Monday, December 30, 2013



To all my readers luck, health and happiness for the New Year!

13. One-Hundred-Thousand

Today the paper (Phnom Penh Post) reported that yesterday, Sunday, when I took the videos, 100,000 people were on the street, mostly garment factory workers, demanding a salary which is seen to be the bare minimum to survive: $160. 

The first factories had to be closed today, Monday. 

There is a lot of military camping out near their vehicles near where I live at Chaktomuk Conference Hall (Landmark building. designed by famous Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann. I will come back to architecture tomorrow.)

They are in full battle gear, and armed, and stay near their vehicles overnight, ready for anything.

In the meantime I am still strolling through this fascinating city, I haven't moved the motorcycle in several days now, and I haven't rented a scooter either. Walking is just more what I prefer here, and it works. Sometimes, rarely, I hail down a motorcycle taxi. 

My hunt for fitting tires is still unsuccessful, and I make first arrangements to briefly leave the country for Thailand to try my luck there. I hope, and I am pretty sure, that I will find fitting tires there, capitalism and trade is more developed in that nation, and sometimes it has it's advantages.

All kinds of tires can be had here, except the ones I need.

I thought I needed a more official looking sun hat, and I joined the Royal Cambodian Immigration Police. You see me getting my new hat fitted in the pictures below. 

Have fun.

The new badge: Immigration Police

And a very nice BMW R60 (1957-69) T-shirt.

Freaky fellows wishing Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

12. Unrest in Phnom Penh 

Tens of Thousands on Street

The civil unrest in Thailand seems to spill over into Cambodia, although for other reasons. While in that country it is the urge to remove the corrupt government of Taksin Sinawatra's sister, Yingluck, who gets the more educated on the streets of Bangkok for now the third consecutive month, here in Cambodia the masses simply want more money and better living conditions; who wouldn't. 

Currently in Bangkok:

People here in Cambodia see the mansions, waste and indulgence of the Hun Sen government, in power since 1998, and one of the longest ruling dictators in the world (with Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe and Nazarbajev, Kazachstan). 

A bloody coup got him, the former Maoist Khmer Rouge member (the party that killed about 4 million Cambodian citizens), into power when he overthrew the elected Prime Minister Norodom Rannaridhh. He vowed to stay in power until he is 74 years old; history will tell whether he will gun down the current movement as well, or things come to a smooth and democratic ending. 

Many past elections are supposedly rigged, and Hun Sen's government is accused of widespread corruption and human rights abuses. 

Now it seems, people are really acting up. One can see the newly rich driving around in 2014 Rolls Royce 'Ghost's' ($300,000++), Porsche Cayenne, and the most favored mode of transportation, and a 'Must' and ultimate status symbol, a black 2014 Range Rover.

New arrival: 2014 Rolls Royce Ghost, in Phnom Penh showroom ($300,000, without extras and tax).
Average income in Cambodia is around $1/day in the provinces, $100/month in Phnom Penh. A garment factory worker earns about $60/month. Every day in Phnom Penh, 80 cars receive registration.

Those who drive such cars, in the front window the government issued "VIP plate", ticket-free free parking anywhere and other perks, are a blatant juxtaposition to the many factory workers and farmers earning about $25-60 per month, and who are now on the streets in the tens-of-thousands. This year already saw bloody disputes when riot police killed protesters after the contested election. I sure hope it doesn't come to that again.

This one is taken with my phone, so quality is a little low:

Street vendors hand out free water and baguette to the demonstrators.
This is a small gesture, but really touching when you see it happen.

Minimum wage demanded: $160/month.

No eyes for AUDI's new Phnom Phen construction site: On the way to the demonstration.

Cambodians are in general gentle people; I am not sure that they will be able to shake off a repressive, authoritarian regime such as the one of Hun Sen with -still- friendly protest such as these. It seems that Cambodians lack the determination and brutality of their Thai neighbors.

Comment concerning the face, or surgical masks people are wearing in the videos and pictures: 

This is not to obscure the face and make police identification harder, it is a measure against the pollution in the city caused by the many diesel vehicles, most of them without catalytic converter, and the 2-stroke scooters. I wear a mask like that when I ride the motorcycle, and I always wear one when I walk through town. It isn't the most comfortable way to breath, but it makes a difference.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

11. BMW in Phnom Penh

BMW must have high hopes for the Cambodian market. There is a brand new car dealership here in town, located in an excellent new building, designed to BMW corporate ID standards. They are open since end of November 2013. The staff just returned from a training session in Singapore. They are called BMW PREMIUM Auto Cambodia.

 I paid a visit today, partly out of curiosity, but also since I need new tires soon, and tires for big motorcycles are almost impossible to find here. (Actually, I found a matching pair of MICHELIN tires today at a shop near the Russian Market, but these were road/racing tires, not dual sport or enduro.)

Unfortunately, PREMIUM BMW was unable to help. Car tires only. The motorcycle division is in the works for an opening in 2015.

Ms. Kanary, the smart sales manager

Friday, December 27, 2013

10. Phnom Penh

After the first shock about the lawless and crazy traffic has resided and the motorcycle is parked in the garage, I remember again what a great Asian city Phnom Penh is. The mixture of styles, influences, food, shops, street scenes and sights is just tantalizing. 

I saw the typical tourist sites many years ago and will not go again: 
  • Tuol Sleng, aka: S-21 (Security Prison No. 21), the former Chao Ponhea Yat High School which was turned into one of the 150 execution sites of the Khmer Rouge where more than 20,000 people lost their life; 
  • The Killing Fields outside of the city, near the village of Choeung Ek, where a Yale University mapping project located about 1,4 million victims of Cambodia's Democide (Theodore Abel) in the rice fields. 
I do not want to visit again, the memory from many years ago is still fresh.

I stay in the city and do long walks to enjoy the many fabulous French architecture examples which fascinate me.

Sisowath Quai

French corner architecture 1960s

The Raffles Hotel Le Royale

Phnom Penh Central Train Station

Phnom Penh Central Train Station, Royal Cambodian Railway.

Phnom Penh Central Train Station

Seeing the architecture from the time of the French period in Phnom Penh is like travelling back in time to the France of my childhood, or to visit the rare sights of today's France where the modernistic history of the 1950-60s is not yet destroyed.

Not much travelling is going on today inside of the Royal Cambodian Railway train station, however. The beautiful interior space of the building and the platforms, built in 1932 (possibly by French architect Louis-Victor Chaucon?, not sure) and beautifully restored in 2010, was occupied by a contingent of Cambodian Riot Police in full gear, who played cards or slept in their hammocks, waiting for some order which has yet to come. I don't know the reason for their presence in the station. It might also that they are waiting to board a train. There is only one line connecting Phnom penh with Batambang in the northwest. It was originally designed to connect Cambodia with Thailand.

No chance to buy a train ticket today.

Inside Royal Cambodian Railway Station

The building of the Central Market (1937) in downtown Phnom Penh, designed by French architects Jean Desbois & Louis Chauchon is certainly the most iconic structure of architectural quality and that particular period. It is an airy, light-flooded dome structure made of reinforced concrete and truly adaptive to the climate. The opening patterns in the concrete shell of the roof allow for natural ventilation and create the interesting light patterns which make this collaborative "architect-engineer design" so successful.

Security taking a nap.
Which reminds me: The inventor of the AK 47, the most common automatic rifle in the world today (and seen in this picture), Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov, died a few days ago December 23, 2013).

Central Market

The fabulous Raffles Hotel Le Royale, designed by Frenchman Erneste Hebrard in 1929, restored in 1997, is another excellent example of French tropical architecture. High ceilings and shuttered windows, together with two intimate pools in symmetrical patios create an unmistakably beautiful tropical feel and reminisce of the past colonial splendor. It is in an excellent condition, however not my accommodation in the city. Since I like to have a small kitchen to get a break from constantly eating out, I stay in a small apartment near the Mekhong river.

Here are some more views of street life in this great city.

The Great Mekhong River Race

The Coffin shop.

Open air barber shop

Cable installation.


Central Market

(Almost) Real Mercedes-Benz mechanics

Chinese Noodle shop air-drying wares.

Mekhong and Sisowath Quai

Rice merchant

Rice seems to pay the bills quite nicely (for the merchant, at least), one can afford a brand new BMW X6.
On the other hand, in currently unstable Thailand:

Various types of rice

Ready to leave for the trip to the provinces: The infamous mini-bus.

Today I close with a few images of a beautifully restored Vespa, owned by a young lad in a mobile phone shop (everybody is young here), a motorcycle with crutches, and the shoe repairman fixing my off-road knee-guards. Very good job! Thank you!

Tomorrow I will explore more examples of French architecture between the 1920s and 1960.

My off-road knee-guards get a needed make-over.