Sunday, May 21, 2006


I'm just killing a few hours until 3pm when Leeds take on Watford in the Play-off final to decide who gets the third promotion place into the money-spinning Premiership. Basically the whole season comes down to this last game - it doesn't get more nail-bitingly nervous than this! Two years ago Leeds were heading for oblivion, but they've turned it around and are on the threshold of bouncing back to the top flight earlier than I, and many others, ever thought possible. Come on you Leeds...

[Update at 6pm... we lost 3-nil and were second best. I'm gutted but there's always next season.]

A pal in Australia has written to me asking for a shout-out to anyone who can help with her Cambodian Orphans appeal. Gaye Miller is putting on a fundraising dinner in Melbourne on 29 July and is seeking support.

I received an email the other day from a gentleman who'd been in Cambodia in the very early 70s and reminisced about his time in Phnom Penh. I'm sure he won't mind me reprinting parts of his email here:
"I thought Phnom Penh was a lovely city. It had more character and touch of the French than Saigon. Unfortunately I never did get to Angkor Wat. On my next to last trip, it was monsoon season. Four of us caught an Air Cambodge in what was a DC-5 with no luggage racks but fans on the walls. The countryside was like a big lake. We stayed at Le Phnom which was Le Royal on the last visit. The five of us got peddicabs and took a tour of the town. It got dark, and I had a friend coming to the hotel, so I made all kinds of signals to my driver that whichever peddicab got back to the hotel first, he would win 5000 riels. He finally understood and told the others. When he took off I almost got whiplash. This was the first Phnom Penh Peddicab Race. I think it's time to have another.
Phnom Penh was a beautiful city, but it was swollen by refugees from the country. The Institute for Defense Analysis came up with a novel way to conduct a census. Every person, man, woman, or child, eats one cup of uncooked rice per day. So they measured the rice consumption for a couple of months and came up with an estimate. I was out to the north west of Phnom Penh where a friend was building a small house. A couple of miles away, 155 artillery shells were impacting at a railroad crossing called Toul Leap. Then a Huey and a Cobra helicopter appeared, cocked their tails up in the air and fired rockets. They left and three T-28s from Pochentong came over and dropped some 500 lb. bombs. They were followed by three A-37s that also dropped some ordnance. Vietnamese were flying this type of plane in 1972; so I don't know if they were VN or American, but it was obviously coordinated. I had a 2X telextender on my camera as I crawled up a tree to get a better view. I didn't care if it looked as if I had taken the pictures through a Kleenex, I wanted a close-up of the action."

Memories - don't you just love them.

Another email arrived yesterday and said... "I've come across your website - I would like to personally thank you for putting a vast range of information about cambodia. Its really touching for me as a cambodian-american, I think personally you touch every key aspect of cambodia from the history to the tragedy."
I'm blessed as I get that type of email regularly and they continue to inspire me and confirm that I was spot-on when I decided to post my first travelogue tales from Cambodia, way back in Feb 1999. At the time Cambodia was still viewed with suspicion and nervousness by many travellers and since then, I hope I've done my small bit to allay some of those fears and bring a human face to travel in Cambodia. I don't claim to have single-handedly increased the tourist arrivals past the 1 million mark but I've been part of a wave of writers and travellers who've been to Cambodia, discovered its beauty and wanted to shout it from the roof-tops. Of course it has a down-side - there's bloody tourists everywhere! - but each one of them has a ripple effect on the Khmer people who are a special people, they have survived so much and deserve better. Cambodia has so much to offer the traveller although overwhelmingly, it is the spirit and the warmth of the people that makes it such an exceptional destination.

Update on the BBC tv Casualty visit to Cambodia;
Cathy Shipton, aka Duffy (pictured), is flying out this weekend and looks like she'll have a week to absorb the culture and learn her lines before her part of the filming schedule begins. She has to speak Khmer so she's honing her language skills on the plane and is really looking forward to visiting Angkor Wat early in the trip. Cathy's character, one of the original and most popular in the drama series, has been off the scene for a couple of years, so it'll be a welcome return for her legion of fans for this special double episode of the drama, due to be screened around September.

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