A life was ended

I heard some shouts and went out onto the balcony to see what the noise was all about.
A crowd had gathered at the crossroad to my right. In 'my' street, like in every street in Phnom Penh, it's normal for people to just hang around, but now more neighbors than usual were loitering at that crossroad.
A man, holding the lifeless body of a child in his arms, ran to and fro, his pain, panic and utter helplessness clearly visible.
He was the only one moving!
The few onlookers, silently standing a few feet away, were basically living at that corner. Some live in apartments, some in lean-tos made from undulated metal, found on or 'borrowed' from a nearby building site, some rent small spaces or sections of the ground floor garages which are meant to be shops, others just live in their Tuk-tuks.
They were all silent now!
No ambulance came rushing along, no police car siren was heard. Those services are available only to the wealthy.
Within a few minutes all was back to normal. Cars and motorbikes drove by and people rushed about their business again. All that's left is a bit of a cardboard box, hiding a small pool of blood marking the spot where a life was ended.

Next day I asked what had happened.
'Some car drove too fast, baby ran into the street. Now baby dead!' I didn't expect such a short and frigid answer.
'What happens now?'
'What you mean? Nothing. Car paid!'
I had to interview a few more people to understand the situation.
The parents of the child are poor people, 'recycling' beer cans (i.e. collecting and stomping them flat) and therefore their baby's life isn't worth much. However, if you're driving a car you are rich and therefore they easiest solution to this unpleasant event is to give the father some money. This has nothing to do with culpability. Maybe the child ran into the road without looking or maybe the car drove too fast. It doesn't matter.
How much was paid? Well, that depends on who you ask. Foreigners (who lived here for decades) reckon 2000 dollars would be sufficient, but the locals know, life is cheap and therefore (they think) $1000 is good enough to 'make the family shut up', as they call it.

The Interview

It was about 10 o'clock in the morning and I was wandering through a shopping mall in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The malls are air-conditioned and give you a bit of a breather from the hot climate outside but due to Corona, one's temperature is checked before entering and of course you have to wear a mask.
So I am walking around, looking at people and shops when a man sitting on a bench, fiddling with his phone says, “Hello!” He smiles and says in a manner of greeting, “How are you?”

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This looks like a boring photo of a building site

Let me assure you, it is not!

The last few month, here in Cambodia we observed a lock-down like the rest of the world. Well, maybe not quite like the rest of the world. Because people can still go out and do their shopping, wearing masks of course and following social distancing rules. But all schools are closed and public transport stopped. Bars are mostly closed or restricted to serve only a limited number of guests. Therefore I was able to go to a small restaurant for my daily breakfast.
And everyday I passed by this construction site and watched the building grow. (Apparently the builders didn't have any corona safety rules)
But yesterday morning was different. They weren't building as usual. There was a crane and a truck and lots of debris all around. It looked like a bomb had gone off. However, people were very relaxed and didn't look worried at all. I asked around to find out what's going on and was told, 'They remove one floor.'.
That information was not helpful at all and only confused me more. Questions like 'How did this happen?' and 'Why?' need to be answered.
My personal theory is, the architects stayed home and the workers just carried on as always, building floor after floor after floor and because nobody stopped them, they build too many.

Reporting from Phnom Penh 26th of March, 2020

According to the Khmer Times there are 93 people in Cambodia infected with Covid-19, six people have been cured and nobody died, yet.
The government has stopped the river cruise ships coming up the MeKong river (from Vietnam) and most borders to the surrounding countries have been closed. A lock-down (in the capital) has not been ordered but the government is thinking about it.
This of course would pan out rather differently than say in Europe.
Look at the above Tuktuk driver for example. Currently he's asleep in his bedroom, just above the living room where he will have his breakfast later on. If someone hires him, he'll just move to his 'office' up front.
I don't think a citywide lock-down would change his life that much.
In some parts of the world drones are used to discipline people. Here, trucks drag speakers around the streets, educating people on how and when to wash their hands. Lot's of businesses have someone with what I call a forehead-thermometer checking people's temperature before allowing them to enter. If you believe those things I must be close to rigor mortis because the displayed results for me are between 34 to 35 degrees Celsius


A woman dragging a cart through the streets of Phnom Penh

This woman is a recycler on the streets of Phnom Penh.
Whenever she comes across one of the numerous rubbish heaps, she rests her baby in the little hammock hanging from the cart's handle bars right behind her, before diving into the garbage  looking for old plastic bottles and empty beer cans which she collects in that cart. When it is full someone will give her 12 and a half cent for every 200 plastic bottles.
At night she parks her cart in an alleyway near the temple and right next to it, creates a private space for herself and the baby, using a tarpaulin -now hidden in the red bag with the cheerful polka dots.
Her life is a tough one!
Yet, if you look at her face you can sense a vast amount of love and happiness.

Phnom Penh is getting a face lift

Phnom Penh has changed a lot since I was here last (check out the Cambodia page).
The very first thing I noticed are the new Tuk-tuks now similar to the ones in Sri Lanka, Peru or India, but I do prefer the old type, resembling horse coaches pulled by a motorbike. Some are still in service but their end is nigh.

Also, a massive shopping mall, which had been under construction for ages has been finished. It's mostly empty though, because the average Cambodian can't afford to go shopping here. The locals, and I agree with them, prefer the street markets which are cheaper and more fun. Early in the mornings, monks still patrol those open air markets, collecting donations and chanting blessings. They are the only ones not in a hurry, everybody else is rushing along buying and selling all sorts of things. Anything can be bought here. Shirts made to fit, life fish in a plastic bag, pork's intestines, condoms, vitamin pills, all sorts of vegetables and medicines, chickens dead or alive, paint, yogurt, make up, real or fake hair, lottery tickets, carpets and blocks of ice. One can view and purchase all of the above while never getting off one's bike. It's mad and marvelous!

Of Language, Looks and Prejudice


Right, you got your passport and bought a ticket. You also got yourself a phrasebook of the expected language(s) and/or downloaded the Google Translator to your phone. You're all set and ready to go! When the big day finally arrives, you get up all exited, grab your bag and get on a train, boat or plane. It's travel time!

The great unknown is fascinating and scary at the same time.

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It’s murder

Yes, you are watching an assassination in process, a cold blooded murder!
The so called 'Strangler fig' is a killer, as the name suggests. It all starts innocently enough. A bird picks up a seed and deposits it high up in a tree. The bird is an ignorant accomplice, a tool, and can't really be blamed for what it's doing. It might have stashed the seed for later consumption and forgot about it, or the seed had actually been eaten and the bird just happen to relief itself while sitting on a branch.
However, the seed is now somewhere on that tree and starts growing a tentacle towards the ground and another one up, towards the sun. Once it reaches the ground, it grows roots around the trees roots and stops it from 'feeding'. The strangler now gets stronger and stronger and slowly but surely covers the tree completely, blocking out all light, as well. Eventually the tree dies.
This process can take years, decades or centuries but the tree will die.
In the photo below you see how the killer has taken over completely. The original tree died long ago and was eaten by maggots.
A system designed by a truly 'loving' god?

The original tree died long ago and was eaten by maggots.

Aliens are amongst us

The other day at breakfast, I was just enjoying my first coffee, my landlord got very excited. 'Look, look!', he said and pointed at the bushes next to the breakfast table. At first I thought he was just happy to see them flowering and smiled politely. I had just woken up and was on my first cupper after all. But he insisted and made me stand up and walk over to where he was standing and look at the bushes with him. 'Yes', I said 'Very pretty!' But this didn't satisfy him. Again, he said, 'Look' and pointed. And then I saw it. A bizarre looking, green creature, about 8 centimetres long with cartoon eyes, was eating the bushes. I'd never seen anything like it. 'Look, they are everywhere', he shouted, pointing at various sections of the bushes, and indeed they were, munching away as if there is no tomorrow. Some were smaller, others about as long and thick as man's finger.
'They will eat everything.' he explained and added 'I have poison'. 'Please wait!', I implored and rushed to get my camera. I took a few shots and then did a reverse image search on google to find out what those beasts are. Google identified them as Oleander Hawkmoth caterpillars.
Those animals were about to go underground for their final metamorphosis if it weren't for my landlord. Displaying an unusual aggressiveness he poisoned them all to save his shrubs.
That was the end of the alien invasion


The Elephant is an important part of the Sri Lankan culture.
There are an estimated 4000 wild elephants living on this island. Most of the big herds live in the national parks and can be visited in organised safaris. The herds are living in a matriarchy and as a rule, males are not tolerated in the herd and therefore roam the countryside by themselves. Occasionally, if you are lucky while travelling through the country, you may spot a male in the distance which is appreciated by the locals and tourists alike.
But they do need to eat, of course and that's where the problems start.
At night, one of the big males may decide to go for an easy meal and visit the nearest plantations to steal bananas, tomatoes, rice and other vegetables. Needless to say, the natives aren't too pleased if a giant turns up and eats hundreds of kilos of their planted goods. Life is hard enough as it is and a huge animal with a monster appetite is not exactly welcome. So what to do?
Well, you set up guards, of course.

A guard's tree-house
A different type of tree-house
A more basic tree-house

Next to every plantation is a small 'tree-house' for lack of a better term. Mostly it's just a rudimentary construction to give a person a shelter and a vantage point. When night comes the designated guard, armed with some food and maybe a little booze but most importantly a bag of fireworks, climbs the tree and waits. Most of the time nothing happens. But every now and then one of the giants just happens to pass by, looking for a bite to eat. That's when the guard jumps into action. They all have different ideas on how to chase the intruder away without getting attacked.(A hungry elephant usually has an attitude problem)
Some start with small firecrackers to let the raider know this place is guarded. Others throw firework the size of small bombs, trying to scare the elephant away.
Occasionally a guard has too much Arrack (the local whiskey) and falls asleep, allowing the elephant to eat in peace.