17 years later…

It took British writer and author J. K. Rowling 17 years to complete the Harry Potter fantasy series. One would say this is such a long journey. Her work, of course, grabs worldwide attention; she becomes of one the greatest writers living.

Here in Phnom Penh, Em Satya, a Cambodian novelist illustrator, has to wait 17 years to get his a romance comic book published; Bopha Battambang (or Flower of Battambang) is now available in print in Khmer language, as English and French version will be made available soon.

An evening of December 13 I was at a book launch at Meta-House, where some expats and local fellows enjoyed the graphic novel exhibition. It’s great, other than listening to elder Satya the illustrator talked about his long-awaited work, I also met some people I hope to.

In a country where reading is not highly motivated and not really considered as leisure and learning, writers find it hard to have their works marketable. And it’s hard to mention that all the works by present writers are not good enough. Same old thing is: Em Satya’s latest comic book is not published by any independent commercial publisher; rather, it’s supported by Our Books, a local non-profit organisation focused on the development of comic art.

Book and reading promotion and awareness are lacking in Cambodia. While history books and novels are popular amongst our surveyed population, it seems there is little familiarity with Cambodian titles and authors except for bestselling novelists and for a few novels printed during the 1940s-1960s.

Born in 1957 in Takeo province, Em Satya is one of several graphic illustrators in war-torn Cambodia, who can earn a living from his artistic works. His talent paid him to survive during the Khmer Rouge regime. Satya began working on Bopha Battambang in 1990 for his own leisure, and it was at the time that Cambodia were so influenced by Indian culture, specifically movies.

Throughout his career, he is mainly an illustrator. Resigned from his post at Ministry of Education, he has worked for local daily newspaper Raksmey Kampuchea, Cambodge Soir, and Magazine Mom and Mab. In 2000, after recovering from stroke, he started to work again with writer Pal Vannarirak, and later moved to Room to Read.

In 2006-2007 Em Satya completed his major work, Bopha Battambang.

In other part of the world, some top selling books are written on mobile phones. Guess where? It’s Japan. Justin Norrie of Sydney Morning Herald has the story: In Japan, cellular storytelling is all the rage.

What makes a team?

In football world, to appoint a new manager or a coach a number of aspects have to be considered. It’s always a tough job to any appointing committee to get the right person for the job, particularly in England, where media are too influential. Not only that the manager has skills, but his history that led his team to win trophy. England’s Football Association made a mistake by hiring Steve McLaren to lead England national team to a historical failure [of all time].

Nobody believe to see a team of young brilliant striker Wayne Rooyney, strong midfielder Steven Gerrad, and solid defender Rio Ferdinand, who all play in the English Premier League, the best league in the world, couldn’t cope with Croatia national team as well as any other team internationally. What’s the glitch here? Is it a sole responsibility of the coach? In a response to this is: yes.

England have lately appointed Fabio Capello, a former Italian football manager, to brainwash the England team to get used to winning habit. Who’s Fabio? Let’s not discuss where he was born, but look at how he has achieved so far. Throughout his career he managed Italian teams like AC Milan, Roma and Juventus, and giant Spanish team Real Madrid. Not surprisingly he oversaw one of the most dominant UEFA Champions League victories of all-time. His appointment is also an interesting point related to ongoing attempt that English football hope to see more national players in their big league. So what’s the heck to have an Italian managing the England national team. Well, the team, usually touted as great with potential to win big trophy, hasn’t done so for such long time. And it’s hopeful that the Italian will bring something new to rebuild the team confidence and start to really exploit their very potential to crush other teams.

Arsenal England’s Arsenal accused of fielding too many foreign players

With a team like England not to shine is probably a tough job to deal with. What makes this English team to perform well and in consistency when they’re on the pitch is really a question. However, the recent defeat is probably not major blow or setback, but something that can be taken for the players to deliver more and to prove their competency.

Back in Phnom Penh, coach Scott O’Donell has just been parted with Cambodia national team for insufficient budget to keep him. Soon after that the country’s soccer federation, with financial assistance of a Korean Technology Company recruited, former South Korean international Yoo Kee-heung to coach the Cambodian team. The team have never won any major tournament in the region.

The weight of the world

“Who is John Galt?”
Is it a cheap American slang?

Atlas Shrugged is the last Ayn Rand’s novel that I’m currently reading, shortly after The Fountainhead. My friend Geoffrey Cain asked me whether I had read Atlas Shrugged when I posted some notes about The Fountainhead. Bigger in scope than the previous book, Ayn the novelist and philosopher blasts the world for conspiracy of silence. The book was published more a decade after the World War II.

I’ve got a used book, a paperback edition, for US$ 3.5 from D’s bookstore in town early this month. Of 1088 pages, I still have more than 500 pages to go, but I can’t wait to post a note of it now.

Ayn Rand’s masterpiece. It integrates the basic elements of an entire philosophy into a highly complex, yet dramatically compelling plot—set in a near-future U.S.A. whose economy is collapsing as a result of the mysterious disappearance of leading innovators and industrialists. The theme is: “the role of the mind in man’s existence—and, as corollary, the demonstration of a new moral philosophy: the morality of rational self-interest.”

In her book, in a democratic country like the United States, its government, the media, the public, and many prominent people rumbles around two people; Dagny Taggart, railroad executive, and Hank Rearden, the inventor of Rearden Metal, who have to carry the weight of the world. The way that the majority are against them is not that they’re too poor in managing their business, but that they’re so incredibly amazing.

The main conflict of the book occurs as the “individuals of the mind” go on strike, refusing to contribute their inventions, art, business leadership, scientific research, or new ideas of any kind to the rest of the world. Society, they believe, hampers them by interfering with their work and underpays them by confiscating the profits and dignity they have rightfully earned. The peaceful cohesiveness of the world requires those individuals whose productive work comes from mental effort. But feeling they have no alternative, they eventually start disappearing from the communities of “looters” and “moochers” who bleed them dry. The strikers believe that they are crucial to a society that exploits them, and the near-total collapse of civilization triggered by their strike shows them to be correct.

According to the author’s Web site, this fiction is an integration of all her philosophy into a novel that is readable, enjoyable by the fact that inventors and innovators are seen as threat to the society. I feel that her literature work plays a fair role in revolutionizing the thinking of American people.

Like so many achievements, Atlas Shrugged received some negative review, too. This is the way thing exists on this planet.

Since a great many of us dislike much that Miss Rand dislikes, quite as heartily as she does, many incline to take her at her word. It is the more persuasive, in some quarters, because the author deals wholly in the blackest blacks and the whitest whites.

But, wait. I’ve just found that, in the Internet movie database, Angelina Jolie will cast businesswoman Dagny Taggart, one with strong mentality, that is expected to be released in 2008.

In Rand’s conclusion, as far as I can guess after reading The Fountainhead, it’s the man like Howard Roark, Hank Rearden, and Dagny Taggart who move the world.

Music goes mobile — Musician goes to street

Meet a Khmer musicianOne December evening, not too cold, a gathering on Sisowath Quay attracted my eyes when I was biking from home to the west bank of the Tonle Sap River for leisure and perspiring. This season, in Phnom Penh, is more or less good for people who love sweater, not sweating.

A gentleman with a guitar was enjoying himself and entertaining some kids (not sure whether they’re street children) and some foreign travelers. I’m not in the world of arts, so I don’t know his name and status. Cool thing is, with only a few minutes, his guitar impressed a dozen of people surrounded him as they were on the walking side of Sisowath Quay. He was playing his guitar and singing some local as well as English songs, which is more than powerful enough to attract people who were driving on the street. It seems he’s pretty sure that his performing art has its own potential to influence or to heal, I would say.

A motor driver told me that the musician occasionally spares his time to give this kind of informal session for the kids who have passion of music. When one couldn’t go to school of arts, the street is the place, among all things.

Street music in Cambodia
After the musician left the spot by his car, the kids, with drums and other stuff that can create sound, gathered to have their performance.

Incidentally I had my little digital camera in my pocket, so I had the chance to capture some images. Digital citizen!

Well, so much different from this post title, I’m not talking anything about your portable music player, mobile phones or iPods. Not at all.

Mac and Book in Phnom Penh

A growing number of cafe in town is surprising. And no wonder, one can get free wi-fi at some of those places, where you can find many young computer enthusiasts surfing the Web [to read the world] with their MacBook. These local Internet users can be categorized as high class users, those who are both materialistic and more personalized when it comes to computing and Internet access. Before long, they have to visit Web cafe, using served computer desktops, mostly secondhand, imported from country like Japan and the United States. Today some of them, these high class people prefer to have new machine, something cool.

MacBook user in Phnom Penh
Apple’s MacBook user in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
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Man’s maturity

So hunger for knowledge, and of course, for new challenges. I’m readily determined to battle all struggle in my road ahead. A couple of remarkable things have been happened in the past months in my age of 25 that I think it’s what I have to take with me to move on.

Several months ago I came across this piece of theory that I have to read it again and again. It’s, as part of information about Japan’s Waseda University, about why it means so much when you reach the age of 25. Japanese scholar and government leader Shigenobu Okuma has the ‘125 years of life’ theory:

“The lifespan of a human being can be as long as 125 years. He will be able to live out his natural lifespan as long as he takes proper care of his health”. The logic behind this is: “Physiologists say that every animal has the ability to live 5 times as long as its growth period. Since a man is said to require about 25 years to become fully mature, it follows that he can live up to 125 years of age.”

Fully mature?
How do I define this? It’s tough, though, to claim oneself a mature man. But this theory seems to imply something that I find it quite amusing. I’ve never questioned myself since when I’ve grown my own maturity to live a sophisticated life. Well, I’m not crying, but I’m craving.

Man’s ego is the fountainhead of human progress

Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead
The Foutainhead, a 1943 novel by Ayn Rand, a Russian-born American. This fiction tells the story of the life of an individualistic young architect, Howard Roark.

Ayn, who studied history and philosophy at St. Petersburg University, is very much known for her best-selling novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and for developing a philosophical system she called Objectivism.

The book was rejected by twelve publishers before a young editor, Archibald Ogden, at the Bobbs-Merrill Company publishing house wired to the head office, “If this is not the book for you, then I am not the editor for you.”

In October I read The Fountainhead, which is a birthday gift from my good American friend, with so much interest and side-effect. Thanks indeed for this thoughtful gift. It’s one the most fascinating novels I’ve had. I had to stay late almost every night, spare some of my lunch break and my days-off trying to get to the last page. Reading this book a number of questions came to mind: what’s ideal, what’s virtue, or what really makes the world moving? The answers don’t have to be given since it’s not necessary for everyone in every aspect.

Howard Roark, in the final page of the story, stands on the top-roof of Gail Wynand’s skyscraper building to claim his victory after many years of battle in his career as an unpopular architect, as claimed by the entire society. Being so good is not good, many characters believe. But before then the whole world is just against him; he has to go on carrying the weight of the world. He is expelled from the Stanton Institute of Technology architecture school before going to work in New York for a disgraced architect, where he establishes his own firm (Howard Roark, The Architect) and has to stand against highly regarded intellectuals and mass public opinions. Nobody admires his great work, except a few people whom he considers as friends. Recognition of his work is judged by public, which, most of the times, he doesn’t accept to follow their common standard. Thus he has a great deal to fight until the last minute; once he has to cope with failure by going to work as a laborer, which is unusual for people in his position, before he can bounce back. Howard Roark is he who does never surrender; he who does not sell his soul.

Howard Roark is an aspiring architect with a unique, uncompromising creative vision, which contrasts sharply with the staid and uninspired conventions of the architectural establishment. He ignores the driving preoccupations of the world around him: wealth, status, regard amongst his fellow men. Roark takes pleasure in the act of creation, but is constantly opposed by “the hostility of second-hand souls” and those unwilling or afraid to recognize his creative ability.

Gail Wynand is the other character who’s almost as great as Howard. Gail is a powerful newspaper mogul who rose from a destitute childhood in the ghettoes of New York City to control the city’s print media, whom Rand describes as “a man who could have been.”

In 1968, 25 years after her novel published, Ayn Rand wrote the last appeal for the great work:
“The Fountainhead is a confirmation of the spirit of youth, proclaiming man’s glory, showing how much is possible.
It does not matter that only a few in each generation will grasp and achieve the full reality of man’s proper stature–and that the rest will betray it. It is those few that move the world and give life its meaning–and it is those few that I have always sought to address. The rest are no concern of mine; it is not me or The Fountainhead that they will betray: it is their own souls”.

I know nothing about building design or architecture. I learned very little about it when reading the book, and that I learn how to appreciate the work of architect, how new building get erected. You would get nothing if you want to be a great architect by reading this novel. However this book gives you everything if you hope to understand what it means to be an idealist, of how a man should live his life.

Next, “Who is John Galt?”
I’m currently reading Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand’s novel published in 1957 in the United States.