Cambodia hardly is a hotbed of the visual arts, but. . .

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Cambodia’s minister of culture and fine arts, Phoeurng Sackona, spoke warmly about the artist Sopheap Pich, standing at her left, in front of the sculpture called Big Being.

No one would describe Cambodia as a vital center of the visual arts in Southeast Asia.

While there are art schools and art exhibitions, the output does not tend to be memorable. (When it comes the visual arts, I find photography to be the most accomplished.)

One reason must be  Continue reading

Variations of ‘home’ set Cambodians apart from West

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My mother and I at home a few years ago.

Where I spent most of my life, there was the concept of going home.  That referred to where I went to bed at night.

Here, Cambodians usually mean the same thing.

Were I to head to my hometown, that would refer to the Boston, Massachusetts area, where I was born and lived the first 18 years of my life.

Here in Phnom Penh, “hometown” does not exactly exist as a concept.  Instead, Cambodians will say in their language they are going to their homeland.

“Homeland” is freighted with far more significance than “home” or “hometown.”  It has Continue reading

Much in the capital city eludes the physically challenged

One of my neighbors moved here from Sweden to work.  That he need to use a wheelchair in Cambodia, where there is little accommodation to individuals who cannot walk as well as able-bodied individuals, does not seem to faze him.

When I asked him about life in Phnom Penh for folks like him, he told me that he managed pretty well.  Of course, managing means that he Continue reading

Student transport helps explain pollution in Cambodia

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No one disputes what eyes, ears and noses have detected in recent years: The number of motor vehicles on the streets of Cambodia in general and of Phnom Penh in particular has swelled dramatically.

Residents (and, of course, virtually all tourists) don’t even think of walking here. For one thing, it is considered too dangerous. However, I suspect that most folks believe walking alongside, not on, sidewalks made impassable by parked conveyances is just too unpleasant. (I happen to like the exercise and thus put up with the disadvantages.)

As for taking a bicycle, Continue reading

New construction alters prime area’s ambiance, views

The character of my Boeung Keng Kang I neighborhood has undergone a remarkable transformation in the three years ago this month that I moved to Phnom Penh.

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In this photo from my roof, every high building looking east was built in the last two or three years, probably less. The grey one in the foreground was just completed. The crane in the background (right) atop an unseen tall building with a dramatic elliptical shape is some months from completion.

As I have written in the past, one reason is the explosion of fast-food restaurants in my neighborhood, which is popular with expats.  The other reason is the breakneck speed of new construction, which is obliterating pleasant mid-century villas and the shade of trees that are recklessly cut down on every block.

Perhaps I could argue against the change, though that would be folly.  Instead, what I can rant about is Continue reading

Efficient waste management, recycling elude Cambodia

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These men and teenagers are not merely dumping trash into the truck. They are sorting it as well.

The problems that Phnom Penh faces with trash disposal are evident on virtually every corner.

Although there seem to be laws on the books mandating proper handling of recyclables and other commercial and residential waste, there appears to be virtually no enforcement.

Cintri — the company that enjoys a sweetheart contract in its monopoly for the collection of garbage in Phnom Penh — is pictured here with one of its green trucks.  You can see that the enterprise is no more exempt from overlooked child labor than are building contractors. You also can see in the photo below with one of the company’s yellow trucks that waste is separated by gloveless hands as the vehicles creep along the city’s blocks. Continue reading

Holiday unknown to me gives access to French Embassy

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The imposing main building of the French Embassy greets visitors just inside the gate.

An annual series of events around the world under the umbrella of European Heritage Days had escaped me until this year, but last Saturday’s activities in Phnom Penh allowed me and hundreds of others to enjoy access inside some otherwise private international venues.

I learned about the possibility of seeing the French Embassy only the day before by reading a one-inch item in a local English-language daily.  Unfortunately, I didn’t see anything about also being able to tour the British ambassador’s residence, UNESCO offices and a restored colonial-era building where the high-end Van’s restaurant operates.  (I had dined expensively at the restaurant once and have felt no need to return.)

Still, visiting the French Embassy proved to be notable for Continue reading