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Sunday, April 05, 2009

New Years, Cambodian style in White Center

Samantha Sambath samples a traditional treat from Cambodia, pineapple with salt and pepper, at a neighborhood festival in celebration of that country’s New Year. The event, held Saturday, April 4, was sponosored by the Cambodian Cultural Alliance of Washington.

By Steve Shay

The Cambodian community celebrated that country's New Year at a White Center street festival, Saturday, April 4.

It was a sunny day and the festival was in full swing at 15th Avenue Southwest at Southwest 98th Street in White Center.

A stage draped in Cambodian decor featured entertainment with traditional dance, music and games. There were booths with authentic traditional arts and crafts, food, and information tables for Cambodian charities, as well as other organizations like the White Center Food Bank.

The New Years tradition is called Chaul Chnam Thmey and falls on April 13 to 15. The community event was organized by the Cambodian Cultural Alliance of Washington.

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Lost in Cambodia

By Kim Echlin

Hamish Hamilton

A lover goes missing in the aftermath of the Vietnam War in Kim Echlin's new novel, The Disappeared

"Things do not suddenly happen to us. Things happen step by step." These are the thoughts of Kim Echlin's protagonist, Anne Greves, as she nears the end of a dangerous pilgrimage in the Toronto writer's new novel, The Disappeared. They are words echoed on every page of Echlin's remarkable novel.

When the book opens, Anne is a young, Montreal girl interested in blues music. While at a jazz club with friends, she meets a young Cambodian man, 21-year-old Serey, five years her senior, who is in exile in the West. The year is 1979, Cambodia is controlled by the odious Pol Pot regime and Serey, a musician, is unable to contact his family. The borders, and all communication, have been closed.


Anne and Serey fall deeply in love, much to the dismay of Anne's father, a widower, who has raised her in an emotionally remote manner, with the help of a French housekeeper. Anne's affair with Serey, although reckless, is rich and rewarding. Looking back, Anne muses, "I never felt any forbiddenness of race or language or law. Everything was animal sensation and music. You were my crucifixion, my torture and rebirth. I loved your eyes, the tender querying of your voice in song." She remembers, too, that what she learned from her mother is "that those we love can disappear suddenly, inexplicably. And then there is nothing."

When the Vietnamese invade Cambodia and the Pol Pot government is overthrown, Serey does, indeed, disappear. He tells Anne he must return to find his parents and younger brother, to know if they have survived. He made no promise to return. Anne is frantic.

Echlin's novel shifts, then, from radiant love story to desperate search. After waiting 11 years for Serey, Anne, consumed by erotic longing, sets out to find him. She arrives in Phnom Penh during the turmoil of national elections. Corruption is rampant. Violence trumps reason and chaos prevails. "They talked about observing elections but no one saw the village meetings after dark when people were told how to vote and people who asked questions were beaten, killed. Foreigners said, Keep the eyes of the world here, but the people knew that borders and banks close and foreigners leave and wires are cut and bodies disappear and the thirst for power spreads like the odour of rotting, terrifying everyone into obedience. No one can force compassion. But it can be extinguished."


With the help of Mau, a taxi driver, and a fellow Canadian dispatched to Cambodia to record the genocide that had happened there, Anne finds her lover, changed, as is she, by the traumatic events of the decade they had spent apart. But their love remains strong, struggling to flourish despite the fate of Serey's family, despite the guilt he carries, despite the underground political work with which he is now engaged. Serey had found Cambodia a fraud, a country with the false trappings of a new democracy, but without the reality. The round-the-clock killing had continued.

Looking back, years later, Anne remembers she and her lover had pledged themselves to each other, despite what they knew might happen. Even unto death.

In a brief 228 pages, Echlin manages to juxtapose the horrific depravity of the Pol Pot era, and its brutal successor, against the power and resilience of individual human courage.
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Cambodia, Thailand agree to prevent new border clash

BANGKOK, Thailand and Cambodia agreed on Sunday during an urgent meeting that their commanders would increase their supervising over their soldiers to prevent re-occurrence of the Friday's clash, in which two Thai soldiers were killed.

Maj Gen Kanok Natrakawesana, commander of Thailand's Suranaree Task Force, held the urgent meeting with Cambodian Maj Gen Srey Doek in Preah Vihear Temple on Sunday morning, the website by The Nation newspaper reported.

"If any problem happens, commanders of both sides would immediately step in to prevent any new fighting," Kanok said, describing the urgent meeting as constructive.

Meanwhile, Srey Doek told Khmer media that the meeting was held in order to make the situation return normal and to make sure there 's no more gunfire.

"We have agreed to stay on our own sides of the border," Srey Doek said.

Concerning last week's exchanges of gunfire, Kanok said it was a misunderstanding and both countries had already discussed and solved the misunderstanding.

"We have agreed that we will cooperate more and such fighting would not happen again," Kanok said.
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