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.

Poor housing

Living here is cheap, but never easy, just several blocks from the Royal Palace.

Below is another view of the long block of buildings, which obviously lack modern-day conveniences such as washing machines.  The appliances are far from common in Cambodia, though they are acquired easily by those who can afford them.

poor housing 2

Lin and I took the tourist option of visiting the Royal Palace, which consumes whole square blocks, when we spent nearly three weeks a year ago on a vacation that enabled us to asses how promising Phnom Penh would be as our new home.  (So far no big surprises.)

I was hoping for an audience with the king while working up a sweat as we walked around his compound, pictured below, but I couldn’t figure out how to make an appointment.  His loss.

Maybe he was on one of two month-long visits every year to China, where he owns property, for what are billed as medical checkups.  Right.  One such visit occurred conveniently around the times that the opposition party vociferously objected to July’s national election on the ground that it was rigged by the party that has ruled Cambodia for 28 years.

royal palace 3

It would be myopic of me to suggest that the Cambodian government represents the only nation or church that celebrates itself to the detriment of its numbingly poor populace.

For example, where is it written that U.S. government buildings must be finished in the finest marble and granite while millions of the country’s citizens go hungry every day?

And who decided that the embassies of the poorest countries must present imposing façades to a world that knows the truth about the state of their populace.  But then the world is uniformly hypocritical and life isn’t fair.

E-mail:malcolmncarter@gmail.com

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