Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - MY PHNOM PENH: Peg LeVine, academic



MY PHNOM PENH: Peg LeVine, academic

Anthropologist, clinical psychologist and sculptor Peg LeVine recently testified as an expert witness at the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
Anthropologist, clinical psychologist and sculptor Peg LeVine recently testified as an expert witness at the Khmer Rouge tribunal.

MY PHNOM PENH: Peg LeVine, academic

Anthropologist, clinical psychologist and sculptor Peg LeVine recently testified as an expert witness at the Khmer Rouge tribunal. Over two decades of research trips to the Kingdom, she’s studied both cultural and spiritual destruction under the Khmer Rouge regime and the ethnography of communities from Phnom Penh to Battambang. While in town, LeVine sat down with Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon to talk about the places in Phnom Penh that have spoken to her

Cine Lux

Cine Lux

One of my favourite excursions, personally and ethnographically, is to go to community movie houses in Phnom Penh. My favourite neighbourhood cinema from the late 1990s is closed and, as far as I can tell, the Cine Lux may be among the last ones standing. It requires protection as a heritage site. It is a cultural feast for all the senses. ​Children, youth, adults and elders go in groups to watch horror films. They grab each others’ hands very tightly and scream aloud when haunting or raging spirits roam and possess characters or raise havoc in a village. The influx of shopping-mall cinemas in Phnom Penh that offer polished Hollywood or documentary films is quickly advancing. A new self-contained audience culture seems to be upon us. I ponder the loss of community-shared and induced expression should the Cine Lux close. 

The National Museum

The National Museum

My most cherished place of all is the National Museum of Cambodia. While researching Khmer rituals during the late 1990s, I encountered the kindness of Dr Bertrand Porte, director of conservation and restoration. He invited me into the back room: the “sculpture conservation room” [to think]. There, Buddha head sherds sit like puzzle pieces on tables waiting for revival. When I am in [Phnom Penh], you will also find me at the National Museum on Sunday mornings. As a sculptor, I like to take wax or clay balls into the museum garden and sit on a bench to form a maquette. If you go there at dusk, you will hear the resident bats as they pour out of the rooftop.  

Secondhand bookshops on Street 240

Secondhand bookshops on Street 240

The secondhand bookshops in Phnom Penh, mostly on Street 240, I hope will always be there. They represent Phnom Penh’s nature as an intellectual gathering point. When I spent time in the city, I would browse through the books and pick one up and sit down at a café like the Shop and read. At cafés like that you meet all sorts of interesting individuals: painters, writers, musicians, poets and researchers. It’s a really refreshing and unique intellectual environment. It makes Phnom Penh special to me.

Chum Neas Hospital

Chum Neas Hospital

I am a trauma psychologist, and many of the kids in Cambodia are second if not third generation survivors. Poverty, violence, birth defects . . . the list is long. And it is the rare centre that includes monks, traditional healers, not as an addendum but as part of the assessment process. Chum Neas was the psychiatric hospital used by the Khmer Rouge. Even today, people are wary of it. I have consulted there from time to time on child cases with intense trauma because they account for generational trauma, and include animist perceptions of trauma in their assessment and interventions, which is a brave thing to do – their scope is wider than even Buddhist-based practices. 

Animist symbols in Phnom Penh’s back alleys

Animist symbols in Phnom Penh’s back alleys

These symbols are a kind of spirit guard that wards off illness and harm. I was unsure of their meaning when I first saw them, in Battambang province, but catalogued them so I might determine if it was culturally relevant in other regions of Cambodia. I was told by some Cambodian mental health colleagues in Phnom Penh that these symbols only existed in remote regions. I wanted to verify this, so I asked my tuk-tuk driver – who I’ve known for over 20 years – if he had ever seen these symbols in Phnom Penh. He had. He took me to see some near the Royal University of Phnom Penh. They’re a symbol of the relationship between the cultural and cosmic fabric of Cambodia.

MOST VIEWED

  • Angkor lifetime pass, special Siem Reap travel offers planned

    The Ministry of Tourism plans to introduce a convenient, single lifetime pass for foreign travellers to visit Angkor Archaeological Park and potentially other areas. The move is designed to stimulate tourism to the culturally rich province of Siem Reap as the start of the “Visit

  • Ice cream, noodles flagged over carcinogen

    The General Department of Customs and Excise of Cambodia (GDCE) has identified three types of instant noodles and ice cream trademarks originating from Thailand, Vietnam and France that are suspected to contain ethylene oxide, which poses a cancer risk to consumers. The general department has

  • Exclusive interview with Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the EU

    CAMBODIA is hosting the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) and Related Meetings this week with top officials from the US, China, and Russia and other countries in the region slated to attend and to meet with face-to-face with their counterparts on the sidelines. In

  • Rise in Thai air routes to Siem Reap fuels travel hopes

    Local tourism industry players are eager for regional airline Bangkok Airways Pcl’s resumption of direct flight services between the Thai capital and Siem Reap town on August 1 – home of Cambodia’s awe-inspiring Angkor Archaeological Park – which is expected to boost the growth rate of

  • ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ meet commences, Taiwan issue possibly on table

    The 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) and related meetings hosted by Cambodia kicks off in Phnom Penh on August 3, with progress, challenges, and the way forward for the ASEAN Community-building on the table. Issues on Taiwan, sparked by the visit of US House Speaker

  • Recap of this year’s ASEAN FM meet and look ahead

    This year’s edition of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) hosted by Cambodia comes against the backdrop of heightened global tensions and increasing rivalry between major powers that have been compared to the animosity of the Cold War era. The following is The Post’