Life is lived on the streets–in the streets–in Cambodia. I’ll have to do a section on that, but here’s an example of the idea. This is some kind of meat, cut into strips, and then laid out in the sun to dry. I’m on the back of a motorcycle six or seven feet away, on a very busy street. This meat will stay there all day, collecting the sun’s rays and also all the fumes and street dust and dirt that a busy road generates. Is that a concern to local people? Not a bit.
I was tempted to go down to the river on this last day of the Water Festival but I ended up doing several tasks that took longer than I thought, and I passed on mingling with the crowds watching the finals of the boat races and the presentation of the trophies. I did get a picture of the flags flown on our street for the holiday. People in the United States are maybe the most flag-waving population in the world, displaying the flag everywhere and in any way possible. Cambodians come a close second when it comes to their flag.
Today is the second day of the three-day Water Festival, the biggest holiday of the Khmer year after the New Year in April. It’s had a rough recent history, due in large part to the paranoia of the ruling party which is terrified of any gathering of people it can’t control. And this year about a million or so people from the provinces have descended on Phnom Penh to race their village boats in the Tonle Sap River. I didn’t get too close to the crowds this year but passed these crews taking a break from paddling and waiting for the next heat to begin.
A not-too-uncommon sight in Cambodia is seeing one car towing another using an improvised wooden towbar. If you don’t have a chain or a strong rope, it’s the next best thing, although usually bamboo is the wood of choice because it’s so readily available.
A lot of the business in the informal sector in Cambodia is on wheels, like this food serving cart. It’s kept in the living room during the night but in the morning is rolled out on to the sidewalk and hooked up to the propane tank. The large bowls behind the glass will contain several different pre-prepared offerings which can be served on demand. The prices list at $1.50 or $1.75 for bowl of rice with your selected topping.
I don’t know the official percentages but a huge part of the economy in Cambodia is informal. 85% are involved in agriculture and most of the non-agricultural people work in the informal economy rather than in established business with 9-to-5 jobs. Many, many households are running some sort of business out of their homes–maybe in addition to a formal job–and then there are these pop-up businesses everywhere.
Cambodia has some fast food outlets–the first and only Carl’s, Jr opened up last week and we have KFC and pizza outlets, but most fast food in Phnom Penh is served as in the picture above. There are numerous stalls set up and taken down every day that provide a variety of dishes, mostly big pots of vegetables with some meat that is served over rice. It’s pre-cooked–Cambodian people don’t value hot food as something desirable–and you just point to the pot that looks good today. I tend to avoid the stalls where the dishes are washed in the big tubs of water there on the street.
One of the givens in translation work in Cambodia or in producing documents in both Khmer and English is that the Khmer document is always going to be much longer than the English. That makes this sign outside the National Council for Solidarity Front for the Development of Cambodia Motherland a bit unusual because the Khmer title appears shorter than the English version. Would anyone like to venture a guess what the NCSFDCM actually does? I haven’t a clue.
See the STOP sign on the corner, behind the two pickup trucks? It’s brand new–and a total waste. I have seen maybe twenty STOP signs in the city and all of them are old and TOTALLY IGNORED. I believe it is the absolute truth that there is not one driver in Cambodia that has ever stopped for a STOP sign in Cambodia. This is the only new sign I have seen. The others all seem to be 20-30+ years old. Why they erected this one and why they chose the corner of our dinky little street, I have no idea. ….The Kingdom of Wonder.