Exercising or eating, Cambodians throng parks nightly

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Players use various smaller or professional-looking footballs. Most of their goals lack nets, which can be as informal as a couple of sandals or the jerry-built one in the photo above.  

They are a hive of a disparate activities, two adjacent parks close to the center of Phnom Penh.

Divided from each other by a busy avenue, the L-shaped expanses near Wat Botum and Independence Monument in Phnom Penh comprise more pavement than greenery and escape neither the din nor sight of traffic.

Weekend evenings are naturally the most popular. Yet they attract Cambodians of many stripes every night, though I sense none from the small class of elites.

Those who do frequent the parks seem variously to be students and office workers, proud lesbians, gays and transgenders, kids and their parents, beggars and monks.  Many purposefully stride the length of the area with Independence Monument at one end to get or keep in shape.

They may be picnicking with families and friends, playing what here is called football with improvised goals (some sandals or pvc pipes), competing one on one with net-less badminton, skateboarding, rollerblading, romancing, tossing frisbees, performing k-pop moves in large groups under lights, doing acrobatics on a grassy stretch and engaging in a host of other activities.

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There is a handful of perambulating vendors selling cold water or beer, a few individuals collecting plastic bottles and, rimming the park, numerous dispensers of food from both simple and elaborate carts.  (I find hot sweetened popcorn almost irresistible.)

For my own exercise, I regularly walk two or three times around and through the parks in a city with diminishing greenspace, clocking up to four miles of an evening and snacking from a small plastic bag of that hot sweetened popcorn, which I buy for the equivalent of 25 cents.

I am uplifted by the energy and camaraderie that I sense there as well as fascinated by what I see, the nonpareil variety of Cambodians and their diversions.

Like a crowd of other spectators, I am especially intrigued by the synchronized movements of the dancers, most of whom appear to be regulars.  At the end of one evening, I stumbled upon a number of them being taught new moves, thereby finally clearing up the mystery that plagued me of how they all knew what to do.

A woman circulates among them to collect the equivalent of 25 cents each in compensation for the entrepreneur who sets up speakers (drawing power from an obscured distant source close to 100 meters away), and plays the music.  A favorite  appears to be a lively tune that could be named only “Kick It.”

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Wearing a headset, the entrepreneur in the blue shirt repeats and demonstrates amplified instructions to dancers whose movements will be synchronized. Behind them, the avenue separating the two parks.

Compared with Central Park, the area is minuscule; almost everything that happens reminds me of a condensed version of what happens in Manhattan.

In hopes of sharing my pleasure, I took a number of photos that you can scan below.  My apologies for the quality of many of them, there being only so much a smartphone camera casually operated can achieve in low light, especially when zooming.  I hope you enjoy the images, only a few of them with captions; most of the pictures don’t need captions, though some will be visible where useful if you land your cursor on a photo.

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This group of mostly young folks on a Friday evening is dancing to “Kick It.” Their number surely will increase in the next hour and probably on the next Saturday and Sunday.  

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I stood behind one goal forgetting there was no net.  Camera raised, I failed to see a ball that smacked into my face, slightly damaging a tooth filling and causing what I diagnosed as a mild concussion.  Miraculously, there was no harm to my eyeglasses or camera (which may have saved my nose).  Both fell to the pavement.  The players could not have been more solicitous of their stunned spectator.

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This is a different group of dancers from the one above.  They are far more, how to put it, relaxed.

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There are plenty of seats for diners, though some take to thin mats, some partly visible at far right.

IMG_4911Tourists definitely would do well to put the parks, which are close to the Royal Palace, on their list of worthy attractions.  In a previous post, I also have recommended that tourists check out a night market that that opened in March.

Email: malcolmncarter@gmail.com

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