siem reap town – Cambodian and South Korean officials from Gyeongsangbuk-do province are gambling on their 50-day festival, which kicks off Tuesday, attracting more than 300,000 visitors by the time it draws to a close Jan 9.
Whether or not they meet their goal remains to be seen. But if Sunday’s rehearsals for the extravagant opening ceremonies Tuesday are any indication, the Angkor-Gyeongju World Culture Expo 2006 will be well worth a visit.
In October 2005, Cambodia and Gyeongsangbuk-do province agreed to join forces to hold an international cultural festival next to the Angkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap province. Both sides were venturing into new territory: Cambodia has never organized such an elaborate event, and the South Korean province has held three festivals but never outside its borders.
The challenge was considerable, said Tourism Ministry Secretary of State Thong Khon, who heads the Cambodian organizing committee.
“Visitors will expect a lot and we must give them a lot,” he said.
In addition to daily shows by Cambodian and South Korean artists, performers from 16 countries—including India and Singapore, Italy and Poland, Latvia and Uzbekistan—will take part in the festival.
While some typical Cambodian and South Korean products will be sold in designated areas of the park, the expo is designed for visitors to linger and relax.
Restaurants will serve Cambodian and South Korean cuisine, but also fast food, both in restaurant settings and at Cambodian-style food stalls.
Traditional Cambodian and South Korean games will be played, including cockfights in the Cambodian section.
But the animals will not die in combat, said Chuch Phoeurn, secretary of state for the Ministry of Culture. The length of the fights will be measured by burning incense as is usually done; the digital chronometer displayed in the ring will only be there to show that Cambodia is a modern country, he said.
Both Cambodian and South Korean organizers mention how difficult it has been to work together and adapt to each other’s procedures. Those differences are reflected in their cultural pavilions.
The South Korean one is all soft color and natural lighting, with state-of-the-art equipment to project videos on TV screens built into walls. The corridors are wide and objects such as crown replicas from Korea’s Silla dynasty and costumes from other centuries are displayed in a way that does not interrupt the flow of visitors.
The Cambodian pavilion is made of blond rumchak-tree matting, which is usually reserved for floor matting, and lit with fluorescent lights, Cambodian-market style. Displays in the building reserved for sculptures and costumes up to the 15th century leave ample room to walk. But in the second building, traditional home models, water pumps and buffalo carts; life-size mannequins wearing costumes recreate the bustle of Cambodian life.
Nevertheless, when the rehearsal started Sunday morning, the organizers seemed to work as one team and communicate well in spite of the fact that the Cambodians gave all directions in Khmer and the South Koreans in Korean.
Before 8 am, more than 300 dancers, musicians and singers from the Cambodian Ministry of Culture’s Department of Performing Arts, the Royal University of Fine Arts and the National School of Fine Arts were waiting in full Angkor-era regalia, ready to re-enact processions similar to those carved on the walls of Angkor Wat and the Bayon temple.
Some of the men portraying standard bearers looked slightly uncomfortable, clad only in hip silk wraps. It would be four hours under a sweltering sun—while the organizers tested sound systems and went through all protocol and security details for Tuesday’s official ceremony—before the performers could play their part.
To the music of drums and Angkorian-era horns recreated for the event, the performers marched to the festival’s circular plaza. One of the four elephants carrying the make-believe king and princes had to be stirred back in line as he walked toward the people on the platform reserved for officials.
One feature that should prove popular at the expo are the three-dimension films produced by South Korea’s Ajou University. The two films, which are 15 minutes each and presented in English, feature love stories mixed with magic, respectively taking place during Angkor and South Korea’s Silla era.
A night market for local vendors will be set up just outside the site during the expo. Festival tickets are $20 for foreigners and $3 for Cambodians, with discounts for groups and advance purchases, Thong Khon said.
So far, 30,000 tickets have been sold, mostly within Cambodia, he said. The Cambodian government may print as many as 600,000 for the festival, with the intention of selling them all, he added.