Seasonal Flooding

This is a view of the Cambodian countryside from the air as we approached Phnom Penh two days ago. The Tonle Sap River is on the left; the Mekong River goes across the top of the photo. Under the plane’s wing are large flooded areas. This is normal flooding every year but it’s lasting a little longer this year because the seasonal rains–normally ending in October–are still continuing. It actually rained again today, something relatively unheard of in this “dry” season.

Buses, but….

This is a Phnom Penh city bus on a regular route. It’s rush hour and notice that the bus is basically empty, just one or two passengers (not visible). Japan and China have both given over 100 buses in the last two years and the number of routes was increased from three to thirteen, but mostly the buses run almost empty. When the first route was started about three years ago, people were interested in the idea–and attracted by the free rides for the first couple months, but since then nothing successful has been done to increase ridership. Donors have given the vehicles; now they need to teach the government how to market and run an effective bus system.


Faintings by factory workers are a regular occurrence here. They do all kinds of tests, improve ventilation, advise the workers to eat better, get more sleep, whatever, but I don’t think that’s going to change a thing. For whatever reason, it’s a cultural phenomenon with its own expectations. One young woman faints for some reason–or maybe just suggests that she feels funny or something–and that is the trigger, giving permission for everyone else to “faint” too. There’s probably no problem. It’s just what you’re supposed to do. I suspect the best response is to have a section of clean factory floor and just lay them side by side until they decide they’ve been on the floor long enough and them let them go back to work. Taking them to clinics, etc., probably doesn’t help and just perpetuates the problem.

Still Hanging On

This is the old-style license plate for Cambodian vehicles.  A new style of plate was introduced about eight or nine years ago but there was no requirement to replace existing plates and some like this one are still around.  Their numbers are diminishing, though.

So?! She’s holding on!

There are no enforced traffic or safety rules in Cambodia, either for drivers or for passengers.  Anything goes.  Today we were driving to Kampot Province and saw this little girl standing in the back of a truck on the highway.  At least she’s holding on–and has something to hold on to!

Christmas 2018: Santa Outfits

The understanding of Christmas isn’t very deep in Cambodian society and most outward signs of the season are commercially driven and geared toward children.

Every neighborhood will have several shops selling Santa suits for primary school children.

Most schools in Cambodia are commercial, that is, they are private schools not associated with the government and also basically uncontrolled by the government.  Anyone can start a school and many people do to make money.   If you have at least one foreign teacher–or even if one of your teachers knows some English–you can call it an international school which has great cachet for the parents.  And then if you’re selling the foreign ideas, you have to celebrate things like Christmas so that creates the market for these Santa outfits.

This is where the Santa outfits end up, on the kids participating in a Christmas program and knowing next to nothing about the meaning of Christmas.

Another Configuration

When Maryknoll first moved to its office on Street 320 in Phnom Penh, down below my second-floor window was a little village of ten one-room units, two strips of five units each facing each other on one house-sized lot.  Access to this little community was through a narrow alley leading out to the street.

Shortly after we occupied the house, the owner of the little village moved everyone out, tore down the two strips of one-room apartments and put up a three-story metal shed in which he set up a metal fabrication company.  They made steel gates, doors, and railings and such–with a lot of banging and grinding.

Now that little plot of land is being subjected to more change.  The four-story building facing the street (behind which is the lot) is being extended back over the lot to make the building longer.  The sheet metal walls of the fabrication shop have been removed and it seems walls of brick and concrete are being extended from the existing house to make new walls around the lot below my window.  Here is a picture of a young man using a torch to cut away some of the scaffolding that held the metal walls before.