Inter-Ethni-Cities: Cham Images of Chinese New Year

It’s Chinese new year. Right now and right here in Phnom Penh, today. It was also back then and back there, in that 60’s little town of Sala Lekh Pram, 60 kms away from Phnom Penh, miles into Kompong Chhnang province, a bouncy urbish square of land, flowing by the national road, holding on to the lake. The market is still around, sleepy when the sun is acting up, awake when coffee hasn’t been served yet to a weird assortment of moviegoers and dark-brew-sippers in that even quirkier western like saloon – sorry meant coffee-shop – screening the most illogical – and shall I add deliciously immoral? – selection of pirate VCDs. That market summarizes quite the intricacies of that idiosyncratic center of the world that Sala Lekh Pram can be to some. Sort of. In many sorts. Continue reading

Family Sagas Season I Episode III: Ong San & A Lost (American?) Brother

Up to this day, still attractive I am sure. Sitting, still tall I can tell. ”Haven’t seen you in a while”. The smile also the same. ”It’s been some time. You don’t come much to the mosque anymore, where have you been?”. The voice has aged a bit, but it still holds on to the air. It still hangs in. Just like when Ong San was a ‘Bilal’ holding on the call for prayer, just when I was an anthropology undergrad, hanging out at the mosque. Me hours in, listening. Him hours out, chanting more than a mere call: for the ‘Bilal’ – named after the first muezzin of Islam – has a voice performing a much more important function among Chams – and more specifically the ‘followers the Imam San’ – than in other places. The photography goes from my hand to his: a double, enlarged. A smile, quite large. ”Oh… I forgot you framed that one”. Lost for a minute: ”It sure was back in the days!” bursts the laugh, deep, from the bottom of the lungs, if only laughs could be prayers… Continue reading

Family Sagas Season I Episode II: Kai Team in Singapore

Kai Team, on a trip to Singapore, circa 50's-60's.

Kai Team, on a trip to Singapore, circa 50’s-60’s.

In a previous post which I hoped showed how little photos can make big histories, I introduced Ly Mah and her upcoming family saga. Following the daughter, Ly Mah, then pictured in her best attire to go to the movies, comes the portrait of a young, handsome, colorful man: the father, Kai Team.

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Family Sagas Season I Episode I: Ly Mah & Aesah

Ly Mah & Aesah, 1968.

Ly Mah & Aesah, 1968.

A tall woman. A pendant made out of gold, or at least a golden shade, applied later, applied for better. Finger waves. A touch of rouge. A certain elegance in the way the hand uncertainly hangs on the body. And just pure elegance holding on to the whole pose, holding together the whole picture, holding together the two young ladies. Meet Ly Mah in her seventeen. Meet her as an introduction to a series of family sagas I have long been willing to share.

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The Notebooks’ Diaries Day 1: Ordering the Disorder.

An intro first? Here.

Finally opened… The first notebook even read cover to cover… Well, what a trip… In time, in space and in my former me-self’s own expectations / hopes / interpretations of what ethnography should have been. There is so much in the 228 pages I read today, so much stuff all around, in all kinds of directions, that I am not even sure where to start. But an interesting thing though: what I see in those lines is my constant search, at the time, for order. There was a thing going around, like a virus, probably contagious: that a good ethnography would require an index, categories, color codes, key words… And sometimes, I think that it is probably right: given the amount of ‘stuffs’ that I had collected, ordering that mess in time could only have only been productive. But I didn’t. I did try to put a system together, that I don’t have the codes for it anymore. And the system doesn’t do much if it stays just that: a system. You need to apply it systematically, as in a batch, in order for it to work, to make sense. I didn’t get to that. So now I have a system and no translation. So, today, I am going to attempt one. To gather the pieces, and try deciphering it. Continue reading

Inseperable Genres: Of a Few Stories & Many Gender Possibilities

Act 3, Scene 3.

‘’You know he is not really a man in fact…’’. Ong-Always-Cranky (for he is always cranky) says. There has been a silence before that. Not a usual thing with Ong-Always-Cranky. The silence followed the departure of the couple from the hill, as they left the little ascetic community covered up by the forest and the stupas of the former Cambodian royal capital of Udong. The couple had been living here for a week or so. That’s what they did, in life. Going from one hill to another, one monastery to another, one retreat refuge to another, mapping all the country’s unworldly world, together, hand in hand. Continue reading

Back to the ‘multi-ethnic’ infinity and beyond: Girlfriends & Shopping

The picture is as simple as it gets. An absolute statement that minimalism is understated. When a single studio portrait can unpack so much. An invitation to question ethnic borders and limits. In a previous post it was all about Phnom Penh. Now let’s go along the river to Sala Lekh Pram, sit for a minute and see that indeed cosmopolitanism was never strictly a capital thing.

Moeun at a Sala Lekh Pram Photo Studio - 1962

Moeun at a Sala Lekh Pram Photo Studio – 1962

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A wedding today… Others, 40 years ago.

Today I was invited to the wedding of Tiya, whom I have known for a decade and grown found of over the years. She also happens to be the grand daughter of Mouh Som and Ong Leb, who have been watching over me along the way, both as teachers and substitute grand-parents. Tiya and Adam’s wedding is also the last one of a series I recently attended and filmed, simply entitled ‘3 Weddings’, and that will soon be uploaded in the video section of this blog. Before those come in, I thought about a couple of old wedding pictures I had, that would perfectly match the mood of the day in complete continuity. Continue reading