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Tragic Telly and the Phnom Penh Pirates

By: EAS Staff Posted: January-01-2006 in
EAS Staff

With no English speaking cinemas in Phnom Penh and only one bowling alley, watching television and DVDs plays a large part in 99% of expatriate's lives. It is a great way to unwind and relax and most expats have a DVD library that would put your average Video Ezy to shame. Many people go all the way and buy huge wall-mounted flat screen televisions and one chap I know even has a couple of rows of leather seats set-up and a popcorn machine so his mates can have a true cinema-style experience. I hadn't been to the cinema in years before moving to Cambodia and now it is a weekly occurrence - albeit in my living room.

Let's look at the idiot box first. Variety is not a problem as the content comes from all over the world - Russia, America, Australia, and various European countries all have dedicated channels and then you have Thai, Malaysian, Japanese, Chinese, Indonesian and of course Khmer television. CBN, CNN, ESPN, National Geographic, Animal Kingdom, The Australian Network, Star Movies, Star Sports, Cinemax, HBO, Star World AXN, TV5Monde, Discovery Channel, CCTV Channel News Asia, RAI, Channel V, True Visions…the list goes on and on. All that interesting television from all over the world to keep oneself fully informed of word events…… HOWEVER! Watching television in Cambodia is extremely frustrating and it really is an idiot box here. There are no TV guides to speak of so you end up endlessly and mindlessly cruising channels with the remote in the vain hope you will happen upon a decent programme just as it starts. I have blisters on my thumbs from using my remote and there are times when I have lapsed into a trance like coma from rapid fire channel browsing. More than once I have hurled the remote across the room in utter disgust.

The shows vary from excellent to absolutely atrocious. Let's just say that watching Khmer soap operas is more painful than having a tooth pulled out with a pair of pliers and no anesthesia. Set up a camera on a tripod in your home village, get some relatives to act (badly) for you and voila, instant soapie.Khmer pop music shows are even worse. Cheesy video clips of couples staring endlessly at each other or the sunset, or live shows with the pop starlets dressed like tarts, boy dancers busting moves so bad it makes my dancing look positively Timberlakeish and musicians finger synching their guitars. Kudos to the youngsters for having a go but Michael Jackson should move here and choreograph and that wonderful chap Carson Kresley could do wardrobe. Then you have the Chinese movies that have such bad subtitles it is entirely possible the translator was on LSD whilst they were working. I recently watched a movie that was so outrageously translated I took photos with my phone because I didn't think anyone would believe me. With subtitles such as "Still take care of what bean curd", and "Far from good we tidy up thing at once to work at once", I could only shake my head in amazement. Throw in crazy Japanese game shows where pain is the aim, all manner of weird wrestling and crap American shows like "The world's Funniest Animals!" and it really requires a lot of patience to watch TV here. Ever see that internet clip of the guy shooting his television? If only I had a gun….

DVDs are a far better option and at an average price of $2 outright or $1 for a swap, they are a cheap way to spend a couple of hours. Of course, you actually have to get off your bum and go to the market to buy them which is easier said than done when you are feeling particularly slothful or hung-over like hell and it is 4000 degrees outside. I chuckle silently at the thought of everybody in the west paying $15 + to see the Bourne Ultimatum when I paid $1 to see it the day after it came out. In fact, the pirate scene in Cambodia is so professional, I am sure some titles are burnt to DVD before the crew and cast have even finished shooting the movie! Luckily, we do not seem to suffer from the fate that many encounter when buying movies in Indonesia. There, it is not uncommon to buy a movie that has been shot with a handycam in a cinema. Complete with audience laughter and silhouetted heads walking past, these movies frustrate rather than entertain.

In Cambodia, you pretty much get what you pay for although recently I bought the same DVD 4 times before I finally got one that didn't freeze on me. Obviously a bad batch but to be fair, the vendor was only too happy to keep exchanging at no cost. You can also buy entire seasons of your favourite shows like My Name is Earl, the Sopranos and Sex in the City which then provide you with hours of entertainment. Music videos of live performances and anthologies of bands like KISS and AC/DC are also available and these can really come in handy. Recently I was woken up by my Khmer neighbours playing karaoke at 6AM. My solution? Simple. I wheeled my stereo over to the window and fired up my DVD of Rage Against the Machine's "Killing in the name of..." LIVE @ Lollapalooza. Played through my Sony tower speakers, it was better than actually being at the concert. When it finished, there was a deathly silence from next door. Problem solved.

Of course the other option is computer / TV games but to be honest, I have never been a gamer. I recently bought my first PC game because I thought it might be fun to have it as an option when bored. I thought it would be a simple matter of inserting the CD and auto-installing. Alas, it had been pirated in a whole bunch of separate files that required you to have the knowledge of Bill Gates to install the bloody thing. Needless to say, my PC gaming career never got started. As an aside, I should also mention that you can buy ANY software programme you require for a few bucks at the market. Windows Vista, Adobe, MacAfee Anti Virus, Web authoring tools etc….it's all there for the taking.

So with limited entertainment options available here in Phnom Penh, many of us become DViDiots.They pile up under coffee tables and in bookshelves like takeaway food pamphlets and collect dust until we finally swap them for new titles. Sometimes they get sent home for family to enjoy and Cambodia is a great place to compile a great library of DVD classics to revisit again and again. The television is a secondary option and has to be approached with patience and a deep breath. Occasionally you happen upon a great show, movie or documentary, but it is very random. The sooner someone opens an expat cinema the better, but until then, our living rooms serve the purpose well and the sooner I scrape together the money for a big flat screen and a popcorn machine the better!


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