If you judge by their driving habits, Cambodians are an undisciplined group. With many coming from remote areas with dirt roads where cars can’t even go, the idea of following driving laws is novel and not easily accepted. There are many other areas of life, too, where modern practices–and requirements–of city life don’t resonate with people who grew up in a small bamboo house next to a rice paddy.
One exception to the lack of discipline, though, is sweeping–sweeping your street, your property, your house, your school, whatever you have. Sweeping is a MUST. Basically every business and household has someone sweeping in front of their building every morning. It’s just something Cambodians do….
This is the Cambodian version of a triplex, three shophouse residences side-by-side in one building. The Maryknoll office, where Fr. Kevin and I also live, is the leftmost unit with the open front gate.
Standing in the open gate on the street and looking toward the house, this is our front “yard.” Again you see how a shophouse is one room wide and goes up three or four floors. The fold-up bed on the right is for our 24-hour guards who sleep next to the front doors during the night.
Standing at the front door of the house (above), this is a view toward the street. The Maryknoll sign is for when we have visitors. We don’t keep it up outside all the time because then the city says we’re a business and charges us more for everything.
On the left side of the yard, we keep our motorcycles and bicycles. And the guards make their kitchen and bedroom and work area. The situation of guards in Cambodia is a crime. At least now they have their smartphones to look at with our wi-fi but prior to the phones, they would sit and stare into space all day waiting for a door to open or something to happen.
Two features never far from view in Phnom Penh are the masses of overhead wires and the spires of stupas in the Buddhist pagodas. These small stupas hold the cremated ashes of former head monks at that pagoda.
I have learned after 35+ years of living overseas how difficult it is to describe realities in Asia to people who literally cannot visualize things as they are here because of their experience of similar realities in their own homes or cities or lives. People need to see and experience to really understand.
Here are some photos of the Maryknoll kitchen at our present office. I’ll try to point out some of the unusual features and differences from a US kitchen.
The Maryknoll kitchen was originally an open shed behind the rear wall of the house (the wall on the right in the above photo). Preparation of food and cooking (on charcoal in clay pots) was done on the concrete and tile counter on the left. The rear door of the house (to the right of the refrigerator in the photo) is now a door from the dining room into the kitchen which has been enclosed over the years with the sheets of metal seen above the lower tile walls. Our stove works on a tank of propane gas. Most kitchens like this would still use charcoal pots for cooking.
This is a longer view of the actually narrow kitchen, to give a better perspective on its size and shape. When we moved in six months ago, we asked the landlord to put in a real sink. Previously the concrete counter extended toward the camera, where the meal sink is now, and the sink was just a square concrete hole in the counter.
This is a view from near the refrigerator, looking in the opposite direction. The blue downspouts drain rain water off the fourth-floor roof. The little retaining barrier on the floor creates an area on the floor where clothes or large pots and pans could be washed without the water running across the kitchen floor.
This photo, from a slightly different angle, shows an exterior door that leads to what used to be a narrow walkway between the house and the wall of the next door building. When we moved in, the door was just an outside door with a metal grill. When we immediately started having problems with rats, we put glass in the door behind the grill to block them. Even with a rubber strip at the bottom of the door, there is still enough room for mice to get in, however.
Everyday this week the temperature has been 90º to 95ºF. That’s hot. But look at these women motorcyclists on the street today. They all have jackets with hoods–and the hoods are up, under their helmets. And three out of four are wearing gloves.
Of course, none of that is about heat. The jackets, long sleeves, and gloves are to keep the sun off their skin. Who wants to have dark skin?
Rats are very much a part of life here in Phnom Penh. The local people see them as something to live with but the foreigners try to eliminate them. Click here for some pictures about rats at the Maryknoll office.
In Asia, the rules for Covid prevention are taken rather seriously. No one really argues or complains. Today at the airport as I flew back to Cambodia, I encountered this masked garuda reminding the traveling public:
Cambodians, especially in the rural areas, are a rather superstitious lot. Their world is full of spirits good and bad and there are certain omens and charms to be called upon. Some of these ideas come from the Chinese. Often the number 168 is displayed in shops and situations calling for good luck and good fortune. This practice comes from the Cantonese language. If the numbers one, six, eight are pronounced in Cantonese, they sound like the sentence “One path to prosperity” so the number is posted quite prominently on vehicles, buildings, etc.