Mondulkiri: Photos from an expedition to the provinces

At the end of our first day in Mondulkiri, clouds gathered over the "sea forest."

At the end of our first day in Mondulkiri atop a mountain, clouds gathered over the “sea forest” and threatened rain.  A downpour did arrive in town late at night.  (Click to enlarge all photos.)

The biggest laughs came near the end of our brief visit last week to Mondulkiri – the name of a city and verdant province northeast of Phnom Penh and adjacent to Vietnam – during the three-day Cambodia New Year holiday.

On a detour to avoid an impossibly pitted and dusty road under construction on the city’s outskirts, our car took us in the dark along a narrow street that parallels the Mekong River, on which cooled banks are cultivated patches of lettuce.

One relatively recent tradition of Khmer New Year is for clusters of boisterous youths to congregate alongside roadways, many of the kids with faces besmeared with flour or powder, some dripping wet and all of them demanding monetary tributes in a Cambodian version of Halloween: Pay up or Continue reading

To locals there is nothing like Cambodian New Year

Dangerous and exhausting as this transportation looks as the New Year approaches, sometimes passengers dare death by riding atop vehicles.

Dangerous and exhausting as this van transportation looked Friday before the New Year, sometimes passengers dare death by riding atop vehicles.  They reflect how powerful is the tug to go home.

Phnom Penh is emptying out as I write this, just before the start of the Cambodian New Year. The exodus has begun.

The holiday is a three-day celebration when the Khmer people head for party points, seaside resorts and, most important to them, the rural provinces and farms that mean “home” to them. Consider this sad post on Facebook from a student/waiter I know at the cafe where he works:

Why all of u give me alone? I’m really lonely….. All of u can go to ur homeland n happy but I can’t…. I really miss my homeland so much. I want to meet my family…. What should I do? How can I do?

Siam Reap, where Continue reading

The heavens have started to open up again and again

On the morning after the deluge, street life returns to its seasonal norm.

Early Sunday morning after the deluge, street life returns to its seasonal norm.

After departing New York City in mid-November and arriving here in early December, we saw rain for the first time about two weeks ago.  I had missed it.

That first tropical rainstorm, a downpour that lasted approximately two hours during the workday, made music on the tin roofs below my 11th-floor windows. Since I was in no hurry to go outside, I was sorry when the entertainment ended.

A little after midnight the other day, rains came again and then last night as well.  They are very much ahead of their time.

We were asleep when that first nighttime deluge arrived, so the floor-to-ceiling windows in our living room were open.  Let’s just say that those screwed-down screens were dirty and that they’re not so now.  I wish I could say the same for the tiled floor and plastic-upholstered furniture that comes with our rental. Continue reading

Among many contrasts, some are beyond startling

Merely one side of the massive Royal Palace complex.

Merely one side of the massive Royal Palace complex.

Schlepping home after the movies one night, I noticed for the first time that the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh was glowing like an amusement park.  So I snapped the imperfect photo above with my cell phone.

A few weeks earlier, I was moved to photograph an unrestored line of buildings many decades old.  Residents fit themselves into the cramped units you see below, and shop owners ply their trades or sell their wares at street level.  It is, I think, a depressing sight.

Continue reading

What an efficient way to catch up on ‘Law & Order’

The Chinese subtitle probably doesn't say "gruesome."

The Chinese subtitle probably doesn’t say “gruesome body” in this CSI photo from my TV.

If you still haven’t tired of CSI Miami reruns with the insufferable David Caruso, failed to catch the other repetitious variations of the show or missed endless loops of Law & Order at home, well, Phnom Penh is the city for you.

We have no alternative to the cable TV offered by our apartment building and so are saddled with whatever the English-language stations provide.  Let me just say it is as though the AXN Asian, Fox International crime, Fox action and other channels provide all violence all the time.

Continue reading

Why study a language that only 15 million speak?

khmer sign

The language of Cambodia, called “Khmer” and usually pronounced K-mye, is hardly heard around the world.  No one who doesn’t live here needs to speak, understand or write it.

It happens that I have an aptitude for language.  I can get along somewhat in French and Spanish (the latter sadly falling into disuse now that I have left New York) perhaps because I took the not unusual path in olden times of studying Latin for a year or two in junior high school.

Thus did I decide to pick up a little Khmer when I decided last year to move to Phnom Penh. With echoes of the Ugly American reverberating in my brain, I considered it appropriate to study the language if I was to be a resident of the country.

Not to learn the language struck me then and strikes me now as arrogant.

The irony is that Continue reading

Food markets one thing, wholesale food market another

IMG_3130Food markets seem to fascinate most individuals who travel.  The smells, the energy, the sensual overload, each tends to make for a memorable visit, most assuredly for me.

One of my personal favorites is in Barcelona, where bustling restaurant counters along with food stalls that have displays bordering on artistic provide an unforgettable diversion.  The patterns created with fresh seafood can be especially winning, reminiscent on a much larger scale of Citarella on Broadway most effectively in years past.

But retail markets cannot hold a ladle to wholesale markets.  The one here in Phnom Penh is Continue reading

Haircuts in Phnom Penh can seem much like a picnic

Shave and a haircut costs little more than two bits in Cambodia.

Shave and a haircut costs not so much more than two bits on the sidewalks of Phnom Penh.

Gentlemen, when did you last have your hair cut with manual clippers, that is, without the insistent buzz of electric ones.  My last time was a couple of weeks ago.

I think my previous such occasion until moving to Cambodia must have been when I was around 10 years old, so long ago that I have no confidence in the memory.  (What I do remember is the Odell Hair Trainer, a cross between glue and shellac, that a Watertown, Mass. barber — yes, “barber” — used to sculpt my locks into a frozen wave mighty enough to make a surfer envious.)

About one thing my memory is quite clear, however.  I know I never once had my hair cut al fresco.  Continue reading

These have not been good times for many journalists

That's me holding the last "F" and Rick Valenzuela of the Phnom Penh Post and Overseas Press Club holding the "R," third from right.

That’s me holding the last “F” and Rick Valenzuela of the Phnom Penh Post and Overseas Press Club holding the “R,” third from right. He organized the event.

While there has been plenty of news to cover globally, the bad news is that many journalists are having a bad time of it. Injustices and abuses abound.

All over the world, there have been incidents of journalists being muzzled, harassed, imprisoned, wounded and killed.  And all they try to do is a good job, reporting what happens in conditions that can be overwhelmingly challenging.

Of course, there are elements across the globe Continue reading

Construction din around our rental is driving me crazy

View from our living room of the construction hell below.

View from our living room of the construction hell below.

As I draft this post, I am being assaulted by the demolition sounds on the floor above our apartment and by the extraordinary amount of construction in the surrounding blocks.

We live in the desirable neighborhood of Bueng Keng Kang 1, where many expats prefer to live and dine, though there are more expensive parts of Phnom Penh that also are popular.  Even with rents rocketing up, the amount of new construction here astonishes me.

I count Continue reading