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Independence Monument; Vann Molyvann, architect (All photos: Luke Duggleby for The Wall Street Journal)
A lone figure walks the stands of Vann Molyvann’s Olympic Stadium.
The Chaktomuk Conference Hall, one of Mr. Molyvann’s earliest designs, was built in 1961.
The library at the Institute for Foreign Languages, now part of the Royal University of Phnom Penh
More of Mr. Molyvann’s work at the Institute for Foreign Languages
Yet more of the institute
MAY 28, 2010
By TOM VATER
The Wall Street Journal
Vann Molyvann, Cambodia’s greatest living architect, recalls that the night his Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh was completed, in 1964, “I took my wife to see the work.” Sitting in the top tier of the stands, they listened to Dvorák’s “New World Symphony” over the stadium’s speaker system. “It was one of the great moments of my life.”
In the years after Cambodia won independence from France in 1953, Mr. Molyvann—then scarcely in his 30s—set out under the tutelage of King Norodom Sihanouk to transform Phnom Penh from a colonial backwater into a modern city. But in the late 1960s the country was drawn into decades of war and terror, including years under the murderous Khmer Rouge regime, and Mr. Molyvann’s vision was virtually forgotten. The architect himself had to flee the country.
And while he returned in triumph after more than 20 years abroad, it was to find that grand titles didn’t translate into influence in today’s Cambodia. His legacy—structures in a style dubbed New Khmer Architecture—lives on, contributing significantly to the flair of the city, but even that is in danger as Phnom Penh, like other Asian capitals, clears historic buildings to make room for skyscrapers.
Washington, D.C Tuesday, 18 May 2010
“It was a very profound experience for me. In a period of great suffering, I was kind of not knowing what to do, and I just sat and closed my eyes and focused on my breathing.”
One determined monk says he wants to use his education and experience from the US to help fund a number of projects, including a network that helps combat child trafficking.
Hoeurn Somnieng is the deputy head of Wat Damnak pagoda in Siem Reap. He studied at St. Ambrose University in Iowa in 2008. He says now he plans to return to Cambodia with a degree in business management and ideas to help his home country.
“I want to use my education to represent people in need and to represent the poor and powerless,” Hoeurn Somnieng told VOA Khmer in a recent interview. “This education gives me a louder voice.”
Hoeurn Somnieng is the founder and executive director of a junior high school, a boarding house for girls, a vocational training program, an orphanage and the Life and Hope Association.
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Respected for their religious adherence and intellectual curiousity, Buddhist monks have long been the backbone of Cambodian society. Regardless of how religious Cambodian citizens are, the men walking around in colorful yellow-orange saffron are an integral part of everyday life and one of the main forces revitalising the Kingdom’s spirit.
When he was younger, Hou Chhivneath was difficult to deal with and his parents decided to send him to a Buddhist pagoda for a short spell, where most elders believe that the monks and serene surroundings can provide a basic foundation for young boys and adults to develop into mature and peaceful men.
“My father wanted me to be a monk for a while to learn how to deal with life and to be a good man for my family and other people,” Hou Chhivneath said of his initial entrance into monkhood in 1989.
“Dedicated monks usually work hard on their own, so that they can play a significant part in awakening citizens to the importance of culture and tradition, social morality, Khmer civilisation and Buddhism in particular,” explained the 30-year-old monk who hails from Takeo province.
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