The New St. Joseph Church

It’s been almost a year since the old building we used for the English community mass was torn down and now finally some steps are being taken to put up the new church building.

The site was cleared and leveled long ago and then just left empty. Now, on the back side, workers are erecting a row of small rooms to accommodate the construction workers who will live on the site for the year or two it takes to put up the building. That’s the norm in Cambodia—the workers, many coming from the provinces, live on the construction site.

That’s how we do it….

The woman in the food cart in the foreground is waiting to go around the food cart of the woman with stuff hanging on the fence. The cart in the background is blocking one lane, forcing all the traffic to squeeze through the other side. It doesn’t make any sense but that doesn’t bother Cambodian drivers. That’s the way life is. You just sit there and lurch forward an inch at a time. There is no discipline, no regulation, no enforcement–and everyone accepts that. Basically it’s only the foreigners that are bothered.

To keep everyone awake?

We had a priests meeting on Zoom today. It was a hybrid meeting. Half the 35 people were online and the other half were present at the meeting venue in Phnom Penh. Zoom meetings aren’t that unusual these days. Many people spend a lot of time on Zoom calls. What made this Zoom call distinctive was the crowing of a loud rooster that could be heard periodically at one of the many locations the priests were calling in from.

Catching up

The Pchum Ben holidays are officially over now and society is starting to catch up–slowly. Yesterday, a Friday, was technically a post-holiday work day but probably 99% of the workers took leave to round off a full-week of holidays. One group of workers who had to come back are the garbage crews. As you can see above, there are piles of rubbish along each block of each street because the sanitation workers took off like everyone else.

With all the shops closed for the holidays, you might think there would be little garbage to pick up, but remember Phnom Penhers live in shophouses–buildings one room wide and three or four stories tall–where the first floor is a shop and the rest living quarters. The people are still living there even if the shop is closed so there’s still trash.

One of the areas where Cambodia and Phnom Penh have not caught up with the developed world is trash management. Can you imagine a capital city with no rules or regulations about setting out trash for collection. Everyone just makes a pile on the curb.

Pchum Ben in a pandemic

Pchum Ben is a fifteen-day religious celebration, the Khmer equivalent of All Souls Day for Christians. After thousands of people flocked to the pagodas initially–and the Covid-19 infection rate shot up, the government suspended all ceremonies. Four or five people at a time were allowed into special areas set up at the gates of the pagodas, as seen in this photo from a week ago.

Yesterday was a different story. It was the last day of the holiday and people jammed up at the pagodas. At least they’re wearing masks. Everyone is waiting now to see what those who traveled to the provinces to commemorate with their relatives bring back with them. A surge in Covid-19 infections is expected.