The food truck, actual truck, has arrived in Phnom Penh

Food tacs truckThere is no end to the number of food carts in Phnom Penh offering everything from fried noodles to crisp insects.

When I walk a few blocks up the street, I spot vendors of coffee, soft drinks, bread, fruit, those noodles, something like hotdogs and barbecued animal parts, of which only some am I able to identify.

Food tacos truckOutside the French Institute, I have seen a man making crepes on a contraption that he somehow has mounted on a motorcycle.  Someone sells pizza cooked in a wood-fired oven on a bulky portable cart.

But only in that last few weeks Continue reading

Minus pressing crowds, Water Festival is delightful

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With winning competitors making their way upstream to the start after winning their first heat, the weather could not have been better.  I took this photo from a privileged area set aside for “foreigners.”

Laying eyes on the king may have been the top highlight among the many joys of Bon Om Touk, Cambodia’s annual three-day Water Festival.

Apparently the deaths of 353 souls during a stampede in 2010 was the chief reason for the absence of shoulder-to-shoulder throngs. It also reduced the number of boats competing in races along the river, called Tonle Sap, in front of the Royal Palace. (The year 2014 was the last time the event was held because of the tragedy, excessive flooding, the death of the last king and political confrontations.)

Another possible explanation would be the many blocks of streets closed to vehicular traffic and the mandatory unloading of buses and other large passenger vehicles at great distances from the Riverside neighborhood.  That area, which happens to be especially popular with expats, is where the festivities were concentrated.

In any case, predictions turned out to be wildly wrong about how many folks would journey to the capital from the provinces, 2 million of them, according to officials, as opposed to reportedly 100,000 the first day and subsequently growing.

Whatever the cause, I never expected Continue reading

This is big week in Phnom Penh, too big by magnitudes

Boat races and fireworks are highlights of the three-day Water Festival.  (Photo: The Cambodia Daily)

Boat races and fireworks are highlights of the three-day Water Festival. (Photo: The Cambodia Daily)

The peak of the rainy season is supposedly long past, but it seems that nobody told the monsoon master.

When there is a downpour here, the rain roars so loud that it wakes many of us, including me, from a deep sleep.  Time to close the windows to just a crack.

Although the season normally ends around now, my first such experience of it seems significantly out of sync with the usual situation.  Hours-long deluges and days of off-and-on rain over the last couple of weeks have proved to be the exception to what I understand to be the rule.

It pours down even as a three-day holiday approaches this week.  The aptly named water festival takes places during the first week of November, when the river called Tonle Sap reverses direction, a phenomenon new to me.

Sometimes the rain is so heavy that Continue reading

Journalists, NGOs wrestle with their conflicting needs

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Both staff and freelance journalists and individuals who work at nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) jammed a discussion last week about working together. (Photos: Ruom Collective)

An intriguing organization that specializes in social reportage throughout Southeast Asia sponsored a thought-provoking conversation between NGOs and journalists last week.

The idea, promoted by the impressive Ruom Collective enterprise, was to create an understanding of how each “side” could work together better than they perceive occurs now.

At Meta House, the German Cambodian Cultural Center in Phnom Penh, the event appealed to me because I worked for substantial periods of time on both sides of the desk.  It was a worthy event, though I’d heard many of the same issues explored previously and repeatedly over many years.

On the one hand, the journalists understandably wish for unfettered and unfiltered access to the NGOs’ operations, their clients and their finances.  “Transparency” is a word that surfaced frequently during the earnest discussion, which lasted until a deluge forced an end to the Wednesday evening session after approximately 75 minutes.

On the other hand, the NGOs seek Continue reading

In Phnom Penh, I am nothing like Rodney Dangerfield

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Rodney, of course.

Many readers will recall how Rodney Dangerfield, the late comedian, was always complaining that he got no respect.

The problem for me here in Cambodia is the endless gestures of respect that I happen to get.  What is the reason for them?

It must be some combination of Continue reading

Thank the Chinese for combining a shop with a house

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It was the Chinese who introduced to Cambodia in the late 18th century what is called the shophouse, a building with narrow frontage and a store, open living area and usually both on the ground floor.

Sometimes, the whole ground floor is devoted to sales, and the vendors live on the higher floors.  In New York City and elsewhere, of course, folks who reside in such a structure are said to be living over the store.

Here in Phnom Penh, block after block is lined with shophouses selling merchandise or services exposed to the street, in part because Continue reading

Real men in Cambodia content to go with pink

IMG_4491 It is not uncommon to see men in Cambodia wearing pink, riding pink bicycles or Continue reading