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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Debt strains Cambodian New Year celebration

By Greg Mellen Staff Writer


LONG BEACH - Regardless of the weather, the Cambodian New Year parade will step off Sunday attempting to clear a financial fog that surrounds the annual event.

Just last week, the Cambodian Coordinating Council, which organizes the annual parade and a separate New Year's celebration at El Dorado Park on April 25, put the finishing touches on a multi-year payment plan to make up a shortfall of about $40,000. The group has already made a $5,000 payment.

How organizers ended up $40,000 in debt for an event that costs about $40,000 in city fees and for which there are sponsors, fundraising, and - in the case of the El Dorado Park event, a hefty admission charge - depends on whom one asks.

And then there are the looming costs.

In the wake of the economic downturn, leaders of this year's parade and celebration say they are somewhere between $10,000 and $20,000 short of the money they need.

Although the parade is good to go, the April 25 celebration is still in limbo, although leaders assure it will happen.

Much of the parade and celebration leadership this year is new and the group says these board members are bringing new vitality and business acumen to the group. They are promising to open their books and be "transparent," but not quite yet.

Parade organizers say the city boosted its fees for the event last year from about $25,000 to $40,000 and they never recovered. Some say the city never adequately explained why the costs rose so sharply or gave them fair warning.

David Ashman, manager of special events in the city, said in the first few years of the parade the city "capped" its fees. Also, then-6th District City Councilwoman Laura Richardson's office was able to provide help and the parade had several major donors, including Sound Energy Solutions, which has left Long Beach.

"We capped city costs and absorbed costs to help them get on their feet," Ashman said of the first three years. "It was a different time and we could afford to do that."

With the city's burgeoning budget deficit, Ashman says the city can no longer take on those costs, especially in areas such as public safety, public works and traffic management.

"We're under a directive to recover the full costs for those," Ashman said.

Still, the question of how a $15,000 increase in costs translates into a $40,000 deficit is unclear.

Late last year, the city began negotiating the debt with the Cambodian Coordinating Council and settled on the current payment plan.

Some organizers said they had to keep some money in their account for operating expenses and emergencies and they are still working on the books to figure out where the rest went.

Others say money had to be paid up front to put on this year's parade and celebration.

Ashman says about $13,000 has been paid in advance for a traffic vendor and other costs.

Anthony Kim, who is now heading finances, says about $20,000 has been raised this year.

When asked if he worries the celebration may not happen, Kim is adamant.

"It never crossed my mind," Kim says.

Kim and others on the finance committee are trying to raise the needed money and promise they'll get there.

One initiative they are particularly hopeful about is the One Dollar Donation Campaign. They say if every resident went online to their Web site, www.cam-cc.org, and donated $1, the group would be flush.

The cost of putting on the events this year was originally estimated at $44,000, but the Department of Parks, Recreation and Marine has waived a number of rental and application fees and helped organizers find a variety of cost-cutting measures that reduce the bill.

Also, post-parade activities have been moved from MacArthur Park to an empty Redevelopment Agency lot on Anaheim Street and Walnut Avenue to pare costs.

Phylypo Tum said the new board debated whether to drop the parade because of the added costs, but couldn't do it.

"The board decided we owe it to the community. We said, `We'll stick together no matter what it costs."' Tum said.

greg.mellen@presstelegram.com, 562-499-1291
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Thai FM says sorry for vocabulary misunderstanding with Cambodian PM

PHNOM PENH, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya has apologized to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen for the misunderstanding of the word he used to describe the premier, according to his letter received here on Thursday.

"Do kindly accept my deep apology for such an unfortunate incident and the unintentional cause of misunderstanding," said the foreign minister in the official letter dated April 1 for the prime minister.

"I have the honor to refer to the recent news reports that Your Excellency is concerned with the terms that I used to describe Your Excellency during the parliamentarian debate session in Thailand," he wrote in the letter.

"In the Thai language, the word 'Nak Leng' which I used during the debate means a person who is lion-hearted, a courageous and magnanimous gentleman, and this is what I referred to you as an expression of my appreciation of and respect for Your Excellency," he added.

On Tuesday, Hun Sen lashed out against Kasit Piromya, for he recently called the premier a "gangster."

"I am neither a gangster nor a gentleman, but a real man," the official Agence Kampuchea Presse quoted the prime minister as telling a road inauguration ceremony in Sihanouk province.

Hun Sen asked the Thai foreign minister to correct the comments that he made.

"To correct or not, it is your right. But, I wish that you choose good words because we are neighbors. We need mutual respect," he added.

According to the prime minister, Kasit Piromya called him a "gangster," because he was angry with the premier for having issued an ultimatum to Thailand to pull its troops out of the Cambodian border area of Veal Intry last October.

Thai troops had armed clash with the Cambodian ones there in October last year, causing death and casualties on both sides.
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Drawing From the Music of '60s Cambodia

By ASPLIN Steve


REVIEW * * * * Dengue Fever, Venus on Earth -------------------- REVIEW * * Bedouin Jerry Can Band, Coffee Time -------------------- The recent Womad festival in New Plymouth had the band Dengue Fever performing their brand of psychedelic pop rock. Last year they released their third album through Peter Gabriel's label, Real World Records.

Like previous albums, Venus on Earth features Cambodian vocalist Chhom Nimol singing in her native tongue, Khymer. The difference is that on this album there are also several songs performed in English or a mix of the two languages.

A six-member group founded by American brothers Ethan and Zac Holtzman in 2001, Dengue Fever draw inspiration from a '60s sound pioneered by Cambodian artists Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Sereysothea. Their first two albums mostly comprised cover versions of these artists' songs.

This album's addition of songs in English makes it more accessible to those who do not speak Khymer. These tracks nicely segment the recording without compromising the band's sound.

With instrumental flavours that include the distinctive Farfisa organ and music that uses Asian scales in the accompaniment, Venus on Earth gives an aural snapshot of another place.

In terms of authenticity, it is difficult to assess its relevance to what really occurred in the Cambodian music scene in the '60s, but the songwriting traverses the language barrier.

The awareness that many listeners will not understand the lyrics seems to have given the band extra incentive to make their parts more interesting. Venus on Earth is refreshingly different, with the focus planted firmly on the music and the shared vision of the members of Dengue Fever. Musicians are sometimes nomadic by nature but the Bedouin Jerry Can Band truly espouses the lifestyle. From the Egyptian Sinai desert, the band are made up of travelling poets, storytellers, coffee grinders and musicians.

This group caused a minor controversy and attracted criticism in their first performances, as they used left- over munitions casings and petrol cans from previous military conflicts as instruments. Using these objects as percussive instruments was perceived to be insulting to many in their native musical community, who view music as sacred and saw these additions as corrosive to the Bedouin cultural heritage.

These criticisms were not shared by audiences, however, and the group's popularity has increased exponentially in the Bedouin community. According to the band, this is largely due to the increase in MP3 players imported into the region via the Suez Canal.

The opening track of this disc is painful to listen to. Luckily, the rest of the songs don't follow in quite the same discordant fashion. They are, however, quite repetitive, and there is little variation in the rhythms or instrumentation.

The jangle of the Simsimiyya, like a lute, or five-string ukelele, is incessant throughout all the songs, and although there is some respite with group chanting on some tracks, it is a little difficult to actively listen to Coffee Time.

The highlight on the album is the song Mallate, which is performed a cappella style, just with vocals and clapping. The tracks that follow it are also similar in their performance, and this works better than the early songs. This album would be much more pleasant if the last five tracks were put first and five of the songs in the middle were cut from the disc.
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