Visa Run to Chau Doc

The woman in the seat across from me calmly said, “I don’t know it you quite understand. I can’t swim and this is my worst nightmare.” Another whitecap slapped against the side of the glorified canoe riding low in the water and splashed over the top.

“If we go into the water,” and that was looking more likely by the minute,” put on a life jacket, grab onto the end of this wrapper and I’ll pull you to shore. I’m a strong swimmer.” Okay, so doing laps in the heated pools in Sydney don’t quite count. Neither does bobbing around in the waves on a couple of scuba dives, but I figured the exaggeration might help instil a bit of confidence. The wrapper would put some distance between us in case she panicked.

IMG_2031The Mekong River – about five kilometres across – was deserted. As the tropical storm approached the small boats headed for shore; they wouldn’t reappear until the wind and rain died down. The fat translator from Delta Adventure could call for help, but how quickly that would happen in Cambodia was hard to calculate. I figured we’d be in the water for a while, which wasn’t life threatening unless there were currents or undertows.

Why the Mekong?

Off to an easy start.

We – 11 passengers and three crew members – had left Chau Doc about five hours earlier. I’d skipped across the border into Vietnam on a visa run the day before. After an interesting little exchange at customs they had finally issued a work permit. So, theoretically, now I can stay in Cambodia forever if I want to keep renewing my permit by the year. And I don’t even have to leave the country.

Bailing with a bucket.

Flashing back to the situation on the boat, even though I don’t understand Khmer, I recognize panic in most languages. And the crew was worried as we were taking on water quickly. Boy-Rambo stripped off, disappeared into the hold and started to bail with a plastic bucket.

“Does anyone have any duck tape?” was the question from the engine room. Boy-Rambo bobbed up and tried to fix the sump-pump while the water continued to gush in. Actually no. I carry a few band-aids in my medical travel kit, but that wasn’t going to be much help.

“Expect the best, plan for the worst.” My neighbour had a zip-lock bag and I emptied mine so there was enough room for everyone’s passports.

“Is anyone here a good swimmer?” The guy in front of me volunteered so I figured it best if he took the zip-locks and I concentrated on the woman who couldn’t swim.

Boy-Rambo in action.

Suddenly Boy-Rambo headed for the front of the boat, grabbed a package of cigarettes and turned around with a red lighter between his teeth. He bolted back to the engine room and disappeared into the hold. Hells bells, he was going to melt the plastic covering on the wires on the sump-pump to fuse them. And right next to where he was standing were five or six plastic jerry-cans of petro. The fat translator held the cover down to keep the wind from blowing out the flame.

Goody, goody. If the petro blew it would be like an exploding cigar in a black and white movie. While I often say I want a Muslim burial, ending up at sea like Osama Bin Laden wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. The seconds ticked; the wind howled; the rain lashed; the boat bobbed.

But karma, good ju-ju and inshallah were all on our side. The sump-pump kicked in and we headed for the dock in Phnom Penh. The windshield wiper couldn’t clear fast enough, so one driver steered and the other held open the window so he could see where he was going.

Phnom Penh comes into sight.

Fortunately now that I have a working permit stamped in my passport I don’t have to make a visa run every 90-days.




“Enter” by Anida Yoeu Ali

The exhibit by Anida Yoeu Ali opened at the InterContinental Phnom Penh on 16 May  2013. And everyone rocked up for the event.  Apologies for not being able to move, size or otherwise work with the photos. That is next week’s steep learning curve.

Scroll down for information on the artist. JH

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As lifted from the opening announcement, “Anida Yoeu Ali is an artist whose works span performance, installation, video, poetry, public encounters and political agitation.

She is a first generation Muslim Khmer woman born in Cambodia and raised in Chicago. After residing for over three decades outside of Cambodia, Ali returned to work in Phnom Penh as part of her 2011 Fullbright Fellowship

Utilizing an interdisciplinary approach to artmaking, her installation and performance works investigates the artistic, spiritual and political collisions of a hybrid transnational identity. From the Faroe Island to the Bronx, Copenhagen to Ho Chi Minh City, she lectures, exhibits and performs internationally. She is a collaborative partner with Studio Revolt, an independent artist run media lab in Phnom Penh, Cambodia”.



Books for the Dump Kids: A Photo Essay

$55 from “Bank Iris” bought a lot of books, markers, papers, crayons, posters and face-paint for the kids at the dump.

Apologies for the lop-sided photos. I need a 10-year old to give me a tutorial on how to load them properly. JH

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Harry’s 40th-Something Birthday

Harry – a Texan who sounds as though he traded IMG_1829in his twang for an Australian drawl – celebrated his birthday on 14 May. Being the owner of the “Sundance Inn and Saloon” he generously shouted his friends, regulars, strays and assorted others an evening of food, drinks and music on the house.

Skip on the drums.

Sauntering in at about 20:00, the place was already rocking, with a live band tuning up. I minced up to the bar and asked for a gin and tonic – the tropical tipple of choice to ward off the dreIMG_1752aded malaria. The young Cambodian bartender pulled out a bottle of Bombay Sapphire and started to free-pour into a tumbler. I watched open-mouthed as the gin kept running. Then she dropped in a slice of lime, added a few ice-cubes and topped it up with a touch of tonic. The drink was massive, enough to starve off the mossies for the rest of the wet season. The general measure of spirits in the Kingdom of Wonder – as Cambodia is known – is a carefully calculated thimble-full. This saloon-pouring approach was enough to make me think Butch Cassidy might stroll in at any minute. But nobody would have noticed as the place was already awash with interesting types.



IMG_1780So, with drink in hand, I mixed-and-mingled. A few people knew each other, most didn’t. But, frankly, it didn’t matter anyway as everyone was just into having a good time. During the course of the evening I met – among various others – a yoga teacher from Morocco, a singer/tourist from New Zealand and a Swiss organizer from one of the multitude of NGOs that line Street 240.

IMG_1789And the food just kept coming: succulent chicken pieces, sliced eggplant, veggie wraps, marinated meat. The kitchen worked overtime; as quickly as it was consumed, it was replaced.

After a spectacular evening of charming company, fab food and bourgeois booze I made my slightly-inebriated way home. Once there I slid into bed and slept well. Really, I deserved a hangover the next morning. But when that didn’t happen it added to my evaluation that it had been a “perfect” event. Or, as Skip noted, “It was quite the tribal-blow-out with some interesting moments.”


IMG_1784The Sundance Inn and Saloon is going to become my regular. And I’ve already pencilled 14 May 2014 into my iCalendar.


Sliding into Cambodian Art: The Chhim Sothy Exhibit Opening

Sauntering into an art exhibit opening in a new country is always an experience that I approach without any brush strokes. No expectations; no preconceived notions.

The Tamarind Restaurant on Street 240 – better known as NGO Road – was art-deco-ed out for the event.IMG_1623

And Chhim Sothy – the Cambodian artist with the solo exhibit – apparently has a bit of a following, judging by the locals who turned up. Off to a good start.

As is my MO (modus operandi for those fortunate enough to have escaped Latin) I minced in to check it out. Hummmm, engaging, but nothing that grabbed me by the throat. Perhaps because I’ve seen similar abstract paintings elsewhere: Sydney, Saskatoon, Singapore. But then, I’m not an art critic. Rather, just an arty chick who critiques.







After about my third sangria – which helped wash down the irresistible tapas-to-drool-for that just kept coming – I extracted myself from the usual chit-chat and wandered up to the second floor.

Ah, alone in an artistic space. And there it was – the painting I’d been looking for. One glance and it screamed “Cambodia” at me. The kramar – a scarf that also serves as a head-wrap, a brow-mopper, a baby sling and a host of other uses; the figure picking across the garbage dump with a bag to collect the recycle-ables. For me the painting had all the signs and symptoms of global suffering and universal hope.

My Family
Tony and Chhim Sothy

Back on the ground floor, I nudged my friend Tony to introduce me to the artist. When I waxed eloquently about “My Family” – as the painting was titled – Chhim Sothy asked if I wanted to buy it. Yes, but – alas – it wouldn’t fit into the one suitcase, the carry-on and the diaper bag that hold all my worldly possessions. So the photo will have to suffice.

We chatted and Chhim Sothy gave me a copy of his press release. From that I learned he was born in Kandal province in 1969. Then he moved to Phnom Penh and studied traditional Khmer painting at the Royal University of Fine Arts. From what I can gather, he has had a varied career of bureaucracy and freelance that spans exhibits in nine countries and various awards.

Alas, Chhim Sothy doesn’t have a web site or an email address. But you can contact him on (855) 12-83-22-28 or at No 1 Eo, Street 109, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. So when you are in Phnom Penh, do be sure to go around and check out his work.



J.A. Pineda, Salvadoran poet, author, actor – Guest Post



Cracking whips awake the quiet sea of dreams

steel blue waves peel across the razor sharp reef

black mambas slither, accentuating her grief

towards the otherworld,  her soul careens


The nightingale inquires , Where have you been?

as he scales prison walls,  constructed of fools gold

free at last of dire dungeons, open skies to behold

on cats feet he escapes Her Majestys Pleasure mean


The peacock struts, demands, What have you seen?

as the wild boy treads the lost road of rebel souls

feline, across the grass-plot his heart sings and tolls

leaving behind the carnage of penal colony obscene


Like a jaguar in the jungle he bounds into a secret garden

there did Voltaire hunger and quest in search of Eldorado

as the plum tree did dance in the wind screaming, bravo

the big cat outruns the handcuffs and rifles of men


On intoxicating mescalito drinks does he now feast

the perfumed air of thrall girl excites and lingers

the sands of time run through his bejeweled fingers

lest he become a revenant, as the moon rises oer the east


The thrall girl  on a stringed instrument does play

guides him away from the realm of the dead

he drunk on heady wine and cannabis bread

the warrior is fated not to die on this divine day


Once they flattered and deceived in order to betray

fawned and smiled to plunder and stab him in the back

the reef is dotted with sea urchins of  claret and black

from chains his soul is saved as the thrall girl does pray

Up close and personal.
Up close and personal.