Friday, 20 March 2009

After fire, victim renews passion for Cambodia

Sarasota Herald-Tribune

By VINCENT F. SAFUTO Correspondent
Published: Thursday, March 19, 2009

HOLMES BEACH - Book publisher Kent Davis and his wife, Sophophan, escaped from their burning Holmes Beach house with only the clothes on their backs and a cell phone.

Lost in the blaze were many prized personal possessions, among them 20,000 photos of Angkor Wat, a giant Cambodian religious temple built in the 12th century and rediscovered by French archaeologists in the 19th century.

But Davis and his family are rebounding from the April 2008 fire, and now his passion for Cambodia, its culture and the Angkor Wat temple have found a new beginning as well.

Davis has had a love affair of sorts with Cambodia and its culture since marrying Sophophan, who is Thai, in the 1990s and touring Cambodia during a visit to see his wife's family.

As he and his wife have struggled to regain their footing, and build a new home, Davis experienced an unexpected rebirth of his relationship with Cambodia in the form of official state gifts given on behalf of the United States to the king of Cambodia.

It came about because Davis' publishing company, DATAsia, produces books about Southeast Asia.

So, when U.S. ambassador to Cambodia Carol Rodley was looking for a gift to present to King Norodom Sihamoni at her formal presentation of diplomatic credentials and gifts in January, she contacted Davis.

"I was looking for a gift that would symbolize the connections between the United States and Cambodia, and ideally for something related to Cambodian culture," Rodley said in an e-mail.

Davis offered Rodley three gifts: An English-language book published in 1924, and republished by him, that opened up Cambodian tourism to the world and a book and a documentary about Cambodian dance made in the early 1960s.

Davis worked in Thailand from 1990 to 1995. He wanted to learn the language and joked that he met Sophophan while looking for people to talk to. He had heard about Angkor Wat in Cambodia, but only as a cool place to visit.

Davis and his wife moved back to Florida, opened and then sold a Thai-themed resort, and in 2005 went to visit Sophophan's family in Thailand. They were looking to go somewhere they had never been before and decided to visit Angkor Wat.

It was a momentous decision.

"From the minute I walked into Angkor Wat, I saw something that just made me ask a question: 'Why is Angkor Wat, the largest religious structure in the world, filled with the images of women?'" Kent Davis said.

Not men, not children, not warriors. Women.

"I found that to be a question I need to answer in this life."

There are 1,780 women carved in the temple, and no two are alike, he said.

"Some of them are very elaborate and have royal crowns; some of them are simpler and have simpler hairstyles; they wear strange jewelries; they're all in specific poses; they're all in very specific locations."

"My theory is that these women represent a hierarchy and that they also embody this culture."

Sophophan Davis grew up in a village near Kalasin, a city in northeastern Thailand that is about 120 miles north of Angkor Wat.

In November, Davis and Sophophan returned to Cambodia, and he took about 7,000 pictures at Angkor Wat, beginning anew his photo collection of the sacred temple.

"I fell in love with the monument, too," Sophophan said.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, CAAI is fast! Thank you for posting this article about our Cambodian projects. For details on my Angkor Wat research please visit


PS - My wife's name is spelled Sophaphan. NOW I'm in trouble. (-: