Different Eras, Different Buildings

In the space of just a few blocks of Monivong Boulevard, a major north-south thoroughfare in Phnom Penh, you can see clear examples of different periods and different cultures in the city.

The corner building above is a very typical mid-twentieth century building with shops on the street on the ground floor and then residential units on the upper floors, with later (and probably illegal) additions as the top floor. Such buildings are the mainstay of Phnom Penh’s urban architecture.

A few blocks up the street is this French colonial building which was built by the French Catholic Church as their Indochina headquarters during the colonial period that ended in 1954. After the Khmer Rouge turmoil, it was taken over by the government and today is the city hall for Phnom Penh.

A few streets farther on Monivong is this very new, uniquely shaped office tower. You can’t see the unique shape in this photo which I framed to show the ground floor. In most cities, a large glassed-in front on a major street would be a terrific selling point and commercial advantage. In the culture here, most of the storefront on the street has been boarded over and painted with an advertisement.

The wheels are moving…

The Phnom Penh Post reported yesterday that bicycles are Cambodia’s third largest export to the European Union, after garments and footwear. In the first quarter this year, even with the disruptions caused by COVID-19, 490,000 bicycles worth $179 million were sent to the EU, an increase of $10 over last year. The article was upbeat about this particular export, noting that the lockdowns and restrictions caused by COVID-19 may bring about changes in lifestyles and transportation in western countries and that could be to the advantage of the bicycle market.

Same old, same old…

Today I went to Syphal’s Beautiful Shoes near the Maryknoll office to order a new pair of shoes. I’ve been going there for 18 or 19 years and have always bought the same shoe design each time I’ve been back. When I first went there in the early 2000s, a pair of handmade shoes was $18. Now five or six pairs (maybe more?) later, it’s up to $38. I can pick them up in five days.

When online learning doesn’t work…

The government closed Cambodian schools on March 16 and declared learning would continue online. In a country where a large portion of the population doesn’t have electricity, that is a major challenge, not to mention the lack of smartphones. In the Boeung Tum Pun area, where the Maryknoll Sisters work, they are developing some workarounds, some work-at-home packets to keep the youngest kids engaged and connected to school during this l-o-n-g hiatus. Here a couple staff prepare colored pencils for the packets, colored pencils being maybe THE essential item for younger kids.