12. In Phnom Penh, Part II
From the bigger cities I travel through here in Southeast Asia, Phnom Penh is my favored. It is astonishing how perception changes with some familiarity. First, one is completely overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, smells and the traffic and doesn’t really know what to make of all of this. Everything around is a big blur. One doesn't really “see”.
Now after my second visit to the city things start to fall into place, somehow like the beginning of finding a lead in a puzzle.
|Flower decoration shop, at night!|
|Food everywhere, 24/7.|
|Sale of handbags, dumped on sidewalk in front of shop.|
It is amazing how relatively ordered and organized those impressions become which first were perceived as chaotic. The trades and the streets where those can be found are an example. There are sections of streets, or entire streets of the city, dedicated to every imaginable trade.
|Ingenious contraption to transport banana branches on scooter.|
For us in the West most of the time workers, trades, and repair shops are concealed in enclosed factories or workshops, or hidden away anonymously in some other ways; they require a look into the “Yellow Pages”. Here they are exposed, like a gigantic city-wide perpetual trade show.
After some time and experience with the city (which I haven’t fully gained yet, of course) one can find almost every shop, repair place, or product one is looking for.
|New scooter tires, not my size.|
There are streets dedicated to sewing machine repair, new scooter tires, adhering stickers and full vinyl covers for scooter, car wrap (One has to experience how they do this, amazing! I cannot even paste a small sticker onto something without getting a trapped air bubble!), rewiring of electric motors, small and heavy engine repair, and all sorts of other repairs. Cambodians repair everything. Most of the time Phnom Penh reminds me in some way of Havana, Cuba.
When visiting the remote former jungle outpost of the drug lord Khun Sa in Ban Hin Tek, Thailand, I slid off the dirt track into a ditch, nothing serious (See the post 11/26/2013). The motorcycle was undamaged, but the auxiliary HELLA light, mounted low on the crashbar had a cracked housing and bent mounting bracket. The lamp itself was undamaged. The poorly build plastic housing of the lamp was cracked open, some of the plastic was missing, and I had to tape it to keep the lamp in place. It held OK for the entire trip to here.
In the many car accessorizing shacks here around town I really found the exact same light, original HELLA, however only sold as a pair of course (although about $25 cheaper than the same pair sold on ebay in the US). It would have been a shame to spend such money just to get one replacement part. (The HELLA online service didn’t even bother to return my email when I inquired about spare parts for that light.)
|Yorng, my regular tuk-tuk driver.|
My tuk-tuk driver Yorng who took me to the shop told me to disassemble the light and give him the splintered housing. He will see where he can get it repaired, he said. A day later, I couldn’t believe my eyes: He brings back the housing of the light, looking like new, completely repaired with new resin fill in the areas which were missing, and with new matching paint. Flawless. The steel bracket repainted and fixed as well.
The city also has an enormous spectrum of activities and attractions, commonly not found in a Western city. Sure, a Western metropolis may also be home to a young gay couple who run their own coffee shop. Here in Phnom Penh, however, the two guys in their early twenties operate from a nice cart set up on a side walk, out in the open, sourcing the necessary electric power from a nearby school building to which they are connected via a 200+ meter extension cord, crossing the street and dangling high up in the trees! They make the most delicious cappuccino, and so far the most intricate decorations on top of milk foam I have ever seen.
"Lover Coffee" Cart, Phnom Penh
The other end of the spectrum may be represented by the Phnom Penh Shooting range, on the outskirts of the city near Highway 2 going south, were one can shoot every conceivable war weapon one can think of. 30 rounds of AK 47, M16 or M4 assault rifle shooting costs you $40. You may also shoot a M79 grenade from a shoulder fired launcher for $100. For $300 you can kill a cow at the firing range by using a Russian-made B40/RPG2 “Bazooka” anti-tank rocket (Not a joke).
That’s Phnom Penh.
Of course, Phnom Penh is more than just extremes. It is also the capital of the former French Protectorate (since 1863 until the late 1960s), with its city-wide French architecture, French city plan design, streets and boulevards. There are so many more French-designed buildings to explore; more of that topic tomorrow.
|Wow: The students get to design a STAIRCASE in Second Year, something our students never need to experience!|
Architecture is taught at a university level at the Royal University of Fine Art, founded by the former French authorities as the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Of course I had to pay a visit. The student’s projects are similarly out of scale like many of our own student’s work; however they have better facilities to learn in than the (old) Architecture building at the University of Illinois, where I have to teach half of the year.
It was also a great pleasure to run into the actor who played the bell boy at the Gerard Depardieu-run "Buffalo Bar" in "City of Ghosts" which plays here in Phnom Penh. It is a B-movie, not that great, but has a great authenticity to it of the "old" Phnom Penh", a few years back. I actually like it a lot, despite its mediocre cinematographic status. I don't know the exact name of the local actor, I believe it is Vanna; he calls himself now "General Lee". He is a character, there is no doubt, fabulous. I am happy that I met him.
|Vanna, the bellboy of the "Buffalo Bar" in Matt Dillon's "City of Ghosts".|
|He is great, I love him!|