It’s scenes like this that make living in another culture so interesting. What on earth is this man doing? At first as I approached I thought he was using a meat cleaver to cut up some sort of food—and I wondered why he would be doing that out on the curb, but then I found that he was wielding a big rock to mash or cut up whatever the brown stuff is. And what is that brown stuff? Some sort of food? A root to be used for medicine? Some kind of nut with a hull to be knocked off? Petrified dog poop? I have no idea what is going on here although it may have been perfectly obvious to a local.
You don’t see many safe companies in most U.S. cities but they are not uncommon here. The main reason is that people don’t trust banks so they keep their money in a box under the bed if they are a family, or in a safe if they are a business. Banks are more stable now but many of them have failed in the years that I have been here.
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 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.
4 1/2 blocks away from the Maryknoll office is this building under construction on Street 360. For several months, every night I could see one fluorescent light (circled) burning in the building after the workers disappeared. I figured it was a light on an empty floor that had been left on and no one noticed it. I couldn’t see it during the day.
Then it disappeared. I figured it either burned out or, more likely, the construction had stopped because of the pandemic and the power to the whole building site had been shut off. No workers were visible either. But then two days ago the same light was back on when I’d look out at 5:00 AM or at 10:00 PM. I’m guessing, for whatever reason, work is resuming.
Occasionally in traversing the narrow streets and byways of Phnom Penh, one can see bags of garbage hung on the wall. What would prompt this behavior? Is it a low-tech type of modern art, faster, cheaper, and easier than painting a mural? Is it a gift to the garbage crews, preventing them from bending over and scooping up the trash on the ground?
Probably, it’s just matter of trying to keep things a bit neater. Notice the narrow street runs within ten inches of the wall. Trash bags on the ground would get run over, kicked, and slashed by dogs. Keeping the trash on the wall prevents more of the mess seen here where one bag has been slit open, dumping its contents in the street.
Thailand is just about the 7-11 capitol of the world. It has 12,000+ 7-11s in a country about equal in size to Oregon and Wyoming together. The whole United States doesn’t have that many although 7-11 is headquartered in Texas!
Now 7-11s are coming to Cambodia, brought in by the same company that operates the franchises in Thailand. Woohoo! Are we big-time or what? There are already articles in the paper asking that a good portion of the products be of Cambodia origin.