Daily Life in Phnom Penh  2003

Daily Life (2001)
Daily Life (2002)

19 December 2003

Christmas songs by the choir 

Click here for Christmas activities in Phnom Penh 





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1 December 2003

Whitewashing a wall  


Did you ever see someone applying whitewash to a wall with a mop?  The business end isn't particularly efficient for spreading the whitewash, but the long handle comes in useful when you're painting above your head without a ladder.

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28 November 2003

Huge holes and valleys in a roadIt is hard to show accurately the huge holes and valleys in the road leading out to the Killing Field near Phnom Penh.  When I traveled it last week with some visitors from Finland, it was so torn up in places that I decided I had to go back and take photos of it.  There was literally more than three or four feet difference in the levels of the roadway at the top and bottom of the valleys.  In this picture, note the different levels of the two cars.  The good news to report is that when I went to photograph the road today, there were workers dumping dirt into the craters and troughs.  Note the large yellow road grader in the background, ready to move after enough truckloads of dirt have been dumped.

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26 November 2003

The colorful characters from Sesame Street could be appearing on Cambodian television within the next six months or so.  A U.S.-based NGO (non-goverment organization), Educational Television for Cambodia, has been given a free, five-year license to produce the series, after quality control approval was granted.  Educational Television for Cambodia is now seeking funding in the U.S. for Big Bird and Oscar and their friends.  Already they have dubbed some of the shows in Khmer and have re-shot some of the live sections with live people in Cambodian places, adapting the storyline to the Cambodian cultural context.  Cambodian television has a real dearth of educational programming for children in the Khmer language.

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14 September 2003

Georg opening his presentsOne of the places where Khmer and Western people mix most is at work. Many of the Westerners here are advisors and consultants in various projects and with various government ministries. Today Georg, from Germany, celebrated his 40th birthday and used the occasion to bring together a group of work colleagues and local Khmer people he knows. The venue was Mith Sanlanh, a program for street kids where they run their own restaurant that has become a meeting place for Westerners, especially for occasions like birthday parties and other simple gatherings.  Here Georg opens some of his birthday gifts.

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13 September 2003

Phnom Penh Governor (Mayor) Kep Chuktema announced plans this week to better control the stray dogs on the streets of the city. Dog catchers will be hired and owners will have to pay 20,000 riel ($5.00) to get their wandering pets back. Also, the selling of dogs will be regulated and organized in a "proper place." There are no plans for a ban on eating dog meat, though. "Come on, dog meat is so delicious," he noted as he encouraged dog meat to be sold openly in the markets. "The Vietnamese and Koreans love to eat dog meat. ...Poor people can enjoy their dog meat with palm juice wine."

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Flying a kite in Cambodia12 September 2003

March is the month for kite flying in the United States but September seems to be the proper month in Cambodia! Kites are everywhere these days, most of them simple homemade models cut from plastic bags and dragging long plastic tails like the yellow streamer attached to this kite a young boy is trying to coax off the ground near our deaf office.

A homemade kite in CambodiaA rare store-bought kite in CambodiaFlying a kite is a tricky endeavor in Phnom Penh, partly because there are so many utility wires running everywhere overhead. The children, mostly boys, are quite adept, though, at getting kites airborne in the short distances they have between sets of overhead lines. It is wonderful to see the children making do with so little compared to their peers in more developed countries. It's not that they wouldn't enjoy having better toys. It's just that they don't need them to be happy, and are quite content to find odds and ends and make what they want to play with instead of looking for money to buy something.

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7 September 2003

Phnom Penh Water ParkThe Phnom Penh Water Park opened last year, a source of puzzlement to some of us who wonder how it could every make money in an economy where the admission costs a couple days of average wages. In the beginning, the admission cost was $5 per person. Now it has been reduced to $3, but still that is a lot of money in a poor country like Cambodia. My personal suspicion is that it is part of a money laundering operation.

A group of lay missioners to which Maryknoll belongs decided to make this month's meeting a social event at the Water Park so I made my first visit there today. There were probably about 50 customers in the park, not so many for a Sunday afternoon. The park itself is quite nice with a variety of pools and sprays and slides that could easily keep someone of any age well occupied. The rules are a bit confusing, though. #3 says that all photos are to be used only for family purposes, not commercially. #13 says cameras are not allowed in the park. Another posted rule prohibits street clothes but notice in the picture that swimming suits are not the standard. Two young western women in bikinis really stood out!

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5 September 2003

Recently a section of road in Kampot province was being repaired. In a 57-mile stretch, 170 landmines and pieces of unexploded ordnance (bombs, mortar shells, etc.) were found buried in the road, leftovers from the decades of warfare here in the country.

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3 September 2003

Recently a 12-year old boy sat typing at a computer in a classroom in a remote district of Ratanakkiri Province.  The school is so isolated it has no electricity, no phone lines, no cell phone access.  But the boy was participating in a project to bring e-mail to such marginalized areas of Cambodia using some of the latest wi-fi technology to create "hot spots" for access to the Internet.  Where there are no phone lines and no phones, this innovative project uses motorcycles to deliver e-mail.  One district town has become the hub, downloading e-mail via a satellite dish.  To deliver the e-mail traffic to remote villages, some accessible only by oxcart, several motorcycle drivers drive past the satellite hub and the e-mail is transferred by wireless link to a card mounted in a box on the back of the motorcycles.  The motorcycles then follow a route that takes them past 14 schools in the province where the mail is transferred wirelessly again to a solar-powered computer that can receive the mail when the motorcycle gets within a kilometer of the school.

Officials warn that it remains to be seen what will be the effect of the new system.  One commented: "We must see what happens between the student and the computer.  We have the ability to move information--but what information? That remains uncertain."

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31 March 2003

Big lizard living in my roomEvery building in Cambodia has the small lizards called geckos as permanent residents. They're basically harmless except for pooping on papers you leave on your desk. Rather less seen--but often more heard (they bark like dogs, literally!)--are the bigger duk-gais, such as the one shown here who lives in my room. This is only the second time in three years that I have seen him (her?) although I've often been awakened by his "DUK-gai" calls in the middle of the night. The open wiring junction box is four inches across so this specimen up near the ceiling is about eleven or twelve inches long.

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30 March 2003

Sidewalk food stall -- 7:30 AM

7:30 AM
Empty sidewalk -- 10:00 AM

9:45 AM

A feature of life in Phnom Penh is the number of small sidewalk stalls selling food every morning. A large number of people eat breakfast on the streets here; and these food vendors set up on empty sidewalk about 6:30 AM, bringing in tables, small plastic stools, and all their cooked food on cyclos, the pedal-powered three-wheelers. They serve dozens of people on their way to work or school and then pack up and depart. By 9:30 or 10:00 AM, there is no sign that a sidewalk cafe was operating there.

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11 March 2003

Street barber in Phnom PenhI thought I had seen all the permutations of barber shops in Phnom Penh, from the little shops with closed fronts to the shops open to the streets to the isolated wooden chair set up against an outside wall somewhere. But then today I ran across the motorcycle barber shop! A man with his plastic stool and bag of barber tools drove up our street, found a customer, and set up shop right in the street. He even had a large mirror mounted on the rear of the motorcycle, for checking results, but this customer didn't seem interested in checking the work in progress.

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9 March 2003

Putting on long gloves against the sun Dressed for a ride in the sun
It is common in Cambodia to see women putting on long gloves as they prepare to ride their motorcycles, to protect themselves from the sun.  Unfortunately they are not covering up against the UV cancer-causing rays.  Instead they are victim of the prejudice that white is beautiful so they don't want their skin to get any darker. Here a friend puts on shoulder-length gloves and then ventures forth fully prepared against the heat, sun, and dust of Phnom Penh.

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14 February 2003Social activities in Phnom Penh

Here it is another weekend. Have you ever wondered what the ex-patriate community does on the weekend in Phnom Penh? Probably not. But I'm going to tell you anyway.

Every Friday the Cambodia Daily, the only English-language newspaper in Cambodia, prints a back page listing the social, cultural, and religious events in the community. The listing reflects a wide variety of ethnic origins, cultural backgrounds, and different interests.

Here is the first column of the listing for last weekend.



Go to Part Two
Go to Part Three
Go to Part Four












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29 January 2003

Two students at the Deaf Development ProgramAs part of the restructuring of the Deaf Development Program, we initiated job descriptions and clear and strict rules for all the staff, something which they had not had before. We spent hours and hours going through the policies and procedures, one by one. One new requirement for the staff was signing in and out when they came to work. As we were explaining that rule, we discovered that a good number of the staff (not the students pictured here) didn't know how to calculate the number of hours they worked in a day. For example, if they came in at 7:00 AM and left at 12:00 noon, they could not do the math to figure they had worked five hours. Probably they could have given the correct answer for 12-7=5, but applying that same math to time measured in hours was something they didn't know how to do. So many of the simple concepts we take for granted in more developed countries just aren't present here. Cambodia still has a l-o-n-g way to go.

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9 January 2003

Dairy Queen in Phnom Penh airportThe people who can afford to fly on airplanes--and their friends who come to meet them--have the money, so it all makes sense. Cambodia just got its first international fast food franchise, at the Phnom Penh airport. When we went to pick up the new lay missioners last Saturday, all the Maryknoll group were surprised to see Dairy Queen, the real thing, now operating by the arrivals exit of the new terminal. Phnom Penh has had imitation fast food look-a-likes before (e.g, we have Pizza House here) but this is the first time a genuine international franchise has committed to the local market. Will they survive? Stay tuned!

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