They are immense, nearly blinding in intensity and grotesquely damaging to the experience of living in Phnom Penh.
They are advertising displays mounted on brutally big columns, except in the case of the NagaWorld casino and hotel complex, where whole sides of its buildings are arrogantly employed to attract attention, overwhelming the neighborhood.
In perhaps the last year or so, the number of what I’ll call, quaintly, “billboards” has multiplied like pimples on an adolescent’s face. I recall seeing them on a life insurance building, a play facility for children and on street corners.
The amount of light that they emit collectively is so polluting that mostly I can spot no more than one or two stars in the heavens above Phnom Penh. And mind you, this is Southeast Asia, where your image of the region may well suggest brilliant tropical sunsets (which we occasionally do get to see) and intensely blue skies (which we regularly can observe outside the rainy season).
There is no shortage of air pollution. At night, though, light pollution is the obvious offender, and I am not aware of any regulation against it, certainly no sign of enforcement. Nor can I imagine that some folks are not making a ton of money both over and under the table.
As a few of the many photos here demonstrate, the illumination is bright to the extreme. The glare from LEDs and possibly other means that I cannot fathom is to daylight as a crystal chandelier is to a nightlight — hell, a roomful of nightlights. They mercilessly overwhelm the skies.
The installation and placement of the billboards is nearly worse than the light. They scar the cityscape with their ungainly bulk.
One such interloper — in the photo at the top — stands at an end of a narrow green strip of park, rudely interrupting impressive views east of the city’s landmark Independence Monument and a memorial to Norodom Sihanouk, revered here as the “king father.” Another is at the opposite end of the same strip, and yet a third is across the street from the strip, at the edge of the popular park that is known informally as Wat Botum. (I have written previously about that park.)
Each of the billboards is within a few minutes’ walk of the NagaWorld monstrosity, which just happens to pay scandalously low taxes. (But that’s a story for another time.)
To my mind, the extravagant NagaWorld light show is by far the biggest offender in every respect, and that’s why I haven’t been able to resist calling attention to its imposition on everyone who lives in Cambodia’s capital city.
I suppose on the scale of needs in a country that has yet to make much of dent on child labor, human rights, widespread poverty, corruption business practices, air pollution, sex abuse and even trash collection, light pollution is not going to rank high on a list of concerns.
That said, work on any all of these issues does not have to be mutually exclusive, does it?