Urban Commerce

Here is a snapshot of life and work in Phnom Penh in 2019. The established shops in the background, left to right, are one shop selling LED signs; a small restaurant in the middle; and on the right a shop making and selling stainless steel things. And then in the middle, someone attempting to make an extra buck, has set up a little coffee stand. That may be part of the restaurant operation, bring their services right out to the curb. Note the two offering burners on the motorcycle. Usually those are just steel buckets or a cheap burner set on the curb for burning offerings on the Chinese holidays, but these are a different style and I’ve never seen them made out of polished metals like this. They must be for some special family or some special occasion.

The Real Cambodia

Abusing the poor, abusing the kingdom…

The government of Cambodia is in thrall to China. Article after article in the newspapers–and the personal anecdotes of people we meet–tell how Cambodia has been sold to China. The Chinese government gives $600 million a year to Hun Sen’s government—with basically no strings attached. You can imagine where that money goes. And you can guess why the Cambodian government does little to stop the sinacization of their country.


This checkpoint erected by a Chinese company on a village road was set upon and overturned by angry locals, (photo from Phnom Penh Post)

Here is a link to an article that describes the incredible transition of Sihanoukville, a coastal town, into a Chinese town.

And here is another article that describes the drive for development that is displacing hundreds of people who live around the boeungs (lakes or flood plains) and is causing flooding and other disruptions because the normal rainfall now has nowhere to go.

Getting ahead of trouble…

This is a common site on the streets of Phnom Penh—one woman picking lice out of the hair of another woman or girl. Women here wear their hair long and it provides a natural environment for the lice which are extremely difficult to get rid of. For guys, they just shave their head to solve the problem which is perfectly acceptable and not so uncommon, but for women the search-and-kill approach usually gets tried first. The lice make one quite cautious in borrowing another’s motorcycle helmet.

Money Trumps All

Unfortunately too much of life in Cambodia comes down to money. Not much happens here without money–often LOTS of money–being part of the deal. Cambodia is moving from a developing country into the lower middle income bracket and that generates lots of opportunities for gifts and bonuses and outright graft. The prime minister is known by some business people as Mr. Ten Percent. Things that would be free of commercial taint, like traffic signs in other countries, become income generators here.