Daily Life in Cambodia  2012


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30 December 2012

Giving a pedicure




If it's made out of stainless steel, this woman's shop probably has it. She has quite an extensive inventory. Her type of shop, though, is not the kind that attracts hordes of customers throughout the day so she has time to offer pedicures on the side.




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17 December 2012

Loaded motorcycle





Motorcyle Loads #168

"Nah, why should I wear the helmet? I'm a good driver. Nothing could happen."





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15 December 2012

Soap dispenser in men's bathroom Soap sign

The English Catholic community rents a fourth-floor auditorium from World Vision for our Saturday night mass at 5:00 PM. In the men's bathroom on that floor resides one of the little enigmas that are a permanent part of living in another culture which will never be fully understood.

On the counter is a dispenser of liquid soap marked "Dish Washing Soap." A sign on the right side of the mirror explains that Hand Washing Soap is available 7:30 AM to 5:00 PM and Dish Washing Soap 24 hours a day.


  • Why does a fourth-floor bathroom have two kinds of soap, especially dish-washing soap?
  • Why is the Hand Washing Soap available only to 5:00 PM?
  • Why is it necessary to remove one of the soaps at all?
  • What is washed with the dish-washing soap? There are no offices or eating areas on the fourth floor.
  • Do the same soaps and signs appear in the women's bathroom, too?
  • Why is it necessary to put up a sign explaining when soaps are or are not available?
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29 November 2012

Carrying lengths of tubing





Motorcyle Loads #167

Because there is functionally no traffic law in Cambodia, anything goes.





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28 November 2012

Tylenol in a plastic packet

The last three or four days I have been trying to decide if I have a bad cold or the flu. I have the sneezing and runny nose of a cold but the fever and chills and aches and pains of the flu. I finally decided I have the flu, but luckily I seem to be over the worst of it. I went out to a local pharmacy to get some Tylenol when I first felt the fever and was confused by the clerk's question "How many?" It turns out they are sold by the pill here so I got ten in a little plastic packet. (When I got home I found the Tylenol is the same thing as paracetamol which is the ubiquitous pain-killer of Asia. If I had known that at the pharmacy, I could have got the paracetamol a lot cheaper.)

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27 November 2012

Two cows on a Phnom Penh street





"Hey, it's a holiday (the Water Festival)! Everyone else in Phnom Penh is taking it easy. Why shouldn't we?"





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25 November 2012

The Step Before Mobile Computing
Click here for photos of computer stalls on the street in Cambodia.

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5 November 2012

A drive shsft




Motorcycle Loads #166

Most people install the drive shaft along the front-rear axis...but not everybody!




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4 November 2012

All is not black...
Click here for photos of hair color in Cambodia.

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3 November 2012

Mourners at the Royal Palace


Now the government says that King Sihanouk will be cremated in February before the Chinese New Year. The astrologers have picked that time as appropriate. In the meanwhile large numbers of the Cambodian populace gather outside the palace to pay their respects.




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2 November 2012

Bamboo bicycle



Here's something you don't see every day and not in every place: a bicycle made of bamboo. The frame and fenders are different diameters of bamboo joined by plastic connectors. The handlebars and front fork are regular metal, though.




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1 November 2012

First mangoes appearing in Phnom Penh





The first mangoes of the season are appearing on the streets of Phnom Penh. That's a happy sign because mangoes are one of the best fruits going, IMHO.





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26 October 2012

Recycling cart with child





All she needs is a BABY ON BOARD sign....






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23 October 2012

A Loaded motorcycle





Motorcycle Loads #165

"You're right.... This is NOT comfortable!"




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21 October 2012

Serving food at a night market


Some cities, especially Asian cities, eat on the street. The houses are so small and cooking is done on a charcoal brazier which must be lit and then heats up the house, so many if not most families eat on the streets a lot. Here a man chooses from several offerings at a night market.



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23 September 2012

Fish drying on the street



Along one of the major streets of Phnom Penh, these stools of drying fish were set out to let the sun do its work on them. Two or three other lots of fish strips stretched out along the roadway next to these.



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18 September 2012

A lot of rice





Motorcycle Loads #164

There's a whole lot of rice on this motorcycle--enough for lunch AND supper!




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13 September 2012

Selling corn from a bicycle


Another sign of the season is the appearance of fresh corn on the cob being sold on the streets. This woman has a plastic bag of hot boiled corn on the rear of her bicycle as she makes her way around the streets of Phnom Penh. At least the corn is hot when she starts her meandering track through the neighborhoods. The corn is sweet and good but I hesitate when it is already husked and just stacked in the plastic bag. I don't know how clean the bag was at the beginning of the day or how much dirt and dust has found its way inside during the day. I feel a little safer eating the corn roasted in the husks on little grills set up on the street.


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10 September 2012

Carrying chickens on a motorcycle





"Some people hang fuzzy dice on their rearview mirror... I hang chickens on the rear seat...."






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9 September 2012

Optical shop at night


I don't go out much at night--not many people do in a country where 80% of population is in bed by 8:30 PM--but when I do I am always struck by the difference between night and day on the streets. More and more stores are starting to be open at night, more of them are enclosed and are well lit. And of course the motorcycles and cars on the sidewalk are the same whether it's day or night.


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8 September 2012

Motorcyclist waiting at an intersection


This motorcyclist sits across the lanes of traffic at a stop light. He pulled over to the middle from the right side sidewalk and stopped out in front of all the other traffic so he could be first to go when the lights turns green. He is symbolic of the lack of order and discipline among Cambodian drivers. Each one does what he pleases and society accepts that.


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25 August 2012

A load of boxes on a motorcycle




Motorcycle Loads #163

This load of boxes on the back of a small motorcycle doesn't leave much room for either the driver or the passenger.





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24 August 2012

Old wooden house in Phnom Penh


This old wooden house is an example of a disappearing style of traditional architecture in Phnom Penh. More and more these houses have first been enclosed and modified one way and then another, and then finally torn down and replaced by the concrete versions of today's homes. This house was basically surrounded and enclosed by additions and newer structures but probably now is being exposed prior to demolition.



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22 August 2012

Riding the brake on a motorcycle


So many women do this in Phnom Penh—ride a motorcycle with their foot pressing on the brake pedal. Some men do it, too, of course, but I suspect that because women wear heels and often balance their heels on the footpeg, it probably shifts their toe forward and they push down on the brake. It sure doesn't help your gas mileage!


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17 August 2012

Pineapple vendor





In a country where there are no sports seasons or climatic seasons, this woman bicycle vendor is selling pineapples so it must be August!




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16 August 2012

Kite vendors

The selling of different varieties of fruits is one of the seasonal indicators in Cambodia. Depending on whether the vendors are offering mangoes or coconuts or another fruit, one can deduce the season of the year. The same is true with some of the toy vendors. The ones with helium balloons sell year-round but the kite vendors only sell mainly in a couple month period.


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15 August 2012

Loaded motorcycle





These modern-day tinkers load their motorcycles with a bit of planning and precision.





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9 August 2012

Warning sign

Jim McLaughlin ran across (and photographed) this sign in the town of Kampong Cham where a road allows a driver to proceed over a drop-off directly into the Mekong River. In addition to the obvious question of why authorities don't put up a barricade rather than a sign, another question would be, if the sign is important, why allow it to be blocked by the trees?

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1 August 2012

Motorcycle load





I don't know what's inside these two big bags, but whatever it is--probably some kind of garments--there's a lot of it!





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30 July 2012

Renewing the Independence Monument



A major landmark in Phnom Penh is the Independence Monument, honoring the victory of the Cambodian people over the French in 1954. That victory marked the end of French Indochina and set Cambodia on a path of independence until they became enmeshed in the Vietnam War. The Independence Monument, built in a very Khmer style, is now undergoing a major renovation that will cost more than two million dollars.



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29 July 2012
Pushing a wagonload of charcoal Click here to view some pictures of the front-end of the charcoal business in Phnom Penh.

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28 July 2012

KFC sign



Any pole, any surface is considered a legitimate site for a sign in Cambodia. There are no enforced zoning regulations and it all comes down to money. For commercial signs like this one from KFC, it's a matter of paying the proper people at the municipality. Then there are the teams of sign posters who wander the city and affix an adhesive-sticker ad to every single doorway on every street. There's no such thing as defacing private property in the thinking here.





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10 June 2012

Power line pylon


Since we moved into our new Maryknoll office and living quarters a week ago, the power has often been going off--for just a short period--every twelve hours. It's been more of a curiosity than a real nuisance. But that is not the case in most of Cambodia where electricity is generally unavailable--and very expensive where it can be obtained. In the past year or so, the government has started to purchase electricity from Vietnam and transmission towers like this new one are going up around the country. The connections were supposedly completed late last year, and for a while the electricity provided was more stable, but now too many outages are occurring again.


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29 May 2012

Pigs on a motorcycle

Motorcycle Loads #161





These pigs don't get much respect.





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24 May 2012
Gloves against the sun Click here to view some of the gloves Phnom Penh's young women wear to protect their skin from the sun.

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23 May 2012
Concrete pumper Click here to view some of Phnom Penh's concrete pumpers.

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18 May 2012

Charlie and bike in a tuk-tuk

Tonight I bicycled to a deli-type eatery in my old neighborhood to meet with Jim McLaughlin while he is visiting Cambodia. I locked my bike up with a chain and padlock, and found that when I came out, the lock would not open. I had had intimations of a problem before but it seems to be a real problem now. I had to get a tuk-tuk to take me and the bike home where I'll fight with the lock again one more time tomorrow and then saw it off if I'm not successful.


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15 May 2012

Towing a car with bamboo pole

You want to tow a car and you don't have a strong rope? Just lash a bamboo pole between the cars. Bamboo is the all purpose DIY material in Cambodia and most of Asia.

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14 May 2012

Two men playing Cambodian chess



Today is the king's birthday and it is a holiday (along with the next two days), and these men opted to spend part of the day playing Cambodian chess. It's a fast game, when you watch them play, and I wondered about that until I found out they play a modified form of chess, without a queen.



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13 May 2012

I want to experiment with putting some short video clips here on the website, but there are a few difficulties. One is that video files are very large, more than 1.5 MB per second. That makes for slow downloads for anyone clicking on the video link, at least if they have a slow connection like mine (which most people don't). Here is a first attempt, a short video showing people motorcycling on the sidewalk in Phnom Penh.

There are no expectations that anyone would follow normal traffic laws--if they exist--and there is also no enforcement, so people just do whatever they want. Notice the woman walking on the sidewalk, not even giving a glance at all the traffic she is sharing the walk with.

If you don't mind, let me know what you think of videos like this. Should I add more? You can contact me at cdittmeier(a)maryknoll.org. The "@" character is changed to prevent robot scammers from picking up my address. You need to change it before you hit Send!

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9 May 2012

Flooded Phnom Penh street





The rainy season has arrived in Phnom Penh with several very heavy downpours in the past week. There is some construction work underway to improve the flooding and drainage situation, but many streets are still full of water after ten or fifteen minutes of rain.




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8 May 2012

Man selling material



In Cambodia it is cheaper to have clothes tailor-made than to buy them in markets. There are small tailor shops everywhere and so people go to a market, buy some cloth, and take it to the neighborhood seamstress. Today I bought two sets of pants material from this young man in the Russian Market and I will have the shop that made all my other pants turn them into some new trousers. What you see in the picture is his entire shop!




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5 May 2012

Selling fried grasshoppers Click here for photos of some snack foods sold in a highway rest area.

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21 April 2012

Safes for sale

Two considerations:

1. There are many office furniture stores in Phnom Penh, more than I would think is proportional to the size of the business community here, and many of them offer safes like these. Safes are popular because people don't trust banks. A surprisingly large number of businesses have no bank accounts but keep their money in their shops or their homes (which are often combined with their shops).

2. The typical shop here is an open-front establishment with the family living in the backroom or upstairs. The wares are carted out to the sidewalk every morning and hauled back in every night. Can you imagine moving all these safes twice a day?!

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20 April 2012

For Rent sign on new building



"Hey, the construction crew is living here--there's their laundry--so why shouldn't we start accepting paying customers, too? There's no water or electricity or doors or windows--and you have to climb the scaffolding--but it's dry inside!"




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17 April 2012

Sunday morning on campus


This is Sunday morning on the campus of the School of Law and Economics at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. These students are not going to church but to class. Because Buddhists don't have regular church services, especially on Sunday, the weekend becomes a prime time for people to study toward a degree.



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14 April 2012

Click here for photos of the motorcycle washing business.

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5 April 2012

Boy on a construction site

Across the street from the DDP office, a new building is going up on a small lot. The workers live on the site, on the second floor now that they have added the third and fourth floors. This little boy (top left, in the multicolored shirt) is on the fourth floor, where the current construction is taking place. Probably one of the two women before him is his mother. He's probably not in school because of moving from construction site to construction site and because his mother can't afford the illegal school fees.

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28 March 2012

Man reading outside



I'm not quite sure what is going on here. On the surface a man is sitting on a stool, reading a book, behind a motorcycle, in a driveway leading into a hotel in Kampong Cham. Maybe he's just an avid reader and the driveway is just a convenient place? Or maybe he's a motorcycle taxi driver waiting for a fare? (But he's dressed more nicely than most moto drivers.) I guess we'll never know what's behind this photo.




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18 March 2012

Road crew

This is a road near my house where a crew dug five or six ditches perpendicular to the street, across one lane, for reasons that are still not totally obvious. You can tell Cambodia is becoming somewhat westernized:

  • The crew put up an actual, purpose-built barricade, made of metal and using green mesh, instead of just putting a tree branch between them and the oncoming traffic
  • There is a professionally made sign indicating that this is a joint project between Japan and Cambodia to improve drainage and flood control
  • The crew are wearing helmets and reflective vests, and
  • Most indicative of western influence, there are eleven people in the crew (count the helmets) with only two of them digging.

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17 March 2012

Ladder on a motorcycle




Motorcycle Loads #160

"Hey, it's better than carrying it sideways or letting it drag behind! I just need to watch for the wires!"




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16 March 2012

Overloaded truck





"Do we have room for the kitchen sink?"





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15 March 2012

Duck on van door




This duck on top of the open hatchback door will probably be the least crowded being on this van trip to the provinces, but he doesn't know that he's going to be hanging upside down the whole way.




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14 March 2012

Lady sitting on plucked chickens





"Actually they're kinda soft but I get grease spots on my pants...."





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13 March 2012

Mobile Phone Shops
Phone shop display Click here for info on the mobile phone shops in Phnom Penh

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25 May 2011

Street Signs
Click here to see the advertising signs mixed with traffic signs in Phnom Penh

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6 March 2012

Repvaing a street

Street 488 near my house floods every time it rains more than ten minutes. Suddenly on Sunday morning a crew was out on 488 digging ditches half way across the street perpendicular to the traffic. I passed them digging four or five of these ditches and couldn't see what they were doing, but each ditch ended up against a sewer at the edge of the street and a sign said it was a Japanese-funded project for flood control and sewage improvement. We'll have to see what comes from this burst of activity. An interesting footnote was that within a couple hours of the ditches being opened, they were filled in again, and instead of repaving the broken surface, the crew set the pieces of broken asphalt back onto the top of the ditch, like a jigsaw puzzle.

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5 March 2012

Pajamas are IN
Woman in pajamas Click here for pictures of the pajama style in Phnom Penh.

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2 March 2012

Mother and daughter in the morning



This little girl is one of the lucky young girls of Phnom Penh, most of all because she's going to school. Many girls and boys don't have that chance. The child is also lucky to be able to walk to school with her mother. The girl may be in a government school or she may be in a private school with a bus (van) service, and if the latter she is definitely lucky to be walking with her mom rather than riding in the overcrowded, poorly driven school vans that careen through the streets twice a day.


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28 February 2012

Morning Rituals: Sitting
Boy sitting in the morning Click here for pictures of morning rituals in Phnom Penh

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24 February 2012

Metal storage cupboard Storage cupboards

Cambodia houses are not built with closets. Cambodian floor plans are as simple as possible, basically just open rooms, some with one corner blocked off for a toilet. In lieu of closets, metal or wooden cupboards like these are popular for storing anything and everything but especially for dishes and foodstuffs. The ventilated sides allow some air to circulate while the contents are still protected from the rats and mice.

These cupboards were part of a trove of surplus furniture and equipment that the Maryknoll Little Folks project made available to the other Maryknoll projects when Little Folks consolidated three offices into one.

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19 February 2012

Motorbikes on a truck

A recurring theme through the pages of this website is that there are no rules in Cambodia. Even if--at the instigation of the United Nations or some donor applying pressure--the government enacts some legislation, its effect is basically nil because it is unlikely to be enforced. Here is a truck, probably heading out of Phnom Penh, heavily laden with a variety of goods, including four motorcycles literally hanging off the back end. They are tied on with just ordinary rope but that is the way things are done here.

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18 February 2012

Tablecloths drying on the street

Wedding and funeral dinners take place every day in the tents set up (and blocking) city streets or in the wedding halls. And each table is covered with a tablecloth to disguise that the table is a round wooden top set on a metal frame base. After each meal the tablecloths are washed, and here one company has them drying on the guardrail of an open sewer and on ropes strung across the bed of the truck used to haul the tables around. It makes you think twice about eating anything that falls on the tablecloth.

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17 February 2012

It shouldn't be raining now--the rainy season doesn't start until late April or early May--but we had a heavy downpour this morning. I was on the back of a motorcycle going through flooded streets and every time a car would pass, a wave of water would flow into my shoes. It doesn't take much to flood the streets here. Ten to twenty minutes of rain and the water is at least four to six inches deep on many streets. Luckily it runs off in a couple hours and things get back to normal, till the next downpour.


High water in a rainstorm
I happened to be at my computer repair shop in the morning during the rain, and the entrance to their place is over a little bridge above what on the maps is a stream but in reality is a channelized open sewer full of filthy black water. It had been raining more than an hour by that time and the water was quite high in the channel.


After a few hours, the water goes down A few hours later, I was back (to bring them a new hard drive to replace the one that died). The rain had stopped and now the water level in the sewer had dropped a good two feet.

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16 February 2012

Father and two sons on  a bicycle


Most of the pictures on this page feature local Cambodian people but sometimes the foreigners should get their chance to appear here. Last Sunday this father and two of his sons were taking advantage of the nice weather for a bike ride together. The boy in back certainly doesn't have the view that his brother has.



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15 February 2012

Family riding in a pickup truck

Something you don't see much now in the United States and other developed countries is a family riding in the back of a pickup truck. It's not too common in Cambodia, either, but for a different reason--there aren't many pickup trucks here. For the families that do have a pickup truck, there is no law against riding like this, and if there were, it would not be enforced.


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14 February 2012

Girls Scouts walking to school



The Scouting movement is not strong in Cambodia but occasionally you can see boys or girls in their Scout uniforms on their way to school. One day a week or a month they can wear their Scout uniform instead of the regular school uniform. The Scouts in Cambodia are sponsored by the Cambodian People's Party which is a contravention of the Scouting charter which does not permit affiliation with political groups.




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13 February 2012

Hole in the street



Major holes in the streets--not just potholes, but real holes!—are not uncommon in Phnom Penh, and the normal response is to stuff branches and other vertical items close at hand into the hole to mark it for unwary drivers of cars and motorcycles.




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4 February 2012

Signs in Phnom Penh
Sign on the street Click here to see the first part of a section on signs to be found on the streets of Phnom Penh.

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29 January 2012

Feeding a toddler



Probably in every part of the world parents chase children with bowls of food, trying to get them to eat. It just seems that I see it more often here in Phnom Penh. Maybe that's only because more of life is lived outside in this culture, and the street is like part of the living room.




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27 January 2012

Stack of used bicycles



Recently the cable on my bicycle's righthand caliper brake broke and I drove with just the back brake for a few days. Then I remembered a small bike shop near the deaf office so I went over there instead of riding across town to the shops I usually use. The young man said that he could replace the cable, but instead of just opening a package with a new one, he started browsing through this stack of used bicycles until he found one that had the kind of cable that I needed. He took it off the stacked bike, put it on mine, adjusted it, and charged me 75 cents.




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1 January 2012

Heavily loaded taxiOverloaded taxi



Coming upon this taxi from behind, it is obviously heavily laden.  Passing the taxi and looking inside, it is also clear that it is overcrowded inside the passenger compartment, with seven or eight adults and a big parcel inside.  There are two men in the front bucket seat.  That is in addition to the car being a righthand drive model in a lefthand drive country.  Traveling by taxi in Cambodia is not for the faint-hearted.

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