ASIA PART I: DUST TO DUST
This trip to Phnom Penh really opened my eyes to what was happening outside of my own bubble. It was far from a holiday as we spent every day working. The air was thick and the dust made sure nothing stayed clean. I was sweating constantly and sure enough, I even got sick along the way. Despite this, I came to love the spirit of Phnom Penh, but also realised the never-ending cycle it's going through.
Growing up in a traditional Asian family, I had ideas of what poverty looked like and the value of money. In Cambodia, money was everything. It seemed to glaze over me the first time I came to Phnom Penh, but it didn't take long after arriving this time round to notice the social hierarchies. If you weren't living on the street or in a wooden house, you lived in a narrow, 4-5 storey house (often built poorly). Some even lived in empty lots or unfinished buildings. The idea of home was varied and it was obvious that although they may have looked temporary, they were permanent for the unfortunate.
Having a car in Cambodia meant everything. Everyone wanted to be driving, even though the roads were nothing more than dirt at times or poor cement jobs. You had to have a 4WD to symbolise your power and status/compensate for the lack there of, and if it wasn't that, it was a BMW or Lexus. I came to realise the rich only got richer while the poor stayed poor.
It's been a year since I last came to Phnom Penh and already so much had changed. As new buildings went up, old buildings stay in their old, crumbling states. Despite new shopping malls opening (to try and rival that of Bangkok's) none of the locals could afford to shop there. The city caters to the rich and souvenir-hungry tourists. I asked a fair few people if there were any successful Khmer-run business in Phnom Penh, and barely got more than two names.
Every city has it's bad side, but the people here still seem to shine on through the situation. We woke up at 6:30am every morning to head to work and got home close to 8pm every day. Most of the locals start work at 6-7am and don't finish until just before midnight. They'll walk the dusty roads trying to make ends meet selling coconut juice, or cook meat by an open sewage lake. Their sheer will to survive was nothing short of commendable.
The locals still made the most of what they had, despite barely having anything. Families were very close and many just lived care-free. On my way back from work one night, I remember seeing a little girl and her family celebrate her birthday. In this small, close-to-empty room with a few friends of her's, they skipped around a modestly-decorated table with shiny, multi-coloured party hats. It brought a smile to my face, to see through the darkness there was indeed some light.
I didn't have many days to spend walking around this trip, so most of my shots were taken out of a speeding Tuk-Tuk. The traffic in Phnom Penh could be likened to the freedom and lack of courtesy on the road, as a 14-year old playing Grand Theft Auto. It is chaotic and there were little to no rules. Cars power through narrow streets as scooters and bikes zig-zag between the smallest of gaps. Sidewalks are none-existent as houses come right to the lip of the road. If you don't pay attention, you're likely to run into trouble either that or trouble will run over you.
However, the city has it's charm and it's quirkiness. If it isn't the dogs dragging their saggy-nipples along the dirt or the obscure choices of places many workers choose to call a bed, it may be that Cambodia has a growing fashion scene. Me and the miss were lucky enough to attend and help out Waterlily with the preparations for their collection in this year's annual Phnom Penh Designers Week Fashion Show. Let it be known, I know nothing of high fashion, but I do know that people like to watch it. So, it must be important. Right? Right.
We were driven around by our deported-American, Tuk-Tuk driver, Mr. Shy. I spent a lot of time talking to Mr. Shy about his life here in Cambodia as well as his views on the city. We discussed everything from the locals' perception of people with money, the future of Phnom Penh and our favourite burger joints. He drove us through horrendous rain one night, to which we we're all shocked, as it was meant to be the hot season. The bumpy roads, big puddles and pitter-patter of droplets made for a night of laughs. We made it home safe, but drenched.
Cambodia needs a lot of help, before it can get any better. Unfortunately the Pol Pot regime stunted the growth of the country, killing off many of the educated and sending most into fear. There are a lot of issues with the government, which feed into the mentality of the general public, but there are young, hard-working individuals looking to change all that. I met a few bright stars while working for the NGO and there is hope in the new generation. It may not happen tomorrow, but things will change for the better.
I was constantly looking at how I could better not only myself but those around me. I still haven't found the answer, but "better than a thousand days spent in ignorance is one day spent in reflection."