This is the toilet at St. Joseph Church in Phnom Penh. Women on the left, men on the right, and urinals in full view. Such an arrangement might seem lacking in privacy in a country like the United States but is perfectly acceptable here in this culture.

Fading Tradition

You often don’t notice them as your ride by on modern Phnom Penh’s busy streets, but there are still quite a few old traditional wooden houses around. Often a shopfront has been added to turn what used to be just a family house into a family business so that from the street only a concrete facade is visible. As the city develops, though, these house are doomed.

A landscaping business almost hides this old house near the Maryknoll office
In the old traditional style, each room has its own peaked roof.
Here is a concrete room added to the front of the wooden house to create a business.
This used to be a neighborhood of wooden houses, but now all the adjoining traditional houses have become multistory apartment blocks.
How long will this little wooden house last on this corner?

Coronation Holiday

Cambodia is awash in holidays. The United States has 11. Cambodia has more than 23. The number has changed some in the past year or two as the government recognized there are too many such days and removed one or two, but there are still too many. Today this roundabout is decorated for the anniversary of the king’s coronation. And then tomorrow we have the first day of a three-day holiday for the Water Festival!

Nobody home….

Today is the second day of the three-day Pchum Ben Buddhist holiday honoring the spirits of deceased relatives. For Pchum Ben, everyone must go to their home village in the provinces so that Phnom Penh is largely empty as evidenced by this row of closed shops a long a normally VERY busy road. The resultant minimal traffic makes it wonderful for me getting around on my bicycle.

Wat’s in a name?

I remember one time, almost twenty years ago, that one of my staff told me that a wat (Buddhist pagoda) was asking us to put our DDP name on the wall. I had no idea what that meant and couldn’t get a good explanation so I said we’d pass. Later I found that it is the custom for the monks in wats to solicit donations from people, and those who contribute get their names carved in stone in recognition of their generosity. The brown marble plaques above immortalize some such donors on a Phnom Penh wat wall.

The real thing…

Earlier this month I posted this picture to talk about the wooden shrine in the back on the right. Today I want to point out the wooden stools for customers to sit on when trying on shoes. Heavy, bulky wooden furniture is a sign that a family or a business has “arrived,” that they have made it. The wooden stools and other pieces appear in any and every kind of business. (See it in gas stations.) This shoe shop has to have the wood also and, actually, it makes more sense here where it doesn’t need to be moved much and is out of the weather.

Recognizing the Spiritual

Almost every home and shop in Cambodia will have some kind of shrine, like the one above, next to the fan. These are different from the spirit houses which most buildings will have also. The spirit houses are replacement dwellings for the spirits who were displaced when the humans erected a house or other building. The shrine above is an acknowledgement of a more active spiritual presence and the shoe store staff will every day burn incense and make offerings in the shrine.