I remember when I was a young child and many people in the United States threw trash on the ground or out of car windows, never giving much thought to the environment. Then there came along a “Don’t Be a Litterbug” campaign and slowly attitudes and practices changed to a strong environmental consciousness in the US today.
In Cambodia, we are still at the stage of the US 70 years ago. Here is a picture of a small Phnom Penh street stall selling breakfast. Notice it is the custom to throw any napkins or food scraps on the ground. It seems counter-productive–and certainly un-hygienic and ugly–since someone has to come along and sweep up the trash a little later. Also, in this picture notice all the single-use plastic straws in the gutter and already heading toward the sewer where they will be washed into the Mekong River and then into the sea.
This is a street near the Salesian Sisters Technical School for Girls in Tuol Kork. It used to be a fairly big tree-shaded avenue. Now it’s getting even bigger but without the trees. All that is left of them are big stumps like the one above as the trees were sacrificed for progress.
A distressing article in The Phnom Penh Post reported that more than 100,000 snares were found in one national forest in Cambodia over the last six years. An official estimated there were at least twice that many that they did not find. The snares–used because they are easy and inexpensive–kill animals indiscriminately and the toll is especially bad for the endangered species. Part of the reason for the destruction of the wildlife is cultural–some groups literally don’t know any better and just keep hunting the animals as their people have for centuries; another part is economic–there is a thriving market for wild animals shipped to China and Vietnam and other places; and part of it is governmental–the government has a very poor record of enforcement of any type throughout the country (unless the target is seen as an opponent of the ruling party in which case a perverted “justice” is swift and overwhelming.)
The giant ibis is Cambodia’s national bird but it is not always respected. Rather it is the victim of deforestation, illegal hunting, and human encroachment. There are only about 200 adult ibises left in Cambodia and so researchers were pleased recently when they discovered nineteen ibis nests in two wildlife sanctuaries in the north near the Thailand border. There is a program to hire community members to guard the nests until the eggs are hatched, protecting them from predators and poachers.
Cambodia’s luxury woods end up not only in more common (although unwieldy) furniture such as tables and chairs, but even the odd-shaped stumps and remnants of tree trunks have great value as they are fashioned into all sorts of art objects. Click here to see some and then scroll down to #11. (I think this is enough about wood for a while so I’ll move on to other topics.)
Some of the heavy, culturally-important wooden furniture is sold in shops. A great deal is also sold on the streets of the big cities. Probably produced in rural workshops, it is brought to the city for sale. Click here to see some of the wares on the street, and then scroll down to #9.
Another type of establishment that invests heavily in massive wooden furniture are the restaurants, especially those on the road. Take a break from driving to have lunch and you’ll likely find yourself sitting on a heavy wooden stool. Click here and scroll down to #5. Restaurants.
You’ve seen pictures of the way the heavy furniture, especially the stools, is found in commercial shops. Click here to see how the furniture appears in offices.
Here are more samples of the variety of places where the heavy wooden furniture can be found. It’s just hard to imagine how it is everywhere. Click here for the photos.
Here is the second set of photographs of commercial places that display the heavy wooden furniture that is so valued by the community. Click here to see the pictures.