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