Pchum Ben 2019

Today was the first and most important day of the Pchum Ben festival in which Cambodian people honor their deceased relatives and ancestors. They all go to their home provinces for this so Phnom Penh becomes quite empty and peaceful. I had to go to a 6:15 AM mass across town and took a few photos coming and going.

Shops normally bustling in the morning are all closed up. Three very well dressed adults go visiting on a motorcycle. One man celebrates the holiday sitting in front of his shop. Two boys return from buying some takeaway food for the family for breakfast.

19th Century Banking

I had another nightmare experience with Cambodia Public Bank today.

One of my least favorite endeavors in Cambodia is going to a bank, any bank. It is an experience of inefficiency from the late 1800s, made even more ridiculous because now they use computers to perform so badly . To their credit, the branch manager did call me a few days ago and said that because I had not made a transaction with my account for almost a year, I would incur a $10 bank surcharge, but that I could come in this week still to make a deposit or withdrawal and avoid the fee.

What she didn’t acknowledge is that the reason I hadn’t made a transaction is that the bank canceled my ATM card without telling me and then said I had to pay $5 to get a new card, a debit card which I don’t want. Because it is such a pain to go into the bank and because now I don’t have an ATM card, I haven’t used the account.

Today I went in to make a withdrawal to avoid the surcharge. I arrived at 1445 and got a number ticket, #2016. There were 13-14 people sitting in chairs waiting to be called and that number stayed consistent the whole time I was in the bank. Behind the counter there were six bank staff. In front of the counter, being waited on, was one person. My number was called at 1510. It took an average of five minutes to deal with each customer at the counter, one by one.

I gave the teller my completed withdrawal form. She asked me to sign it on the back, where there is no place for a signature, even though I had signed it in the required place on the front. Then my withdrawal slip had to be stamp, approved, and authorized by three people! The teller then took out a $100 bill to give to me but first she ran it through a bill-counting machine. Not too surprisingly it registered that it had counted one $100 bill and it printed out a receipt to that effect. Then I had to sign that receipt, after which the teller gave me the $100 bill. It took 31 minutes to accomplish that.

Why do Cambodian banks have waiting rooms full of chairs? Why are they full of people waiting, waiting, waiting for one, two, three, or more trips to the counter? Why can’t a person go in for a deposit or withdrawal and be out in five minutes like in the US? Why do customers need to sit down if they are not negotiating a loan?

Too little, too late

There is at least one fire hydrant that works in Phnom Penh. I have seen four or five of them in the city but they are very few and far between–and there’s no assumption that they work. Because they are almost non- existent, reports in the newspaper of fires indicate how many fire trucks were involved. It doesn’t refer to how many individual trucks responded to a blaze but rather how many trips the trucks made to a fire hydrant or other water source. I saw in the newspaper yesterday that they made 35 trips to get water for a fire. Given the horrendous traffic congestion here, you can imagine how efficient the fire fighting is.

Trash or treasure?

One aspect of life in Cambodia that I find particularly disturbing is the high percentage of people who make their living handling trash, either collecting it for recycling or for disposal.

It’s hard to know what he has collected but it looks like he has had a fairly successful morning–for which he’ll probably get a dollar or two at the recycling place.
This man has a load of metal cans and assorted plastic and metal rubbish.
A third recycler I ran into this morning was this woman flattening cardboard boxes to load them unto her cart.

Rain, rain, go away….

We’re still in the rainy season–last week it poured almost every day–but the rains are a little less frequent now. This afternoon we had a downpour and I got this picture of construction workers 20 stories up in a building two blocks away. The man on the left may be thinking that it’s lousy timing since it’s almost time for him to head home.


“Going to work” has a different connotation in Cambodia than it has in many other countries where there is a commute from your home to your place of employment. In Cambodia, the majority of businesses are contained within the building that is also the home. These two photos are examples of that on a big scale.

This a large warehouse-type structure selling generators, air pumps, water pumps, and other types of machines. But notice that the rear of the building encloses a three-story housing block. The family built their home inside the warehouse.
Here is the same arrangement, on a much smaller scale, with just a two-floor house built into the back corner.