Let’s close a block to party, pray or pay respects

A wedding celebration takes over a block not far from Toul Sleng, the infamous converted school in which hundreds faced torture and death under the Khmer Rouge.

A wedding celebration takes over a block not far from Toul Sleng, the infamous converted school in which hundreds faced torture and death during the Khmer Rouge years of horror.

Most residents of Cambodia live in spare housing that lack space for numerous guests.  When the occasion demands many invitees, what to do?

Such an occasion might be a funeral, an engagement party, a wedding or a Buddhist ceremony showing respect and support for the elderly.  I have yet to Continue reading

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 22,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 8 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

For assured justice, Cambodia’s streets often render it

Happy holidays to one and all!

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Some of the most popular pieces in local newspapers concern crime.

Two of the local English-language publications have standing columns devoted to briefs about petty and not-so-petty crimes, from muggings to murders.

The dailies that Cambodians readers consume often carry photos so grisly that most Westerners are horrified by what they may glimpse.  No U.S. newspaper would publish them.

What captured my attention in the last few weeks has been the volume of accounts of street justice, which frequently proves to be Continue reading

My first year in Cambodia has passed at warp speed

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What some folks think of as Angkor Wat is the temple in the background, but the name actually applies to a sprawling complex filled with architectural wonders that cover many kilometers.

December 3 was the anniversary of my move to Cambodia.  Although I felt pretty much prepared for the experience, I have learned a lot.

Everything about making Phnom Penh my home is new.  I have never before been retired, never lived as an expat, never expected to have English be so often understood here and never spent more than vacation time in a developing country.

The list of what I learned about Cambodia and me is long, but I’ll do my best to provide mere brushstrokes of my perspective in the hope that I won’t tax your patience.

One year 3

One surprise has been how deeply moved I have been by the widespread poverty, how desperately I’d like to help a poor people and how Continue reading

Bundle up for month-long cold spell, health officials say

ThermometerCambodians joke that the country has but two seasons, rainy and hot.

It turns out that there is a third one, according to the health authorities.  They have issued warnings about a cold spell that is expected to last until early next month.

By “cold,” they mean as low as 13 degrees Celsius (55.4 Fahrenheit) in mountains that are hours on the road from Phnom Penh and 22 degree Celsius (71.6 Fahrenheit) in the capital city. Continue reading

For construction workers, home is where the building is

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Families with children live communally in the shelter at the rear as the foundation is prepared, then they move up into the building when construction progresses.

Most construction workers make their way to Phnom Penh from the provinces, where work for them either doesn’t exist or centers on shrinking farmland and inadequate compensation.

They are distinguished by at least two characteristics: skin browned by the sun from all their outdoor work, branding them as lower class, and by painfully thin, if muscled, bodies.

Their makeshift homes here in the capital are where the work is.  They inhabit crude, rude, jerry-rigged shelters that are moved and modified as work proceeds on each space they occupy until foundations are completed over weeks and months.

Then, Continue reading

In Phnom Penh, it’s beginning to feel a bit like Christmas

 All of half a dozen restaurants offer turkey dinners for Thanksgiving

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This dusty Christmas tree has adorned my building’s security desk since I moved in a year ago.

Luckily for me, Christmas is not a holiday that matters to me. Thanksgiving is something else entirely; it has become my favorite occasion for overeating and communing with friends and family.

In a country that has made Buddhism the national religion, one could hardly expect much in the way of celebrating such Western holidays. But the expat community of Americans — which seems very much a minority among Australians, New Zealanders, Brits and Canadians — manages to participate long-distance in celebrations half a world and half a full day away.

It is possible to find frozen turkeys in supermarkets that cater to the Western market. One upscale meat market delivers ready-to-eat soup to nuts for Thanksgiving, and I am aware of maybe half a dozen restaurants offering turkey dinners, among them the fancy hotel rooms at Raffles, Sofitel and the Intercontinental.

At a restaurant that trains students in food prep and cooking among other skills with a view to socially responsible capacity building, Continue reading