Thursday, November 01, 2007

Hanuman, air-con and Chum Mey

I mentioned yesterday about a new job and a place to live now that I’ve relocated – lock, stock and barrel – to Phnom Penh. I’ve been fortunate to hook up with my pals Nick Ray and Kulikar Sotho at Hanuman Tourism, where Kulikar is Executive Director and my boss. Hanuman is a brand that is going places – providing tours, its own boutique hotel, fine arts, antiques and clothing outlets and film production services – and I’m extremely pleased to be on-board. I’ll be working on the tours we provide in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos as well as hotel liaison, website, brochure and all things in-between.

This is a Cambodian-owned company brimming with fresh, talented young Khmers and I’ll be the ‘old-hand’ helping out where I can add value. The tourism industry is new to me after thirty years in banking back home in the UK, but it’s at the core of what I’ve been doing in Cambodia since 1994, so some might say, the job is ‘tailor-made’. It’s abundantly clear that my new colleagues are very committed to their work and to Kulikar’s vision of providing ‘travel with a personal touch’. To that end, I’ll be working closely with Nick, the editor of the Lonely Planet Guide to Cambodia, and with his encyclopaedic knowledge of all of the Mekong countries, it’s an ideal opportunity for me to learn from him and to pass on what I know. It’s a challenge but one I’m up for, after a tumultuous last nine months in my life.

As for my new living accommodation, with the help of a tenacious Khmer friend, I’ve secured a tw0-bedroomed flat a few blocks away from the Hanuman office – in the expat-favoured Boeung Keng Kang 1 area of the city – living above the landlady and her family and within spitting distance of some handy restaurants, bars and a supermarket. Thank goodness I have the essential air-con, having already experienced the heat and humidity, which is far greater than my usual visits in the cooler months of December/January.

I made a bee-line for the Vann Nath exhibition of paintings on display at the Bophana Center and whilst the artist wasn’t around, I did meet another of the survivors of Tuol Sleng, Chum Mey. He was at the Center to record his recollections for their living archive and was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions. Chum Mey was incarcerated in Tuol Sleng and suffered interrogation and torture before the Vietnamese invasion and was one of the S-21 Seven, lucky enough to escape alive. His own family and up to 17,000 others at Tuol Sleng weren’t as fortunate. Whilst he told me in detail about his treatment at S-21 and his views on the ongoing tribunal, its clear the memories of the Khmer Rouge regime still haunt him to this day. I wanted to ask him about the period after Pol Pot was ousted and his life outside Tuol Sleng but I felt I’d intruded on his memories enough already and thanked him for his time. I hope he can find the answers he is still seeking.
The author & Chum Mey at the Bophana Center.

No comments: