Two schools represent distinction with a big difference

IMG_5604The complex in the photo above was called S-21 by the Khmer Rouge.  Today it is known variously as the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields Museum of Cambodia.

The facility had been converted from a public high school to an incomprehensibly brutal prison in 1975-79, when up to 2 million Cambodians died.  Of the 14,000 ordinary citizens believed to have been incarcerated there, only seven survived the starvation, inhuman living conditions, torture and outright execution.

Toul Sleng is a 10-15-minute walk from my home, and I have occasion to pass by regularly.  It is wholly visible from the roof of my 15-story building.  Seeing it Continue reading

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Grandmas, adolescents on motos common in Cambodia

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Older women driving a motorcycle or scooter — generically a “moto” — is a familiar sight in Cambodia.  This presumed family is in the thick of homeward-bound traffic, but “mom” and child wear no helmet as required by a much-ignored law.  Crossing the intersection behind them is a vendor with his wares.

In much of Southeast Asia, the streets are clotted with motos — motorcycles or scooters. Since they cost less than cars, the vehicles are the least expensive way to upgrade from traveling by foot or bicycle. They also are a major contributor to air pollution.

Because the two-wheelers are everywhere, foreigners quickly take their presence for granted and many expats adopt them for transportation.

You see drivers of every kind fearlessly navigating congested streets and, for the most part, skillfully dodging each other, bicyclists, pushcarts and SUVs. They speed (in relative terms) around obstacles, occasionally bump into each other and generally shrug at minor collisions. During the work day, traffic usually goes no faster than 20 miles per hour (33 km), but there are plenty of close calls.

Still,  Continue reading

Many Cambodians ignore pills for their headaches

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Many vendors sell coffee for a pittance along the streets of Phnom Penh, though there is hardly shortage of cafes.

If you live in the West, you probably pop a couple of Tylenol or Advil pills when you have an ache or pain.  For other pains, perhaps you might put a thermal patch on your back or a sore joint, or use ice to combat swelling.

That is not always the case here in Cambodia, as I recently learned after finally deciding to find out about the patches that I have observed occasionally on men, women and children here.

You probably are smarter than me and thus already have figured out the reason for the patches.  What they do is apply cooling gel on top of afflicted area.
Continue reading

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  Continue reading

Buy or rent with great views, then see them get blocked

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Adjacent buildings in Boeung Keng Kang 1 area of Phnom Penh.  Pity the owners in building at right.

It has been years since I blogged about lot-line windows in New York City.  Risk-takers or ignoramuses pay them no heed at their peril.  In Cambodia, however, it may make no difference to worry about them.

The windows in New York are in buildings constructed up to the limits of the lot they occupy, often for decades.  By law, the windows have chicken wire embedded in them so as to be recognizable as potentially obstructed.

It behooves Continue reading

Young Cambodians swarm 4-month-old night market

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The main parking area. Vehicles jam the intersection outside one corner as they jockey for a space.

Night markets are an enduring feature of countries in Asia.  The one in Phnom Penh’s Riverside neighborhood leaves me cold, but I remember being enamored of the first one I visited.  It was in Hong Kong in the mid 90s.

Well, there’s a new night market in Phnom Penh across from a distant corner of the Russian Embassy and virtually within sight of the modern Aeon mall.  As I walked there Saturday night for a look, a steady streams of motos doubtless had no other destination in that direction. Indeed, I discovered that is where they were going.

When I threaded my way through one of the parking areas to what is dubbed Jet’s Container market, Continue reading

Month in Bangkok drives a decision on moving there

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Somewhat dated and romanticized view of “downtown” Phnom Penh with Central (or, in Khmer, “New”) Market in foreground. Source: Cambodia Hotels and Travel Guide

Part 2 of 2

In the first of two parts regarding whether moving to Bangkok from Phnom Penh was a good idea, I listed a number of pluses.

If you read Part 1, it will not surprise you to learn that Continue reading