At the dawn of the new millennium, then war correspondent Glen Felgate landed in Cambodia to work on a short term project setting up TV and media channels in Phnom Penh.
Throughout the following years, his successful career in the media caused him to extend his stay in the country and the city he lived in inspired the title of his first fictional story, “From Phnom Penh with Love: Confessions of a Cambodia Media Executive”.
Two decades later, still roaming Southeast East Asia, Phnom Penh remains the city he calls home, where he lives and pens new books.
Kiripost’s Bun Tharum asked the former Reuters journalist and now author about his views on Cambodia, his years of work leading the country’s TV stations success, and a few more things in between.
Question: After covering the Balkans and Africa for Reuters, why did you choose Cambodia and stay for more than 2 decades?
Much like my good friend Matthew Robinson, who will be appearing at the book launch with me at Metahouse on February 2nd, I came to Cambodia on a relatively short contract. I came to set up a TV station. Matthew came to produce a drama. As it happened both of our projects were very successful. The success with the TV channel CTN led me to stay longer.
As for ‘why Cambodia?’ In a way, Cambodia found me. After a busy 10 years or so covering the world’s top stories – with war zones among them – I needed a different challenge. I was invited to set up a TV channel. That channel became CTN - and that led to MyTV, CNC. The rest, as they say, is history.
Since you first landed in Cambodia, what are the 3 things that have fascinated you the most until now, and why?
It is all about the people. I have lived and worked in Myanmar and I have spent time in Thailand, so I am familiar with this part of the world. As such, I have to say that Cambodians are the warmest and most welcoming people of these three countries that I have spent time in. In addition, there is the impressive culture as well as the country’s fantastic natural wonders – and, of course, amazing man-made wonders such as Angkor Wat.
Often, people who have come to Cambodia for a trip or work admit that they fall in love with the country. What do you think are the main reasons for this?
The Cambodian people are the country’s greatest asset in my opinion. They are warm and welcoming – and a Cambodian friend is normally a friend for life.
Cambodia richly deserves the recent awards it has received for being one of the world’s ‘friendliest’ countries. For this reason, people come, they see and experience, and then they stay. I am one of those people.
Let’s talk about your first book, From Phnom Penh with Love: Confessions of a Cambodia Media Executive, how’s your work as a war correspondent and TV media executive helps contribute to writing the novel?
Although I have changed names and have moved scenarios around a bit, this book is really inspired by true life. For example, as I write in the chapter entitled From Congo to Cambodia, the first time Cambodia came up in conversation was when I was leaving Kinshasa after covering a civil war across the river in Congo- Brazzaville. It was 1997 and my friend and agency colleague Myles Tierney was excited to be posted to Cambodia. Unfortunately, he never got here – and was later killed at a checkpoint in Sierra Leone. I have changed his name, but the story remains much the same.
I have also used my fine and positive experiences here with the TV stations and with the people here to write this book.
What urged you to tell this memoir?
If I have painted a picture of Cambodia and Cambodian people as warm and kind and friendly, then I have succeeded. This is what it is really about. I wanted to show people who read this book – and might not have been here to Cambodia – how wonderful the people and the country are. And, of course, I would encourage them to come – because just like others who come, they will probably fall in love with the people and the country, and either come back – or even stay.
What should business people and investors know before coming to Phnom Penh?
Cambodia really is a land of opportunity, but I think anyone who comes to do business should be open-minded. And, do not assume that because some concept works elsewhere, it will automatically work here. My advice would be, be prepared to listen rather than lecture!
What is your only one life-time lesson about living and working in Cambodia?
In England we have a saying, “where there is a will, there is a way”. I think this applies to Cambodia more than anywhere else I have been to.
In other words, here there is always a way to get things done. I consider Cambodian people to be some of the most resilient and resourceful people I have ever come across. That rings true today, as it did some twenty years ago when I first arrived here. It has been an honour and pleasure to live and work here – and I don’t expect that feeling to change.
The British journalist and TV producer Glen Felgate will present his book, “From Phnom Penh with Love; Confessions of a Media Executive,” at Meta House on February 2, 2022. The book is available at Phnom Penh's Monument Books and on Amazon.