In Phnom Penh, I am nothing like Rodney Dangerfield


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


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

Gasoline ‘stations’ everywhere on streets, highways

OSHA might be expected to have a problem with this gasoline station.

OSHA might be expected to have a problem with this gasoline station, a common sight in Phnom Penh and on provincial byways.  The price on the day I snapped this photo was less than $1.25 a liter.

The sight is startling at first, those rickety stands that are laden with repurposed soda bottles filled with gasoline and that are ubiquitous on street corners.  They also are a common sight along roadways outside Phnom Penh.

I am not aware of any conflagrations because of their use, but I must say that their presence always catches my eye.  I have vague memories of such fuel vendors in other developing countries, yet Continue reading

Amanda writes about our excellent bicycle ride

Taken during the ride, photo purloined from the Phenomenal Penguin blog

Taken during the ride, photo purloined from the Phenomenal Penguin blog

My friend Amanda, her friend Kathleen and I headed to the streets and cowpaths the other day while Phnom Penh was a veritable ghost town during the Pchum Ben holiday.

It was my first venture into cycling while in a city where traffic chaos, near traffic lawlessness and attendant dangers are the rule.  The city seemed sane enough, but traffic fatalities over the holiday weekend nearly doubled in the nation over the previous year as nearly every Cambodian who could get away headed to the provinces to be with their families.

On foot, using foot power or taking motorized transport, one must remain unnaturally alert even when the city seems to have closed down.  The necessity of doing so cannot be overstated.

I was happy to be back in the saddle while the streets were relatively empty, but I’m still pretty well committed to walking rather than wheeling.

In any case, Amanda is a terrific writer (and editor), and I commend her blog post to your attention.  She includes some winning photos, too.

That she mentions me at least four times is beside the point of my recommendation.  Right!


To Cambodians, some holidays really, really matter


Despite the holiday's religious basis, there prevails a distinctly festive air.

Despite the holiday’s religious basis, there prevails a distinctly festive air.

In this country, where Buddhism is the national religion, there are two exceptionally long holidays.

The first that I encountered, last spring, was Khmer (or Cambodian) New Year, which officially lasts for three days.  Many citizens find a way to extend that period to a week or so, enabling them to spend time with their families in the provinces.

This week, I’ve had the twofold pleasure of experiencing another long holiday.  Pchum Ben technically lasts for 15 days, but it peaks during its final three days, ending this year on Wednesday.  Despite the time period,  Continue reading

Heading home warms my heart and lifts my spirits

Whittier, Alaska, which is dominated by a building in which almost everyone lives.

Whittier, Alaska, which is dominated by the Begich Building. (Photo by Jessica Spengler on Flickr)

When I moved from Manhattan to Phnom Penh toward the end of last year, most of my friends and family made clear their impression that I was heading to the least desirable outpost of the civilized world.

They were clearly wrong.

During my travels over the last month, I discovered Whittier, Alaska, which must rank on any list as one of mankind’s least hospitable municipalities.

The driver of the bus that dropped Lin and me at Anchorage Airport after a 90-minute drive from Whittier through a one-lane tunnel noted that the city began its life as Continue reading