Filed under: Soma Norodom
Scott Neeson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. At age 5, he emigrated with his family to Australia. Scott was raised in the industrial city of Elizabeth, South Australia, and launched what was to be a successful career in the film business with a company that operated drive-in movie theaters. He quickly climbed the ranks of the Australian film industry before accepting a position with 20th Century Fox International in Los Angeles, California.
Scott spent ten years at Fox, ultimately rising to the position of President, where he oversaw the releases of blockbusters such as Titanic, Braveheart, Independence Day, X-Men, the Star Wars prequel trilogy, and over 100 other films. In 2003, Scott left Fox to take up a new role at Sony Pictures Entertainment. It was in between these two jobs that Scott took a brief sabbatical to Southeast Asia, in which he visited Phnom Penh’s Steung Meanchey’s toxic dump site, which ultimately changed his life.
In 2004, Scott left Hollywood and moved to Cambodia to establish the Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF) as Founder and Executive Director. In 2007, Scott was awarded the inaugural Harvard School of Public Health “Q Prize” in recognition of his extraordinary leadership in advocacy for children. Quincy Jones, called Neeson, “Selfless, remarkable commitment to the children of Cambodia, a genuine profile in courage.”
Scott’s initial goal was to handle the needs of 45 children he met at the Steung Meanchey’s toxic dump site. Today CCF serves almost 900 children with six facilities in Phnom Penh. There is also a free medical clinic for families, and employment and training programs for parents including a bakery and a garment-making centre.
During the interview, Scott expressed his thoughts about the meaning of life, as many people see success as having expensive homes, cars, and other material things, and in addition, great friends. These are the goals that people strive for, and that’s fine. As one of the top film producers in Hollywood, Scott experienced the fame, fortune, and success, but still had a feeling of emptiness in his soul.
He asked himself, “Why do I still not feel happy when I am at this high point in my career?”
Visiting Phnom Penh’s Steung Meanchey’s toxic dump site was the answer he was looking for.
“It is the desire to know why we are here, and what we are supposed to do with our lives”, stated Scott.
Scott had found the spiritual fulfillment by deciding to move to Cambodia and establishing the Cambodian Children’s Fund.
The Cambodian Children’s Fund has received worldwide media coverage due to Scott’s networking connections. He is still close with many of his former colleagues, who are Hollywood producers and actors in the U.S. Scott speaks highly of his two closest friends and supporters; Rupert Murdoch, a media mogul and the Chairman and CEO of News Corporation, and one of the richest men in the world, and Tony Robbins, a successful author, motivational speaker, and advisor to leaders around the world including Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, Margaret Thatcher, Francois Mitterrand, Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, and three U.S. Presidents, including Bill Clinton.
Every summer, Tony Robbins holds a seminar called the Global Youth Leadership Summit in San Diego, California, and Scott would invite 5 young Cambodians to go with him and attend this powerful and educational seminar. The selected young individual must be able to speak English and demonstrate leadership qualities, as they will be the future leaders of Cambodia. Scott is getting ready to go to the U.S for about a month to attend the 3-weeks seminar and also to raise money for CCF by holding charity events in California and New York. CCF is funded by private donors and has a database of over 10,000 people.
Scott will be able to spend some time in California, as he does miss his dog, his boat, and a few other things, but he doesn’t regret the move to Cambodia. The Cambodian Children’s Fund has given Scott great joy and a sense of responsibility. He has provided life-changing education, nourishment and healing to vulnerable children from some of Cambodia’s most destitute communities for 7 years now, and he will continue to perform the daily fieldwork and overseeing the operations of CCF in the years to come.
Thank you, Scott, for rebuilding Cambodia, one child at a time. Also, thank you for joining PUC Radio Talk Show as a VIP guest speaker. I have a new supporter of PUC Radio Talk Show, and a new friend.
Filed under: Soma Norodom
Ralph Begleiter, former CNN’s World Affairs Correspondent, brings nearly 30 years of broadcast journalism experience to his reports on all aspects of international affairs news. Sponsored by the U.S. Embassy, Begleiter made his first trip to Cambodia during the week of June 24-July 1, 2011. Begleiter was CNN’s most widely-traveled correspondent, having flown more than 1.5 million miles around the world, and this trip to Cambodia made it his 100th country that he has visited.
I had the honor to interview Ralph Begleiter as he joined PUC Radio Talk Show, on June 29, 2011, making this another milestone for our 6-months old radio talk show.
Currently, Ralph Begleiter is the Director, for the Center for Political Communication at the University of Delaware. He holds an Honors B.A. in Political Science from Brown University, an M.S. in Journalism from Columbia University, and is a member of the National Honor Society, Phi Beta Kappa. In 1994, he received the Weintal Prize from Georgetown University’s Graduate School of Foreign Service, one of diplomatic reporting’s highest honors, and in 2009, Begleiter earned the University of Delaware’s College of Arts & Sciences “Excellence in Teaching” award.
His teaching philosophy centers around the intersection of communication, politics and journalism, with the practical goal of helping students become savvy consumers and observers of their news and public affairs information environment. Begleiter wanted students to create intelligent and challenging public affairs programming.
“I focus on images we create of our nation and impressions we form abroad, as well as the relationship among news media, government and business,” stated Begleiter.
Begleiter directs the university’s “Global Agenda” public speaker program, and in 2006 and 2009 his “Global Agenda” class met weekly by videoconference with students in the Middle East to discuss cross-cultural and media issues. In 2002 he took the University of Delaware students to Cuba for the 40th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
I kicked off the interview by asking Begleiter about his early days at Cable News Network (CNN). Founded by Ted Turner in 1980, CNN was the first channel to provide 24-hour television news coverage, and the first all-news television channel in the U.S. Today, CNN International can be seen by viewers in over 212 countries and territories, including here in Cambodia.
Begleiter mentioned that he was not interested in moving from his successful radio talk show in Washington D.C., where many high power government officials listen, to work for CNN, then a new start-up television network, and did not want to take this career risk. Begleiter changed his mind, and one year later, in 1981, joined CNN. He later took on the State Department assignment in June, 1982. As they say, the rest is history.
Responding to Begleiter’s story about his early days at CNN, I talked about my experience, and compared CNN to PUC Radio Talk Show. One year ago, Dr. Kol Pheng, PUC Founder, asked me to create an English-speaking radio talk show in Cambodia. The university has been trying to establish a radio show for many years, and was not successful in finding the right person for this job. I met with Dr. Kol, just a few days after I arrived in Cambodia, and he knew immediately that I was that person.
My response was, “Radio? It’s considered obsolete in the U.S., and my background is in television.”
“Oh, radio is still the number one medium of communication here in Cambodia,” stated Dr. Kol. “People listen to the radio, not watch TV, for educational information.”
I took his advice, since he is the former Minister of Education, and accepted the task of creating a university radio talk show. His vision became a reality, and on December 12, 2010, PUC Radio Talk Show launched, and the rest is history, short history.
At CNN during the 1980’s and 1990’s, Begleiter covered U.S. diplomacy, and has interviewed numerous world leaders, among them British Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, Russian Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin, Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto, Chinese President Jiang Zemin, French President Francois Mitterand, and President of the former Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev.
Begleiter hosted a global public affairs show, and co-anchored CNN’s “International Hour.” In 1998, he wrote and anchored a 24-part series on the Cold War, and has covered historic events at the end of the 20th century, including virtually every high-level Soviet/Russian-American meeting; the Persian Gulf Crisis in 1990-1991; Middle East Peace efforts; and many UN and NATO summit meetings.
During the interview, I asked Begleiter about his lawsuit over coffin photos of war victims during the Gulf War. Begleiter used the Freedom of Information Act in 2004-2005 to force public release of the photos of returning American war casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2005, the Pentagon released new, uncensored photographs of the flag-draped coffins of U.S. troops, and the lawsuit was dismissed.
Begleiter stated that this was the lowest point in his life as he received so much criticism about his lawsuit. Another topic that I brought up was about the recent death of Bin Laden, and if the photos should be released to the public. Begleiter believed that it is important to publicly document the death of Bin Laden, and like many who agreed with him, including me, releasing the photos would put closure to this chapter of terrorism.
The hour and a half interview on PUC Radio Talk Show was not enough to cover even half of Begleiter’s career highlights. His CV is a journalist’s dream, and Begleiter is considered one of the role models in international broadcast journalism, and a CNN icon. I had the opportunity to work for CNN International back in 1995, when the Bangkok bureau just opened. But I wanted to stay in the U.S. and focus, not on my career, but my relationship, and to later get married. Well, you know what happened in 2005, (divorced), and finally pursued my career in television in Atlanta, Georgia. Also, I never thought I would be an actor, and only did it for the money. Now I am in Cambodia and working in the area that I went to school for and what I love doing, and that’s interviewing people and hearing their stories.
“What makes a great journalist”, asked Soma?
Begleiter stated, “A great journalist must be able to practice the 3 fundamentals; curiosity, being able to tell a story and write, and to do a thorough research of your subject.”
As a journalist, I always follow these three basics, and more. With practice, being able to tell a story and to do a thorough research on your subject will become a natural process.
During his week in Cambodia, Begleiter had a full schedule, with speaking engagements at several universities, including PUC on June 28th, a workshop for journalists, and a VIP Luncheon at the Intercontinental Hotel, hosted by the American/ Cambodian Chamber of Commerce. He was able to visit a few tourist sites, which included the National Museum, the Russian Market, and the Killing Fields. He paid tribute to the victims of the Khmer Rouge Regime, and was overwhelmed with emotion when he visited Toul Sleng (S-21 Prison). The Vietnam War changed the lives of millions of people worldwide, including Ralph Begleiter, the people of Cambodia, and I.
Before we went on-air at 7:00 pm, Ralph Begleiter, and two guests, Mr. Mark Wenig and Mr. Vanrith Chrea, from the U.S. Embassy’s Public Affairs Office, were treated to a delicious dinner prepared by the PUC Café staff. I thought they would be hungry before the interview, since this is dinner time for many. The Khmer entree included; fried rice with grilled chicken, soup, salad, dessert, and a cup of fresh Boncafe Coffee, our vendor of choice for coffee. A small detail, but with an important result; the guests were happy and satisfied.
Due to the success of PUC Radio Talk Show, I have the total control of programming and marketing. The PUC Leadership Team supports all my creative ideas, as I have earned it. Begleiter was impressed with the show’s schedule, and having more than 30 years of experience, was in admiration with PUC Radio Talk Show.
“How are you able to schedule 6-7 interviews per week? Each show is one and a half hour? I couldn’t imagine doing that many interviews a week. Don’t you think it’s too long for a talk show,” asked Begleiter.
“I work very hard. Many people do not know the time it takes to prepare for one interview, and to do it back-to-back, almost every night, takes a total commitment. Plus, I sleep only 4-5 hours a day. My team is the best, and all I have to do is bribe them with food, and they will do anything. The way to negotiate in Cambodia is through food,” laughed Soma.
“Soma, you are the Oprah Winfrey of Cambodia. I can see you do more, not only have your own TV talk show, or a book, etc., but, a fashion line with handbags, shoes, and more. You have this energy and it’s intense”, expressed Begleiter. “Did you ask Oprah to be on your show?”
I mentioned to our VIP guest that last summer, when I was putting together a proposal for the radio talk show, I contacted the producers of “Oprah” to see if the most influential woman in the U.S., Oprah Winfrey, would consider visiting Cambodia, and to be a guest on the show. At that time, the show’s name wasn’t decided yet. The producers said Oprah is really busy, since this will be the last year of her talk show, and they will try. Begleiter was not surprised that I made an effort to have Oprah be on the show. Did I make a good impression on Begleiter? His comments throughout the night, “I’m speechless.”
A compliment from Ralph Begleiter, a CNN icon, is like getting an “A” grade on your report card from the toughest professor in the university, and what it symbolizes is respect. During dinner, the guests were entertained by stories of my adventures in Cambodia. Begleiter laughed the most, and was amused by my honesty. On a more serious note, I was able to go over the topics of discussion for the interview, and it was back to my stories again. The skill of storytelling is my best trait, and I am fit for the job as a radio talk show host.
The interview with Ralph Begleiter raised another level of journalistic credibility for PUC Radio Talk Show, as the staff of the U.S. Embassy, Ministers from several government sectors, business leaders, NGOs, and students from several universities, all tuned into 90.0 FM. I would like to thank the U.S. Embassy’s Public Affairs Office, especially to Mark Wenig and Vanrith Chrea, for fitting in PUC Radio Talk Show in their schedule. Mark and Vanrith will be referring me to future guests of the U.S Embassy to be on the show. I think the interview was a success.
As I wrap up this blog, I also want to acknowledge my former professors (some have retired and passed away), from California State University, Fresno, as well as the university’s staff, for their endless support. They knew me when I was just a young (18 years old), college student, and now have watched me developed into the journalist that they expected, but most of all, matured into the woman and role model that they anticipated. The sky’s the limit, and who knows, maybe one day my CV might read: Ambassador from Cambodia.
Filed under: Soma Norodom
On June 19, 2011, I celebrated my first Father’s Day in Cambodia with my loving dad. Father’s Day, the holiday which honors fathers all over the world, and in the U.S., is celebrated on the third Sunday of June. My sisters and brother are in the U.S., and I had the great honor to represent them by taking my father out to lunch at a delicious French cusine, St. Germain brasserie, located in the heart of Phnom Penh.
St. Germain brasserie restaurant is owned by my cousin, Amara, and her husband. Amara used to manage The Blue Pumpkin restaurant by the riverfront, and now is focusing on this new venture full-time, along with her husband, who is from France. Amara doesn’t look Khmer, because she is of mixed race, French, and looks more European than Asian. She speaks fluent French, English, and Khmer, and this is very beneficial when owning a restaurant catering to all types of ethnicity in Cambodia.
My first impression of ST GERMAIN was “WOW!” The decor was very modern, beautiful, and the colors of gray and white complimented the green plants inside the restaurant. I also noticed the bar, with several steps, leading toward the back of the restaurant. My father is in a wheelchair, and I have to find restaurants where there are seats on the first floor. ST GERMAIN has tables on the main floor. The caretakers wheeled my father in as I found a nice spot toward the front and to the left of the restaurant. Amara came out to greet us and Father’s Day luncheon began.
The menu is located on the table, used as a place mat. For appetizers, I ordered the Roast Camembert Cheese with French bread. Hey, you’re in a French restaurant, and camembert cheese and French bread is as French as you can get. This is my favorite type of cheese, and I can eat French bread all day long. For our entrees, my father ordered the Tartare de Thon, which he described to us as “raw tuna fish.” The caretakers/cook, Akea and Heng, both ordered Pork Ribs Khmer Style with White Rice. At first they were hesitant because they don’t usually eat at restaurants, especially fancy ones like ST GERMAIN. My father likes to take them out to experience dining and to see the city and the culture. Everything on the menu looked so good, but I haven’t had good beef, or steak in awhile, so I chose the Beef Filet with Garlic Butter. “A superb choice”, says Amara. “This is a popular dish, and magnificent.”
While we were waiting for our meals, my father gave a history of food. He is a food connoisseur, and used to travel all over the world tasting all different types of food in many countries. He also owned restaurants in the U.S., and was a great chef. Today, he gives advices to Akea on how to make each dish flavorful, and without using MSG. Akea was trained as a chef in Siem Reap, and she is a great cook. Her sister, Heng, is learning to be a better cook, but she is a better caretaker. Our meals came and were brought by servers dressed in 1920s-30s newsboy style; with a white shirt, pant with suspender, and a gray French beret cap. This is another added detail to its unique look of the restaurant, created by Amara and her husband.
My father enjoyed the Tartare de Thon alot. He commented on the food to Amara, and if he says it’s delicious, it is. The beef filet was so tender and flavorful, and so were the pork ribs. We later ordered desserts which included vanilla ice-cream and caramel custard. You can’t go wrong with desserts.
I was pleased with the customer service and the food at ST GERMAIN, and thanked Amara and the staff for making Father’s Day special for my father. My sister, Seda, called from the U.S., and wished our father a wonderful Father’s Day. He thanked us for the gift and also a delicious lunch, and was happy, and smiled all day. ST GERMAIN is a great French cuisine, and in the evening it turns into a hip spot for tourists and locals to hang out and listen to music, as they enjoy the arrays of cocktails and drinks.
Filed under: Soma Norodom
With the rapid success of PUC Radio Talk Show, it is now easy to recruit top leaders in Cambodia to be guest speakers. Marketed by business leaders, NGOs, and high profile people, I am known as the “Larry King of Cambodia.” Larry King is an American television and radio host, and recognized as one of the premier broadcast interviewers. On June 29, 2010, Larry King stepped down and retired as host of the nightly interview television program, “Larry King Live on CNN.”
This is the highest compliment anybody can receive, especially in the broadcasting industry. I am the only English-speaking radio talk show host, who interviews successful people in Cambodia, and addresses issues affecting the country. All the guest speakers on PUC Radio Talk Show have received “Fame”, whether it is from their education, career, or making an impact to rebuild Cambodia. This country was once known as, “the Great Khmer Empire”, and the ultimate goal is to get back to being the leader in Southeast Asia.
On May 30, 2011, His Excellency, Dr. Sok Siphana, was a VIP Guest Speaker on PUC Radio Talk Show. That day I happened to come into work in the morning to prepare for the interview. I like to research the guest speaker on the internet to see if there is something else I should know about him or her, and add it to their bio and additional questions for the interview. What I found out was that Dr. Sok Siphana was not just educated in the U.S., or an Attorney-at-Law, but also a Minister in the Royal Government of Cambodia. This is a prestigious title, and if I don’t address him as to what his title is, this would be disrespectful and I would not be respected as a credible journalist.
PUC Radio Talk Show does not talk about government issues or politics. We like to be neutral, and therefore, do not want to create any controversies. Currently, H.E. Dr. Sok Siphana is the Advisor to the Royal Government of Cambodia, and appointed the title of “Minister.” With this title, I will address him as “His Excellency” throughout the show. His impressive biography speaks for itself and it was my honor to interview the first Minister in the Royal Government of Cambodia on PUC Radio Talk Show.
H.E. Dr. Sok Siphana was full of energy and enthusiasm when he arrived at PUC. Earlier, I called my father to ask if he knew Dr. Sok Siphana. My father said he remembers him. In 1993, my father, Dr. Sok, and many expats from the U.S., were appointed high ranking positions to help rebuild Cambodia. In 1993, my father was the Commander-In-Chief of the Air Force, and my mother and my little sister, who at the time was 3 years old, followed my father and moved from California to Phnom Penh. Dr. Sok is also a musician and knows my great uncle, Prince Norodom Sirivudh, and often plays music with him. I have been reading his published works all day to prepare for this VIP interview, but after meeting him, I felt pretty relaxed and knew the interview will go smoothly. Dr. Sok is very modest, and does not want me to address him as “Your Excellency,” just his name, Dr. Sok, would be fine.
The interview was one of my best, and Dr. Sok gave great advices about education, time management, and the importance of giving back to your community. He is passionate about life, and lives it to the fullest. You could feel his love for family and his country when he speaks. From 1975-1979, Dr. Sok went through 4 years of horror and hardship, and survived the Khmer Rouge Regime. I asked him how he was able to endure these years of suffering, and he said, “hope”. When he arrived in the U.S. in 1980, Dr. Sok stated, “It was a walk in the park, living in a new country as a refugee, compared to the Pol Pot Regime”.
Another important topic which was discussed in the interview was about rice, the most important agricultural product of Cambodia. His published work titled, “Trade Diversification after the Global Financial Crisis: Cambodian Rice Export Policy Case Story” has been praised by experts. The rice sector alone employs around 2.9 million people. The Royal Government of Cambodia has chosen milled rice as a priority export added item and wishes to turn Cambodia into a major rice exporting country in the international market. “With an estimated consumption of 3.14 million tons of paddy rice and a provision for seeds and harvest loss, statistical data shows a surplus of 3.32 million tons, which can be processed into milled rice for export. When rice exports reach 3 million tons, the total export value would amount to USD 2.1 billion or equivalent to about USD 600 million in value-added contribution to the national economy”, stated Dr. Sok.
I learned so much from Dr. Sok and I know our listeners did too. As I wrapped up the interview, I said that if a book about his life is written, the autobiography would be titled, “Hope, Passion, and Multi-Tasking, the Secret to Dr. Sok Siphana’s Success.” He smiled. I might just one day write this book.
H.E. Dr. Sok Siphana’s bio:
After spending his adolescent life in the Killing Fields of Cambodia, His Excellency (H.E.), Dr. Sok Siphana went to the U.S. in 1980. There he worked in the private sector as a Consultant for small businesses until the advent of the Paris Peace Accord in 1993, when he decided to return home to Cambodia.
H.E. Dr. Sok received his Bachelor of Sciences, in Business Administration from George Mason University, in Virginia, in the U.S., his Master of Business Administration from Century University, in New Mexico, in the U.S., his Juris Doctor from Widener University School of Law, in Delaware, in the U.S., and his Doctor of Philosophy from Bond University School of Law, in Australia. H.E. Dr. Sok is admitted to the Bar of the Kingdom of Cambodia and Pennsylvania.
In May 1999, H.E. Dr. Sok was appointed as Secretary of State at the Ministry of Commerce. He worked extensively on issues related to trade promotion, policies, and development, and was a key player in Cambodia’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2003. Past professional experience includes; Director of International Trade Center and Consultant to international and financial institutions like the World Bank and UNDP.
Currently, H.E. Dr. Sok is an Attorney-at-Law and Consultant for Sok Siphana & Associates, and Advisor to the Royal Government of Cambodia. He has written books, publications, and manuals on trade and development, legal and investment issues, and has received numerous awards, medals, and recognitions by His Royal Highness, former King, King Father Norodom Sihanouk, and Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen. In 2004, Dr. Sok was named as one of the “Movers and Shakers under 50s” by Asia Inc.
Filed under: Soma Norodom
On May 20, 2011, I had the honor to walk the Red Carpet for the first time in Cambodia. The event was the Star Conference, hosted by Sabay, and was held at Naga World Hotel. It was an elegant event, packed with legendary and current superstars of Cambodia, and I was one of the lucky few to attend this prestigious gala.
The Star Conference brings all artists in the country to meet each other on the red carpet and converse about the entertainment industry, and focuses on the entertainment problems in Cambodia. The Star Conference encourages the artists to raise questions and give suggestions on various creative ideas to help improve and make Khmer entertainment sector better. The question of the night; what are the superstars wearing?
Besides the artists, there were guests from all aspects of the entertainment industry; including authors, film/drama producers, and TV program producers from the institutions and TV stations. In addition, general managers from production companies like Reaksmey Hangmeas, Sunday, Rock, Town, Big Man, M, KH, Svang Dara, Moha Hang, and other high profile people, including myself, attended the First Annual Star Conference.
My friend, Pou Khlaing, invited me to be his date for the Star Conference. I was hesitant at first, knowing that I would be photographed by many and might even make the tabloids, if I attend a public venue with the so called “Bad Boy of Cambodia”. His songs are mostly a mixer of Khmer traditional music and rap songs, and his image markets his music, therefore, he has been very successful as a recording artist in Cambodia. I am known as a professional, educated, expat from the U.S, and is considered by the media as one of the future women leaders of Cambodia, and a member of the Royal Family. I hope to be known as one of the Best Dressed People in Cambodia as well. I’ve also been known to be independent and make my own decisions, and so I accepted the invitation to attend the Star Conference with him.
The highlight of the event turned out to be the speech made by Pou Khlaing. I was so proud of him for standing out in a room full of superstars, and his speech was the best and it got the crowd all fired up. My friend, Mariam, agreed. He is a very passionate artist, and when he speaks, people listen. His energy is contagious, and he and I have that in common.
Pou Khlaing was a guest speaker on PUC Radio Talk Show on May 11, 2011. This interview was special because he is the first celebrity artist to be on the show, and also, his fans were able to come to the station to meet and have their photos taken with him. We recorded the interview in the afternoon, and played it at 7:00 pm, our normal air time. This gave many fans the opportunity to meet him, since it was not late, and many were students here on campus. Another surprise during the interview was the delivery of the best hamburgers in Cambodia, by the owner himself, Mike of Mike’s Burger Place. Pou Khlaing admitted that when he was living in the U.S., in Kentucky, he loved eating burgers, but could not find a good burger place, and especially in Cambodia. That day changed his life. Pou Khlaing is now a big fan of the burgers, and you can find him eating at Mike’s Burger Place on a weekly basis.
Two days before the Star Conference, I received a text message from Dr. Kol Pheng, my boss, to contact a potential guest speaker for PUC Radio Talk Show. His name was Mr. Sila Chy Thmor, a successful young business entrepreneur and also the National President for the 2011 Junior Chamber International Cambodia. I contacted Mr. Thmor and found out that he will be at the Star Conference, since his company, Sabay, is the sponsor of the event. A referral from Dr. Kol is considered VIP, and I must be well prepared for this interview, and the first step is to meet Mr. Sila Chy Thmor in person. Mariam sent him an email about me prior to my phone call with him, and when Sila asked what my name was, and I told him, his response was, “Soma, as in Soma Norodom?” Just like that, Sila already heard of me through his connections.
Throughout the evening Pou Khlaing introduced me to several celebrities who could be potential guest speakers on PUC Radio Talk Show. The main criterion is that the guest must be able to speak English, and many of the superstars in Cambodia do not. Pou Khlaing is a big fan of the show and he was supposed to be the first guest speaker to launch the show on December 12, 2010. With scheduling conflict, he was not able to be on the show, and our mutual friend, Mr. Steven Path, Founder and CEO of Angkorone.com, became the first guest speaker on PUC Radio Talk Show. Steven attended the event with his beautiful fiance, Nin, and Pou Khlaing and I hung out with them after the event and went to Q Ba at Cambodiana Hotel to listen to a live band.
That evening I met a wonderful person, Ms. Lida Tay, who is a member of the Cambodian Dance Sport Federation (CDSP). She is also an assistant to Pou Khlaing, who is also a member of the organization. Lida will be on PUC Radio Talk Show to talk about the CDSP next month and I am looking forward to the interview and getting to know her as a new friend.
Attending the Star Conference was well worth my time. I was able to recruit potential guest speakers, dress up and look glamorous like a star, and hang out with my friends, Mariam, Steven, Nin, Lida, and my date, Pou Khlaing.
Filed under: Soma Norodom
Eight months later Mike’s Burger moved from its tiny joint to a bigger Sokimex gas station down the street, which seats up to 100 people. Mike’s Burger has become so popular that the owner, Mike, who is also from Southern California, had to find a bigger place to fit all the customers. On May 8, 2011, Mike’s Burger had its Grand Opening, and fans of the burger joint all stopped by to support Mike and also to eat the delicious, juicy, burger. I invited Bonne and her family, Sovanna, Nara, and the kids, and Steven Path and his fiancé. Mariam couldn’t come, but she said she might stop by later. I also invited my cousin, Chanto Sisowath, who is now a fan of Mike’s Burger, because I took him last month. He had plans and gave his well wishes to my father, and of course, Mike. The television station, TV3, was there to capture the event, and will air the entire Grand Opening event soon.
My favorite menu item is the Bacon Cheeseburger, with fries, and a drink, called the #2. I love the juicy flavor of its burger, and the bun is fresh, and not sweet. Many of the buns in Phnom Penh are sweet, and that does not go well with a greasy, juicy, beef burger. My father had just a burger, with fries, and a drink, which is the #1. He had to use a knife to cut up the burger into little pieces since he doesn’t have teeth, only dentures. He ate all his burger and fries. My dad’s cook and caretaker, Akea, tried the fish burger, fries, and drink for the first time. She loved it. My dad’s driver, Chay, ordered the double Hawaiian burger, and no fries. The burger was so big it filled him up. Akea wanted to order another fish burger to take back to her sister, who is the other caretaker and cook. Really, Akea confessed that it was for her, but she would split the burger with her sister. I should have listened to my dad and ordered it earlier, before the big crowd came in after 12:30, because it took a long time, and my dad did not want to wait for the burger. He’s been there since 11:30, and it was already 1:30, and my dad was getting tired and wanted to go home.
Mike always stops by to say hello to the customers. He is friendly, talkative, and his burger place provides the best customer service in Cambodia. Many restaurants here are not known for their customer service. Mike listens to PUC Radio Talk Show and many of my former guest speakers come here to eat. We usually talk about the burger place on-air, which gives him free publicity and advertisement. Mike will be a guest speaker on PUC Radio Talk Show really soon. Mike is a celebrity restaurateur in Phnom Penh, and anybody who does something extraordinary to help Cambodia, or makes an impact, will be invited to be on the show.
On this special grand opening occasion, I met several people who are known in the community for their charity work. They asked about PUC Radio Talk Show, because when they last talked to me the show was about to be launched. I gave them my business card and invited them to be guest speakers, and all accepted my invitation. I have great supporters and fans, and so does Mike. It’s a family atmosphere here because we all have one common bond; many of us are from the U.S., and sometimes we feel homesick, and crave delicious burgers. Mike’s Burger can fill the void, and I can happily say that Mike’s Burger is the In-N-Out Burger of Phnom Penh. By the way, there is a burger on the menu called the “Crazy Burger” which is about a foot long in height. Whoever can eat this burger is …crazy! Well, maybe not crazy, but just hungry.
Filed under: Soma Norodom
On April 14, 2011, I participated in my first New Year celebration in Phnom Penh. The Khmer New Year Opening Ceremony-Day One was held at the Royal Palace, and it was a surreal experience, one which I will never forget. I wore my first Cambodian attire, the sampot chang kben, and was introduced to the Royal Family as Princess Soma, from the U.S.
The Opening Ceremony, which is the first day of the Buddhist New Year, was presided by His Majesty, King Norodom Sihamoni, in the Throne Hall of the Royal Palace. Seda and I attended the prestigious ceremony with our family members, my uncle, Prince Sisowath Sirirath, his beautiful wife, Marina, along with my friend, Mariam, and many members of the Royal Family. Prince Sisowath’s daughter, Princess Lilly, from his first wife, Princess Norodom Arunrasmy (youngest daughter of His Majesty King Father Norodom Sihanouk), and her little daughter, Princess Siri Sisowath Hyde, visited Cambodia from Southern California. We grew up with Princess Lilly and her brother, Prince Nakia, in California, and I haven’t seen her in over 20 years.
This special event is invitations only, and you have to be a member of the Royal Family, Royal Palace dignitaries, and Ministers of Cambodia to attend the ceremony. We were greeted by Prince Sisowath Thomico, Adviser to His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni and nephew of His Majesty King Father Norodom Sihanouk, also known as my “Uncle Thommy”, as we waited inside his house which was inside the Royal Palace. I met two of the nephews of the Queen Mother Norodom Monineath, Prince Daravuth and Prince Rithy. Prince Rithy is from Ireland, and like many members of the Royal Family, is living outside the country.
Later, we were escorted to the Throne Hall inside the Royal Palace complex, a place where they hold religious and royal ceremonies, as well as a meeting place for guests of the King. The cross-shaped building is crowned with three spires, and the central, 59 meter spire, is topped with the white, four-faced head of Brahma. The Throne Hall contains a royal throne and head sculptors of Cambodians kings of the past. It was a beautiful and majestic place, and the gold throughout the palace made me feel like Cinderella going to the ball.
The first person to greet us inside the Throne Hall was His Royal Highness, Prince Norodom Sirivudh, brother of King Father Norodom Sihanouk, also known as my “Grandpa”. He gave us kisses on the cheeks, since this is the French way of greeting, and whispered to me, “Congratulations on the success of PUC Radio Talk Show.” I was honored and thankful for the opportunity to do something that I love. What is special is that Prince Norodom Sirivudh created the radio station 90.0 FM many years ago, and now, his granddaughter is on-air on 90.0 FM as the Host for PUC Radio Talk Show.
While we were waiting for His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni to preside over the ceremony, Prince Sisowath Sirirath took pictures for Seda and I. Nobody is allowed to take pictures before and during the ceremony, except for only a select few Royal Family members, Prince Norodom Sirivudh and Prince Sisowath Sirirath. Luckily, both are very close to us, and we sat with Uncle Sisowath Sirirath. Also, he has approved for the photos to be published online, like on this blog. The Throne Hall is not open to the public, as this complex is for distinguished guests invited by the King.
After the ceremony, I was able to get up and walk around the Throne Hall and outside in the garden of the Royal Palace, another closed area to the public. Led by Prince Sisowath Sirirath, Seda, Mariam, and I were able to tour and appreciate the intricate details of the palace. Prince Sisowath Sirirath took pictures of us inside and outside the Royal Palace. This is for my mother who has never seen me wear a Kben. She will be proud of me. My father did not attend the ceremony as you know he is confined to a wheelchair. He was at home with our caretakers and happily watched the ceremony and New Year festivities on television.
I was happy walking since I felt uncomfortable with my Kben earlier, because it was tied so tight around my waist. When you wear a Kben you cannot go to the restroom, and if you do, someone has to fold and wrap it back the right way, as this is a formal festival attire for the people living in the Royal Palace and for Khmer wedding.
We wore the color green, because this is the color for Thursday, which the ceremony was on a Thursday, on April 14, 2011. On Friday the color is blue and on Saturday it is a purple/eggplant color. A white top is mandatory for all religious and royal festivities, and is left outside, not tucked inside the Kben, if you are a Royal Family member. Also, a cream color scarf is worn like a sash, and you must wear white or cream color shoes and purse. The shoes must be taken off before you enter the palace, and no talking. It is important to know what to wear and what color to wear, because if you wear the wrong color you will not be able to enter the Royal Palace and attend the ceremony. Seda and I followed the protocol and attended our first New Year ceremony at the Royal Palace with class. May the Year of the Rabbit bring you luck, longevity, good health, and lots of wealth.
Soursdey Chnam Thmey! (Happy New Year in Khmer).
Now enough of my writing, because pictures are worth a thousand words….