Tomorrow evening, Friday, 13 September, is the big celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival when all of China and much of East Asia goes out to view the full moon and play with lights and lanterns. It’s a fun evening and whole families gather in the parks to carry their lanterns and celebrate. One part of the celebration is the giving and receiving of mooncakes, round puck-sized cakes with lotus or red bean paste or egg yolks as filling. Phnom Penh won’t see too much of the lanterns but mooncakes are currently available along many of the city’s major streets.
This is a really good example of what’s wrong with Cambodia. I have no problem with respecting the culture and traditions of a nation–I encourage it–but….pointing your foot at a car? Who was offended? The government makes a big deal of things like this to convince the populace that the government is with them and protecting them. And such antics distract from the failures of the government to do all the things it should be doing: providing schools, insuring medical care, protecting the forests and rivers, preventing land grabs, etc.
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.
In Moving Up earlier, I opined that the advent of a market for new and used water coolers, washing machines, and other appliances is an indicator of Cambodia’s gradual rising to a lower middle income country. Another such indicator is the increasing number of electrical shops that used to sell 50-watt bulbs and are now selling high-end chandeliers. They know some people have money and are will to part with it to show their new-found status.
Here’s a picture of a schoolboy riding in the fast lane of one of the busiest major streets in Phnom Penh. But it’s the Kingdom of Wonder, so don’t wonder too much about the insanity. My theory on such counter-intuitive behavior is that 90% of the urban population grew up in the rural area where there were no cars, no paved roads, etc., and daily life was lived in the dirt roads of the village. They were the only clear places to gather and there was no traffic to disrupt a gathering. Those people later moved to the city and brought their ways of doing things with them and passed them on to their children. That’s why we average six traffic deaths a day.
This is a scene unimaginable just a few years ago when I first arrived in Cambodia—an appliance store, first of all, and then a row of water coolers and washing machines being offered for sale. When I came, an organization might have a plastic water cooler with a spigot and one plastic cup for everyone to use. Now the appliances above offer both hot and cold water. And as for the washing machines–there basically were none. Maybe some of the high executive families brought something in from abroad but they weren’t for sale here.
The number of headlines in the newspapers that allege illegal and immoral activity on the part of officials here is amazing. These are three headlines I cut out of newspapers today. In case there’s any doubt, the Supreme Court headline is about officials grabbing poor people’s land. There seems to be something in Cambodian culture that encourages elected and appointed officials to see themselves as above the law and presented with an opportunity to enrich themselves at the expense of the common people. Of course it’s not all officials, but headlines like these are a daily occurrence, pointing out the misdeeds of ministers, the police, the military–anybody with authority.
Corn, or maize as some cultures know it, is an interesting part of the food chain. In some places in Africa, it is the main food of the culture. In other places, especially in Asia, it is seen as mainly fodder for cattle. Cambodia, though, has a really delicious sweet yellow corn like this vendor is selling from her bicycle. When it is in season, big pots of corn are boiling all day long on the highway for motorists ready to take a tasty break. Within the city, vendors like this woman boil the ears and then stack them neatly in large plastic bags and peddle them from their bicycles. It tastes just as good on the city street as it does on the highway in the countryside.
One of many anomalies in the Kingdom of Wonder is why drivers do not drive in the center of a traffic lane but instead straddle the lines marking the lanes. Click here for more.