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

Tuk-tuks, motos, taxis, feet not only ways to travel

IMG_4450Making one’s way around Phnom Penh is not particularly easy and rarely is very safe.

Although my preferred mean of travel is on my feet, literally walking in the gutter with eyes darting in every direction, sometimes it is necessary because of rain, distance or scheduling to resort to other modes.

Thus have I indulged myself in a tuk-tuk on occasion.  Infrequently, I have hailed a man on a motorcycle, the chief hazards with motos being the lack of a helmet and daredevil drivers.  (Actually, it is motodops who hail pedestrians, not the other way around, with boundless hope in the face of constant rejection.)

But one vehicle I cannot bring myself to take is Continue reading

My views about learning Khmer language have evolved


My teacher with one of his lessons at Brown coffee house, where I often do my language homework.  On this day, however, Meng tutored me there prior to my upcoming travels.

It was seven or eight months ago that I started studying the Khmer language.  I wrote in this space that I felt it was wrong to live in Cambodia or any other foreign country without trying to learn the language.

My opinion has not changed, but circumstances have forced to me think hard about my goals. One such circumstance is a few weeks of travel starting Aug. 13.

(The travel means that you can expect only sporadic tweets should you be following me as well as irregular posts here or on Facebook, if any, for a while.)

Continue reading

Ladies who lunch not alone in admiring youthfulness

IMG_4443One might be forgiven, after reading this post, for thinking that most ordinary Cambodians do not have their priorities in order.

Certainly, they would rank foremost such issues as how to make enough money for food, afford decent shelter and finance an education.  There is a host of necessities for a quality of life that the populations of many other countries wouldn’t express a need to envy. Continue reading