada seem to have arrived here without any idea of how the giant temple ruins came to be there in the first place.

DSCN0413

so i share some of my vast knowledge:

“they were built a thousand years ago by the ancient kings,”

to which came the wonderful reply,

“and were they ruins then?”

… er… (WOT?!)… i don’t think so…

damn, did she really say that? so far out of leftfield, could be an Emo Philips line, brilliant… takes me back to the carvings in the park, we learned to keep a book to record all the daft questions and comments the visitors came up with.

IMG_1464IMG_1465aye, well.

ran into the same couple later on, bargaining for fabrics in the market: she seemed to have the right attitude, cheerful, brisk, cutting through to a reasonable level of payment –

this is not always obvious: the stall-holders having a tendency to start off with a random quote of a million dollars or so… wore me down sometimes, I couldn’t be bothered to go through it all, walked away from things I might otherwise have bought.

browsing the markets was fun, trinkets, oddments and curios to brighten owl studio back in London, or present to friends and family.

fabrics particularly – colourful, useful and light to lug around… wall hangings and ethnic scarves…

Time expands wonderfully, travelling… our week and a half in Siem Reap was a Long Time… developed patterns, bases, reference points.

“gonna grab a siesta; meet ya later at the juice bar at the second bridge.”

“goin’ over to the Bodhi Tree for a second breakfast.”

“refuelling with a coffee at the morning cafe, gonna meet that Australian girl.”

and so forth.

fun to feel at home, not always lugging luggage and sweating onto a crowded bus, TO HELL WITH THAT: as little as possible, Thank You.

way back when, on my first tour through England, late 70s, heading North on the train, met some Canadian high school teacher on his holiday: he actually ran from spot to spot, clicking away on his big camera; then ran back to the train station to head off to the next town to do the same again… I was aghast.

me? I sauntered from pub to pub, conversing with the passing parade.

then as now,
now as then… TIME SHIFT: decades vanish.

and now the sketchbook is the icebreaker supreme, followed up by the Magic Trick (The Yellow Hankie Disappears!).

I do meet a fellow artist at the Temples, buy one of his pen-and-ink of the place… a quiet, shy fellow (much like my good self in fact – birds-of-a-feather, y’know).

Line drawing artist Line artist and Robin
 felt bad I didn’t have a pen or something to give him… I threw in a couple extra dollars on the drawing I bought.

further inspiration, seeing the black line flow out onto the white paper under his hand, conjuring up Ancient Magic.

Line drawing

and so, i too keep on keepin’ on, trying to capture the moment for all time in the sketch book.

IMG_1412

(complete sketch book start-to-finish at the end of this article, by the way) Little book front page

(also the little book: young artists, mostly)

ah, the sketch-book  – capture the moment; hone one’s capacity; burn off some of the nervous energy (o lord); engage in conversation –

“may i take a photo of you drawing?” – asked surprisingly often.

“sure! … that’ll be one dollar please!”

– laughter – for one dollar seems to be the theme around the scene here in Temple World, tiny children selling knick-knacks and wotnots, cute as a button and hard to resist…

drawing with an admirer

we’re barely seated at the edge of the lake, in the pre-dawn darkness, when tiny voices whisper out of the pitch black, “you want to buy post cards?”

I laugh helplessly, I can’t even see the things, bless them (now, hot coffee delivery, there’d be a seller).

and, yes, later, when the sun rises, I do buy something or other, o lord… this calls for diplomacy, or you are confronted by “you buy from HIM! why you no buy from ME!?”

a fair point… I do try to spread it around, master diplomat of the ages that I am.

Mark came up against an even simpler tactic: to his “no” came a strong “YES!!!” – how can you argue with that? against a charming, huge-eyed five-year-old?

but my favourite came from a wearylooking fellow trying to sell me a guide book; I evaded it by pointing out, “it’s in Japanese!” to which came the reply, “pictures are in English!”

pictures are in English...

damn, that was good… still didn’t buy it though, I’m afraid…

interesting point, by the way, a lot of Eastern objects appear in the legendary charity shops of London, my forever happy hunting ground, for less than the price of purchase in India, or Cambodia, or wherever… people lug them home, then clear them out later on, it would appear… there you go.

mantelpiece

fabrics and photos, they’re the lightest to carry and evoke the travel memories wonderful well.

photo 5 photo 4

and so the days unrolled, pacing one’s energy in rhythm of the heat of the day, up early, hiding from the sun by noon…

re-emerge, a bit later, maybe a siesta, a strategic coffee or coca-cola on ice (never in my life so much coke – and even more ice)

wander the markets, browsing it all, sidestepping the whispers, “ganja?” “boom-boom?” … ye shoulda caught me in my Wild Youth, pal…

and pacing saves us from saturation, good for us, and the Plan holds, and we have a good time. we enjoy every day, Carpe Diem, and don’t get ill, and don’t get burgled, or go broke, or lose a passport, or any of the other imagined calamities.

for a brief and fleeting Bubble of Time,
God may yet be in his Heaven.

and all through this, brother Matt is ever with me.

Matt and Robin in India
Taj Mahal, 1985

Chinese New Year arrived round about here somewhere, fireworks galore, red lanterns, and an influx of short-term travelers from places like Shanghai – commercial cement metropolis by description: best avoided – and so forth. our happy charioteer, Nu, seemed at certain moments to be swept off his feet by the carnival spirit: the odd groggy morning… and once, at a mere 11am, while we were pondering the plan for the rest of the day, he gave us such an earnest, weary, exhausted look, and said “hotel?”

we cracked up laughing… and then headed homeward, fine by us… an outing, not a marathon.

finally came the time to move on, leave this cheerful little town and the vast, sprawling, ruinous ancient civilisation, the wonder of my long-ago childhood, musty old books, talking of ruins hidden in dark jungles… and now I’ve seen them.

the Plan is to head down to the Coast… Sihanoukville, on the Gulf of Thailand. all the word is pointing to Otres beach, “like Goa as it was,” said Simon-of-Oz: a strong recommendation.

Map of CambodiaMap of Cambodia 2

we booked well ahead on the overnight sleeper coach, bagged the best place: front top platform, maximum head room, minimum road swing. a new experience for me – back in the day, it was all trains through India – with brother Matt…

so, on Tuesday 12th February, we left town, only about an hour behind schedule: not too bad.

the babbling three man driving crew made up for the late departure by treating the road as a challenge: Might Makes Right: they gunned it all the way…

one is sometimes aware of the reputation of the modern East as a big amphetamine-fancier haven…

there was a midnight pitstop, some kind of huge all-night market, with the toilet facilities a long way behind the shops (nothing like this on the bus itself, to the dismay of many).

back in our berth, we’re surprised at how abruptly we take off again: no headcount, no call of “all aboard!” just a lurch, and a roar, and we’re gone.

I said to Mark, “dear Lord, I hope everyone was back on the bus!”

a moment later, we heard a woman’s voice, German by the accent, coming forward along the aisle up to the driver: “there are two places empty… there were people there before.”

good lord! we HAVE abandoned some poor travelers! in the unknown midnight middle of Cambodian nowhere! without their luggage… did they have their passports with them? this is appalling!

no response whatsoever from our driving team… the bus roared on into the darkness. my god.

we did arrive at the Coast in good time, we’ll give ’em that, not a moment wasted on useless details like the passenger list…

so then it was a tuk-tuk taxi ride over to the recommended beach for Mark and me, early early morning, nothing open, not a thing, barely daylight…

we put our bags down at a waterside table, and I walk along the sand.

dear me, this is appalling. the entire waterfront is one big bar… or rather, an infinite strip of them, shoulder to shoulder, all huge signs,

BOOZE! CHEAP BOOZE!! CHEAPER BOOZE!!!

or words to that effect… illustrated with empty bottles, empty plastic cups, and passed-out drunks sprawled on those deckchair lounger things along the beach.

it was narrow, shallow and repugnant… even when you are yourself a drinker, the coming-down morning after is not the charming part – “Sunday Morning Coming Down” – and all the other great song titles…

We Left. immediately – this is not our place. whither away? we haven’t the faintest idea… and island or two recommended by Yorkshire Ian who was here six weeks before, Koh Kong, or something like that..?

a guide book pamphlet that came to hand had a phone number, “Island Tours”, or something… the fellow says, “meet me at the big hotel,” so, another tuk-tuk up and away we go.

and the gentleman is waiting for us in his car, takes us to the dock area, wonderfully confusing, no idea where we are, onto a ramshackle cargo boat. shades of the mail boat through the Out Islands of the Bahamas, way back in the 70s…

bloody bold and resolute

“nothing, absolutely nothing half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats”
– The Wind in the Willows, illustrated by our patron, Ernest H Shepard

Messing about in boats

and so we arrive at the Next Wonderful Place,
Sokh Song Guest House,
Koh Kong island.

no amplified music, no power boats, not even any electricity barely… four hours in the evening only, if that.

nothing but a white powder sand beach, blood-warm salt water, a thatched bungalow, and a friendly restaurant with its own ramshackle dock out into the bay… fruit salad and coffee in constant supply.

drawing and pineapple

Heaven on Earth.

exactly what i’d been hoping for: settle in with the sketch book for an endless sequence of relaxed, productive days.

(shades of last year’s Escape to India, the fortnight on Kudli beach, constantly drawing, established in the Sea Rock Hotel)

i made the front table my desk. just by the water, established my art gear, worked away on my various efforts, the landscape, the folk around me…

drawing people

for i would like to Improve: am impatient of the inadequacies in my efforts, gosh drat it all: looking for precision, boldness, flair, panache… magic… in the flowing line, the captured volumes on the white paper.

would like the flat page to rear up and spring for the heavens.

Moebius, R. Crumb, Searle, Steadman give perspective, literally perspective, on what is possible.

sometimes, Sometimes, there is a glimpse in my own work which emphasises the frustration at the failure, the failure to Ignite… a physical exercise, eye-hand coordination, a yoga if you like, parallel with the morning routine i’ve pursued throughout this Gypsy Life: spread the blanket out on the floor, go through the exercises… a self-contained ritual, there is never a finish line. the merit is in the action itself… and is a by-product of the exploration, slowly, gradually, an increased flexibility, increased health.

drawing seems, to this newly arrived later in life disciple, to be like juggling, not cycling cycling is like you’ve never left off, always the same level of skill. juggling gets rusty: you have to warm up, practise, work your way back up to maximum competency. after an hour’s drawing, it gets much better.

and so, i settle in here at Sok Song Guesthouse, on Koh Kong island, to try to ascend the ladder of skill and capacity… gazing out across the bright blue sea.

Mark relaxes, goes for walks, reads, relaxes… and Time slows down.

how rare, how wonderful: Shangri-La.

and we meet the flow of passing travellers, staying here a night or three, little kids draw in the small book, we get to know the staff…

get up before dawn, float out in the blood-warm salt water, to watch the sun come up over the eastern jungle… some yoga stretched on the end of the dock, and a leisurely morning of fruit salad and coffee with the sketchbook before me.

watch the sun rise

the odd stroll along the beach, the next dock down is a major construction site, big boats, work crew, armed guards yet.

(so much for Shangri-La)

apparently this is the filming location for a massively popular French reality television show, some form of Castaway/Jungle Survivor. the film production crew stay in comfort in this giant hotel they’re constructing, while the cast “tough it out” on the beach… dear me.

and, in ten days or so, our own guest house will not be taking any further travellers, will rather be dedicated to the film crew instead… hm…

TIME LAPSE HERE:
later, back in England, “guest dies, doctor commits suicide” – WOT??!!!!!!!!!!!!?!!!!!!!!!???????????!!!!

Newspaper clipping

yes… this very location, this tiny pinpoint on the vast globe, our very own remote, unknown beach, makes world news. who can believe it? how unlikely… so it goes… apparently they cancelled the filming.

and eventually, after a wonderful ten days which seemed half a lifetime, on we go ourselves, heading slowly up the coast to a rendez-vous in Pattaya, Thailand, a Convention, where i am invited to speak.

so, it’s the boat back to the mainland,

the kids on the boat were immobile with fascination at watching the portrait unfold... which made it a lot easier to try to draw them...
the kids on the boat were immobile with fascination at watching the portrait unfold… which made it a lot easier to try to draw them…

and a coach north through the cardamom mountains…

the boys stroll through the mangrove swamp

a disorganised Border crossing (how boring)… a jammed mini-van ride…

minibus ride

once across the border, immediately apparent, a change in the level of development. buildings, construction, advertising… all up several levels – Thailand was spared the whirlwind of genocidal madness. luck for them… but less interesting to my traveller’s eye.

and Pattaya itself is Not Attractive… Babylon, Sodom and Gomorrah all in one: a city built on commercial sex. money CAN buy you love.

pataya 1pataya 2

on the journey there, we keep running into excited Westerners, middle aged guys, who tell us how wonderful the place is, Land of Dreams.

well, for them valid, apparently, evidently.

and on first arrival, the Buzz is tangible: Friday night motorcycle ride through the booming streets, all it needs is the Easy Rider soundtrack to be a Road Movie – “running down the highway, looking for adventure…”

adrenaline kicks off, and intense nostalgia for the old wild days takes over, ah, the Life… damn the torpedoes, run wild.

Wasn’t Born to Follow

aye well: Let It Be
raise a glass to the Departed

***

we finally find the Big Hotel, despite the utterly vague directions, including the Wrong Name…
– Giving Clear Directions is a rare capacity –

hotel convention
the waterside hotel hosted the convention

and all is well… a convention of folk from all over the world, right there on the waterfront, landscaped gardens, blue sea

Libre butterfly

and I am to be the Saturday Night Speaker. normally, public speaking disturbs me not: hand it over, let go…

but – on this occasion, the remit is to Be Amusing: damn… that is the one requirement i find challenging. very challenging. sometimes i get there, that’s why they asked me, but to count on it beforehand? hm…

well, one works the room, looks around… a chuckle’ll start: you roll with it, amplify the ripple, play to the crowd. so, beforehand, hand it over… HA! easy said, hard to do… the mind keeps re-running lines that were well-received at the time: this one… and that one… the other one… oh boy…

this goes on for a while. beforehand, i’d of course checked out the room, the main hall, where all the big meetings were, got used to the space, the sightlines, how the sound travelled from the microphone, etc… getting as ready as i can, prepare to work the hall, as one does…

Now the Moment is upon us… hey!!! gues what!? you are speaking outside… in the open air banqueting area by the sea…

better yet, up at a podium with spotlights glaring into your face, so you can’t see a thing, off in the darkness… vague forms moving around, the waiters…

no preamble, no warm-up readings, just “yer on” – NOW, BE AMUSING… the organisers had not thought this through, i perceive.

goshdarndrat… WELL… nothing for it but Full Speed Ahead.

it went okay, they tell me… i could see the committed ones walk forward, sit at the front, get closer into the pudding… so, i focused on that, take that which offers, i pulled out the stops, and, hey away… the old street performers’ maxim: needs must where the devil drives.

*

so, that was Pattaya.

a big plus: it gave us another all time favourite street sign:

no grenades

my GOODNESS… what level of irony are we playing at here? not immediately apparent. does this mean, if this sign is not up at other shops, it’s okay to take grenades in there? an Important Point of Etiquette, i feel.

another favourite street sign:

another weird sign

*

sanity prevails: we fly back to Phnom Penh, rather than spend a couple of days in jammed minivans covering the country. the airport’s an hour away by coach, up near Bangkok.

coach to airport

(triggering memories of Way Back When, the mid-80s, and the Bangkok Prison Campaign,

bangkok prison posterrobin bangkok 1986 all that mad frenzied adventure… to be recorded somewhere sometime, when time allows… stay tuned)

and here we are, back at the start, Big City, back at Annika’s place, the neighbourhood, the corner restaurant, the Family, all the little kids, the Art Materials all over the restaurant table once again,

family father and mark family party 2

a sense of Home Coming.

we’ve now been in Cambodia a month: what a long time. we have two or three days before the flight home; we wander the streets, take a taxi to the central marketplace, shop a bit, gifts for home, small tokens to remember our Eastern Adventure… a bracelet for the wrist, a scarf or ten for friends… all the market stalls, all the characters running them, various ethnicities, various costumes, entrancing.

with the essential frequent stops for ice cold coca cola – VERY HOT – by noon, guard the energy levels.

the most fun? the kids.

down by the river in the central market, we find an art supply stall… surprisingly good quality, some brand names i’d buy in central London – pirated, i dare say? and so, i loaded up. bought a vast stack of sketch pads and drawing materials. pens, pencils, colours and so on. ever remembering the kids-at-Christmas maxim: Vast Excess is Just About Enough. i bought up a giant sack full, a handful of  riel… comes to about £13: dear me, not much, if one reverts back to London standards.

and so, on the last night, i make sure all the kids are there together at our big table, a critical mass: typical build-up, yes, including the Magic Trick one more time…

handkerchief trick

and then, made the Large Bag appear, upended over the table, a cascade of art stuff tumbles out. VOILA. it’s Christmas.

kids giftskids at table2 kids gifts 2

my goodness, these kids are civilised… a happy sharing out and passing around, showing and comparing, charm personified. i watch the tiny princess, our three-year-old, serene and self-possessed… she calmly picks out her share, and then again, a double of everything (i watch this, with interest)… and then, her brother arrives. she passes over his share, that she saved out for him. dear me, how lovely.

princess and robin

it’s a Party.

*

and it’s off to the airport for

the long flight home… flights, airports, tube train into Londontown, the journey…

last day

GOOD FOR MARK:

who smoked his last ever cigarette just before we entered Phnom Penh airport: tossed the famous ash tray into the trash can; resolutely passed by the cheap duty-free cigarettes, and hasn’t smoked again since. BRAVO THAT MAN. that’s not easy… (25 years for me, now… one day at a goddamn time)

and it’s home to Owl Studio.

The cats were overwhelmed

*

Owl Art Studio, Young Artists of Cambodia Sub-Division, says HELLO:

kids pictures5 kids pictures1 kids pictures2 kids pictures3 kids pictures4

Robin’s sketchbook from Cambodia:

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s