Phare Circus: Siem Reap, Cambodia – a must visit

A circus in Siem Reap?  Absolutely! And, it’s become one of the city’s biggest attractions – and has a positive social impact.

Siem Reap, Cambodia, of course, has the incredible Angkor Wat temple complex and the awful, infamous Pub Street but it also has many charity and community projects like Phare Circus which aid this still-troubled country. (see also my blog about the HeroRATS) Both initiatives benefiting great causes as do many of the places we visited, ate at or bought from during our week there.

Phare, the Cambodian Circus, is an offshoot project of Phare Ponleu Selpak – a Cambodian non-profit, non-governmental association founded in 1994 by eight young Cambodian ex-refugee artists in the area of Anchanh Village, Ochar Commune, Battambang Province – a few years ago I spent a week in Battambang, (on the other side of Tonle Sap) right opposite the market and loved it.

The Phare Ponleu ‘helps vulnerable children, young adults and their families, build careers of Cambodian Artists, to revive Cambodian art scenes, to make worldwide arts connections with Cambodia and to contribute to the artistic, educational and social programs of PPS Association.’

When I, and a friend, attended the circus, it meant we were doing more than paying to be entertained: our money benefited the growing arts scene in Cambodia, that is, helping talented young people get the opportunity, income, or training access in which to develop, and showcase, their skills.

The Phare Circus is an incredible hour of traditional and modern theatre, music, dance, acrobatics, athleticism, juggling and contortion all beautifully choreographed and performed in stories about Cambodian lives and society. We loved it and talking to the young people after the show reinforced the value of attending.

Shows, each of a different theme or ‘tale ’change about every eight days. It seems tales, and sayings, are a big part of the local culture and the circus is an extension and visual representation of this with the moral of the shows often being about facing your fears in order to overcome them. The performance we saw was about being different, and bullying – combining laughter, happiness, music, and entertainment in a superbly presented show.

I recommend getting advance reservations during high season. (November through April) as performances sell-out most nights during this period.

It’s more than ‘just’ a circus, and the performers use – with energy, emotion, enthusiasm, and talent – theatre, music, dance and modern circus arts to tell uniquely Cambodian stories – historical, folk and modern. What’s even better – no animals!

All the Phare artists are students and graduates from Phare Ponleu Selpak’s – an association which was formed in 1994 by young men coming home from a refugee camp after the Khmer Rouge regime.

“They were greatly helped during that time by an art teacher using drawing classes as therapy and wanted to share this new skill among the poor, socially deprived and troubled youngsters in Battambang. They founded an art school and public school followed to offer free education. A music school and theatre school were next and finally, for the kids who wanted more, the circus school. Today more than 1,200 pupils attend the public school daily and 500 attend the alternative schools. Phare Ponleu Selpak also has extensive outreach programs, trying to help with the problems highlighted in their own tales.”

Phare The Cambodian Circus offers these students and graduates somewhere to hone their skills and a place to earn a decent wage, money that takes them out of poverty and provides self-respect and freedom. Many of the performers have gone on to be employed by the likes of Cirque du Soleil and Phare Circus also travels the world so you may see them in your backyard!

Phare, The Cambodian Circus is one of Cambodia’s most innovative social enterprise models. Profits generated through ticket, refreshment, merchandise and private performance sales support the free education, professional arts training and social support programs of Phare Ponleu Selpak in Battambang. It is one of the business units of Phare Performing Social Enterprise, along with Phare Creative Studio. Other business units will come soon. The circus survives through sales of tickets, merchandise, refreshments and private events. Ideally, the business will do better than just pay bills, but also make a profit from these activities. The majority shareholder is Phare Ponleu Selpak NGO School. Therefore, the majority of the profits go to support the school’s free education and social support programs to 1200 students daily.

Circus Phare The Cambodian Circus a responsible, social business in many other ways too. While always keeping an eye on making a profit to send to the school, other efforts are made to benefit society when possible. We both bought some items in the Phare Boutique shop as it supports local artisans and craftspeople. (higher quality souvenirs or gifts than you will find in the big markets – where many items are imported ☹) Royalties for each show performed -that was created at the school –  are paid to the school before profit is calculated. The business invests a great deal in the personal and professional development and the welfare of the artists and staff and participates in many community activities, sharing art with Cambodian people who otherwise might not be able to experience it.

The school survives mainly on donations and earns some revenue through sales of show tickets, merchandise and refreshments, but it depends mainly on donations. Maybe you can help – each little bit helps – and, if I get back to Cambodia, I plan on visiting the school.

 

Chungking Mansions – great accommodation or den of inequity in Hong Kong?

When travelling, it’s always great when plans come to fruition.  At our arranged meeting point I meet my friend whose LAX flight arrived 20 minutes before my New Zealand one.  After a coffee, we find the bus into town, and get off at the correct spot – our 5 weeks of SE Asian travels are beginning well.  And, we’re off to stay in a mansion!

Chungking Mansions to be precise – and despite the name, these mansions were the cheapest accommodation we could find in the centre of Hong Kong.  Fantastic we thought.

As we approach the doorway, dragging our wheeled suitcases, half a dozen men offered us their cards – touts for suits, dresses and jackets that we could have made. Silk, linen, cotton, a sari perhaps?  All we wanted was to check-in and start exploring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This huge block is actually a collection of 5 buildings each named A, B, C, D or E -and each block has 2 lifts – one stopping at all the even numbers, the other at all the odds.  Despite the rabbit warren confusion, we found the appropriate check-in place. What we hadn’t realised there are hundreds of tiny guesthouses, and once checked-in we were taken to our accommodation – in a different block.

My room is across the hallway from my friends one: it’s tiny, spotlessly clean,  has air-con, a bottle of water and is windowless. It’s also shoebox-size, with an even tinier bathroom.  I have no problem with that, I only want this room to sleep in as I know I’ll be out exploring – this is my first time in Hong Kong!

We stayed here for 3 or 4 days, and then after our travels, I stayed another couple of days before returning to New Zealand.

This is not only full of guesthouses but also restaurants, shops and moneychangers.  As someone said you could have a holiday in Hong Kong and never leave the mansions.  No matter what you want it will be here: fruit, biscuits, bread, curries, pizza, computers, or kebabs; new luggage, new phone, Sim card, umbrellas or batteries, they’re all here -and of course suits, dresses, jackets, or a  sari.  In fact, anything you want.  We had our delicious, early morning, Indian breakfast, on the ground floor, every day.

This United Nations of people seem to come from, largely, Southeast Asia and Africa, and in conversation with a young Hong Kong woman on the ferry, she was astonished at our bravery. ‘I’ve never been allowed there’ she said. ‘My parents would never let me go anywhere near there.  Is it safe?  It’s full of drug dealers I think.’

There is no doubt about it, for years it’s had a notorious reputation, and at any one time, among the 4 or 5000 people who live, and or work, there.  I’m sure there are drug dealers, illegal immigrants, and sex workers.

Over the years it’s cleaned up its act, and despite still being a fire hazard, I never saw anything that concerned me.  However, over the past few years, there have been assaults and even murder (s?)

Originally built as middle class, one-family flats or apartments, many families, seeing an opportunity to make money, bought other flats and converted them into guesthouses to serve American soldiers on R&R from Vietnam -it was then that the sex workers started hanging around the entrance.

Would I stay there again?  Of course!  Would most my friends stay here?  Of course not!

our first day in Hong Kong we experience and march

shops and restaurants are beginning to open .. about 630 am. some are open all night

messages of support to the marchers – in the underground

 

 

 

The year of the rat? Meet the HeroRAT

 

‘Rats?  I’m in Cambodia for the first time and you want me to go see rats?’  Reluctantly, dubiously, my friend gets into the tuk-tuk – we’re off to see the HeroRATS I’d recently heard about.

When last in Siam Reap, in the countryside, I placed my foot exactly where the person in front of me had put their foot.  Landmines, laid during the ousting of the Khmer Rouge in 1979 and throughout the 80s and 90s, have had, and continue to have, a devastating impact on the people of Cambodia. I didn’t want to be yet another victim. Sadly, over 64,000 casualties and more than 25,000 amputees have been recorded since 1979.  It’s been a long, slow and difficult task finding these unexploded devices – which can last 50 years.

Numerous ways have been tried to find and disarm them and these new heroes seem to be the best in many ways, so, in April 2015 15 giant mine-sniffing rats flew into Cambodia, one of the most mine polluted countries in the world.

Not all heroes wear capes and these Gambian pouched rats, also known as Giant African rats, are now used to help the local demining efforts. They’ve been renamed ‘HeroRATS’.

Before being introduced to these heroes, my reluctant friend and I read most of the well-written signs explaining what we were about to see: by now she was getting enthused and interested to see a skills demonstration by these rats and their handlers.

After arriving from Tanzania, they then spent the rest of the year acclimatising and continuing their training.  Cambodians, SokHeng Hul and Thoeun Theap, had spent 6 months at the APOPO training centre near the mountains of Morogoro, Tanzania, learning the science, technology, and of course the practical operation of allowing the rats to detect unexploded ordinances.

The HeroRAT training continued until November 2015, when it was decided the team was ready for the first stage of the accreditation process. They took a Performance Test. This test is designed to show evaluators that they and the handlers were capable of detecting all mines that had been placed in the examination area. Over a one-week period, all the rats were tested and produced a 100% pass rate so were deployed in helping the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) deminers in their mine detection work and have since found roughly 500 anti-personnel mines and more than 350 unexploded bombs.

This success rate has no doubt saved many lives and limbs and for many families, enabled them to farm their land without fear and increase productivity.

Further information /sidebar

  • APOPO is a global non-profit organization with roots in Belgium that has developed an innovative method using African giant pouched rats, to detect landmines and tuberculosis using their extraordinary sense of smell. They detect only TNT and ignore scrap metal.
  • One HeroRAT can search an area the size of a tennis court in 30 minutes – this would take a manual deminer with a metal detector up to four days (depending on the levels of scrap metal present).
  • The HeroRATs are too light to set off the landmines and not a single rat has ever died in a minefield.
  • The expert rat handlers are trained in basic nursing care and rat first aid. Routine care includes daily observations of individual animals, weekly health inspections and regular prevention treatments for common parasites. Every week a university vet inspects the rats. When necessary, sick or injured rats are interned at the APOPO sickbay.
  • Their diet consists of high-quality pet pellets, fresh peanuts, plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, sun-dried sardines and clean water that is regularly infused with extra vitamins and minerals to boost the rats’ immune systems
  • On retirement, typically between 7 and 8 years of age, the rats work as long as they are performing well, are happy, and pass their weekly health checks. If a rat decides to stop work, or if its performance has declined, or it is suffering from age-related health problems, it is retired to its home cage. It then continues to receive its usual healthy diet, is regularly taken out to play and exercise, and continues to receive its weekly health checks until it eventually passes away. If a rat is clearly suffering in its old age or from an untreatable disease, it is humanely euthanised.

Want to adopt a rat? Save a limb or a life?

SEE MORE www.apopo.org  https://support.apopo.org/en/adopt 

 

A potpourri of photos (been looking back!)

Been searching – on some old CDs – of old pics taken and these took my fancy for no particular reason – except for the Peackok Fountain photo which I think is my best one of it! Next time I’m in Christchurch I will try for a better one with no buildings to be seen! 🙂

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Southern Alps and the Lord of the Rings – a movie I’ve never seen

Looking through some old photos I came across these and like them … very evocative of Te Waipounamu, Aotearoa,  so thought I post them along with a link to a blog about the only Lord of the Rings trip I’ve taken (from Christchurch )

Note: although the watermark says 2019 these pics were taken about 2009

Seems like crazy drivers but (mostly) safe pedestrians

Intimidated by the fast one-way traffic in Chang Mai, (Northern Thailand) I ask a Canadian “How on earth do you cross the road? These drivers are crazy.”

 

“No, they’re not. You live here a year like I have” he tells me “and by then you’ll learn to just step out into the traffic. They’ll move around you. Just don’t run and don’t stop or they don’t know what you are going to do. There is nothing worse than a farang (foreigner) on the road; they don’t know the rules. Locals hate seeing you front of them, they know you are unpredictable”

 

Sitting over a coffee, I study the busy intersection then, as I don’t have a year to spare, and with my heart pounding, I step into the apparent confusion to put his words to the test. The traffic continues to travel at the same speed, they divide, parting like water around a rock, some to the front of me, some to the back and, heart beating even faster, I walk slowly and evenly across the road.

 

Pulse and breath slowing I realise I’m safely on the other side, no blood! The drivers here seem more aware of the traffic – driving according to conditions rather than rules.

 

This has led to my-theory-about-Asian-driving.  Although it appears to be chaotic, its actually safe, sort of organised chaos: my theory is the school-of-fish-model.

It’s like diving or snorkelling in a school of fish, they absorb you, move around you and carry on just as this traffic is doing.

Safer?  I don’t know, but the longer I’m in Asian and Middle Eastern countries the more keenly my senses are in tune with my surroundings.

Perhaps us western drivers need to be sent to Cairo for driving lessons among 20 million people and we’ll learn to drive with our eyes everywhere on the five lanes of traffic on a three-laned street: driving with centimetres to spare and where I rarely saw a prang and crossed the roads with confidence.

 

 

Christchurch: one of the ‘worlds top 50 cities to visit 2020’ – my quake city revisited

PHOTO attribution: CathedralSquare 2402 By Gabriel Flickr Cathedral Square

It’s some eight or nine years ago that Fodor commissioned me to write about my city – back then we locals were using terms such as ‘the city that shakes’ or ‘shaken not stirred’ and ‘Christchurch rocks’.  Christchurch still rocks but in a very different way – it’s great.

In August, this year, one travel writer likened a tram ride in Christchurch to an amusement ride through a disaster zone – I totally disagree as do many others: it is the only New Zealand entry in ‘The 50 Friendliest Cities In The World’ (7th) and it’s also  the only New Zealand destination to make it into Fodor’s list of the top 52 places to visit in 2020. I suggest you put it on your bucket list.

Christchurch’s inclusion on Fodor’s Go List 2020 ‘seems to stem in large part from its response to the tragedies that have happened there over the past decade’ said one writer.

“South Island’s largest city is back – and better than ever,” the guide declares, adding that it has “wasted no time getting back on its feet after” after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes and 2019 terror attack.

“Not only is Christchurch considered the ‘friendliest city in New Zealand’, according to a 2019 poll, but the evolving metropolis rewards visitors with colonial-era British architecture, enormous parks, panoramic gondola rides, relaxing boat tours down the Avon River, and an exploding public art scene that emerged after the earthquakes.”  (Stuff)

However, for many, there is still some confusion as to why many buildings have not yet been replaced, and in particular, the Christchurch Cathedral still sits in ruins.

Every local has an opinion about the cathedral – from knock it down to, restore it totally, keep some old parts and build something new attached to it, get rid of any cathedral in the square, and many variations on those themes.

Pre quake photos:

Christchurch Cathedral and Chalice before the quake damage

Interior of the cathedral. Ever seen a pavlova in a cathedral with rugby’s Bledisloe Cup?

Christchurch cathedral … in the square

Being Christchurch born, and having lived through hundreds of quakes I too have an opinion – I believed the cathedral should be reinstated – using their insurance money – it, plus the ‘Square’ itself, had played an important role over the previous 100 years.  Because of irreparable damage to many of our Gothic buildings, I believed it was important to maintain as much heritage as we could.

The February 2011 earthquake destroyed the Cathedral‘s spire, part of the tower, and the structure of the remaining building.  On the day of the quake, much more of the tower was deliberately demolished as it was thought that people were trapped inside – luckily this wasn’t so, and the rest of the tower was demolished in March 2012.  When the church started using a wrecking ball on the cathedral, a court injunction was taken out to stop that work – many people believed it should be demolished, piece by piece, numbering the stones so it could be rebuilt.

Later in 2011, after-shocks meant a steel structure – intended to stabilise the rose window – actually destroyed it and the Anglican Church decided to demolish the building and replace it with a new structure.  The church did not consult with locals despite years and years of no, or little city rates – a subsidy paid for by locals, who also helped pay for repairs and a new roof. This made many people angry, resulting in court cases and fundraising to help save the cathedral.

Christchurch Diocesan Synod announced that Christ Church Cathedral would be reinstated after promises of extra grants and loans from local and central government.

The church also says the start of restoration will begin in 2020 and “For most people, the reinstated Cathedral will appear unchanged with its important heritage features retained.  It will be safer, more functional, more flexible and more comfortable.  It will be better equipped for future worship and civic events.”

And, as for the other gaps in the city-scape, many owners of those buildings have chosen not to build for many reasons.  Some will be land-banking them, others will be waiting for the convention centre to be finished (late 2020), while others may be waiting to see what’s missing in the city, what’s needed, and then build that.  Many people have said, this wouldn’t happen in Hong Kong, or Singapore – true, but New Zealand has a democracy, and surprisingly, everyone who owns those pieces of land, often converted to car parks right now, actually can make up their own mind as to what, and when, to redevelop.

I can tell you that one building site, on Armagh Street (beside New Regent Street) will not be started for a few months.  A large flock of our endangered black-billed gulls is nesting among the concrete and reinforcing wire – as they are protected, nothing will happen to this site until they’ve finished nesting, and if they come back in spring next year, the site will remain undeveloped.  An eyesore for many, but possibly a lifesaver for these gulls!

I nested at The Classic Villa, which some years ago was transformed from an Italian style historic home to a 5-star boutique hotel in the cultural precinct of our city centre.

[Note I relocated to Wellington, a decision made in May 2010, some 2-months after the first, and biggest, 7.4 quake on the 4th September 2010 – see photos taken in my inner-city neighbourhood then]

 

 

 

 

Birding in inner city Christchurch

It’s not often I get to bird watch in the centre of the city – of course, Christchurch has the Avon River which attracts native and introduced ducks and other birds, but these little darlings are different.

About 300 critically endangered black-billed gulls (the most endangered gull in the world) have come to the city for summer. Normally nesting on the braided river beds and Canterbury they have set up camp and their nests in inner-city Christchurch, choosing a high-rent area, but pay no rent.

Their preferred, inner-city apartments, are on the site of a partly demolished commercial building one of the many (80%) quake-damaged inner-city buildings. Here, surrounded by islands of concrete and reinforcing steel, no predators are able to steal the eggs or chicks.

Some chicks, unable to fly, and used to nests on the shingle of the Canterbury Plains this high-living has caused problems. When they fall out of their nest they land in the water below, and unable to fly would drown. However, locals who are keeping an eye on them, let the Department of Conservation know and see here, life rafts have been created for them

Reposting … an elephant in Christchurch?

reposting 2016 blog 

and, this week pics

Reposting https://kiwitravelwritertalksfoodtravelandtips.com/2016/03/22/is-there-an-elephant-in-the-room-christchurch-new-zealand/