My First Almost-Collision + the Trash Mountain is Moving

My First Almost-Collision + the Trash Mountain is Moving.

Trash mountian on Nehru Blvd
It may be hard to see, becasue of the night photography, but its moving out into the main street.
Trash mountain
It's moving out towards the main street.

It may be hard to tell from these photos, because I have to take them at night and can’t get a really wide shot, but this trash mountain is slowly moving out into the main street as the recycle collectors appear to scavenge its rear end and the residents put more stuff on the front end. Eventually the council garbage men will have to collect it or move it. Given the way half the population think the trafic lights are meant to other people, I’ve learning to look over my shoulder in five different directions at once. Nevertheless, today the inevitble happened. A motorbike ran into my bicyce: fortunately they hit my front tyre forward of the axil, so I didn’t get knocked off.  However, in viewof the number of children who play on the side of the street only 10-12 feet form bicycles and motor bikes, I have learned the Cambodian word for ‘watchout’: it’s ‘pror-yat!’: Ah well… into every life a little rain must fall. Tomorrow will be a wasted day filling in forms.


Giving Food not Money, plus Review of ‘Infidel’ by Aayan Hirsi Ali

For the first time tonight I did what I’ve read others advocate. When I was approached by a child beggar while I was eating dinner, instead of giving him a money, I bought a him a take-away noodle pack (for the glorious amount of 75 cents.) At least there’s a fair chance he’ll get to eat the food, and it won’t go to an alcoholic parent, which I’m told is what often happens when you give money to kids.

I just added a review of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s autobiography to one of my book review pages. She describes growing up Muslim in Ethiopia, rejecting Islam and becoming a refugee and eventually a member of parliament of Holland. She had to leave Holland after a film producer she worked with was killed. It’s a fascinating read. If anyone wants to understand the North African and second generation Muslim word in Europe, this book is a “must read.”

The Rainy Season Decided to Arrive!

18 Sept 2010

I’ve been wondering why this so-called rainy season hadn’t been so rainy, and why I’d only needed a rain coat two or three times. Tonight nature decided to teach me a lesson: never assume anything. I was teaching an English class at my university in Phnom Penn (I got a paying part-time job to support the volunteering.) and earlier in the night thought how much I’d saved by buying a $40 bicycle. At $4 a day in tuk tuk money, the bicycle had paid for itself in two weeks. Since it had really only rained for an hour or so each afternoon, and most of the rain occurred overnight, I hadn’t really been much affected by this so-called “rainy season”.

At about 6.30 I noticed it was raining early tonight, and shut barred windows on our seventh floor classroom. (Why do they need bars on the seventh floor? Who knows. And what happens when there’s a fire and people want to jump out the window? Who knows.) By the time class ended at 7, I went down to the basement to collect my bicycle, and when I emerged, I didn’t like what I saw. The drains weren’t coping and in places the water was up to mid calf height.

The streets of Phnom Penh are littered with uncollected trash. Most of these piles only grow to a couple of feet high, before the recycle scavengers or the municipal trash collection deals with them, but residents of some streets – not all, I stress – like to dump their stuff in side streets, near the edge an intersection with a bigger roadway, so that traffic sometimes has to drive around the rubbish mound when entering or leaving the side streets. This is fine if you’re in a car (maybe five precent of the vehicle population here) or a motorcycle (eighty to ninety per cent) but if you’re on a bicycle, you have a problem. Well, two problems, realy: one, you’re mid calf deep in water, and two, all that filth and trash and it’s associated E-coli is now part of the water you’re wading through, and three, you can’t see where the trash piles are.

 If I’d had my wits about me I’d have taken off my shoes and socks, rolled up my trouser cuffs as far as a I could, and just accepted I was going to get wet feet and lower legs for the 20 minutes it takes me to get home. I instead I did the stupid thing and thought: “well it won’t be like this all the way home, will it?” A large part of it was. So it’s another trip to the cleaners for one pair of pants. . From now on I ‘m taking my leather sandals with me.

What’s a Good Living?

A kid at an outdoor restaurant recently told me he wants to get a job as a security guard. At the outdoor restuarant he earns $40 a month (6 days a week.) As a security guard he coud earn $90.

Meanwhile here’s how lots of kids earn their money: I dont know how many of these kids there are in Phnom Penh, but at least hundreds, maybe thousands. In case it’s not clear, he’s hauling a a hand cart  looking for recyclaables to sell.

I don't know how many of these kids there are, but they number at least in the hundreds, maybe thousands, out each night looking for junk to recycle. I susupect very few of them go to school. (How could you, if you, ifve been doing this all night?)

Some Street Scenes of Phnom Penh.

One trash mountain
The early stages of one 'trash mountain". These things appear to appear at the edges ot T intersections. They don't totally block the traffic, but they do force you to drive around them
The start of another trash mountain.
I'll try to find this one again in a few days to see how much it's grown.
Motor bike on wrong side of road.
What's this coming towards me? A motor bike on the wrong side of the road, as usual. Note that this guy hasn't got his headlights on. This is NOT unusual.

The Mystery of Trash Mountain

Wednesday 8 Sept 2010 

Well, I’m back in Phnom Penh, and I’ve just done my first three classes of paid teaching at a new university. Hopefully some paid work will keep body, soul and bank account together and support the volunteering. I’ve noticed a few more odd things here. On a couple of street corners the residents have taken to piling their rubbish in the middle the side road just on the brink of a T intersection. In other words, if you are driving down the main road you don’t run over the pile of junk, but if you are turning into or out of the smaller side road, you have to drive around this big pile of garbage. I don’t know if they got sick of the amount of junk in their street, or if they are protesting at the city council rubbish collection not collecting from their street or what. (There actually is some kind of municipal rubbish collection here, but small amounts of general litter just stay where they are unless some recyclable collector finds them worthwhile collecting. The recycle collector guys mostly seem to go for plastic bottles, since everyone here drinks bottled water. Other trash just stays where it’s dumped.

I’ll try to follow the same route home from university each night, and see what happens to the trash mountain.

Visit to the Cu Chi area outside Saigon.

I forgot to mention something about the bus trip to Vietnam. On the way there a bunch of people on the bus all suddenly tried to look out the right side window. When I asked what happened someone explained in broken English and with sign language that we had just hit or knocked over a motorbike rider. I don’t know which and I don’t know how badly he was injured, if at all, I was on the left hand seating of the bus, so i didn’t see anything. But no one, including the driver, seemed to have any interest in stopping to see what happened to him.

Anyway, back to Vietnam. On Saturday I went to the Cu Chi area outside of Saigon. This used to be a stronghold of sympathisers with North Vietnam during the war. They showed us some of the tunnels the VC used to hide in, and the spear traps they used to snag American or South Vietnamese soldiers. You’d step on a piece of ground, which would turn out to be a trap door or rotating board on a hinge, and as you fell through you be impaled on metal spikes. Bloody nasty stuff, since your screams would then tell everybody where your company/platoon was.

On Sunday 5th I went to the former South Vietnamese Presidential Palace. Those readers who are old enough will remember the film clip of the North Vietnamese tank crashing through its front gate on the day Saigon fell to the North.

On the bus on the way back on Sunday afternoon, I saw my first actual fatality on the roadside. A motor cycle driver had been hit by something, he had been pulled from the road and his corpse was lying face up, with its feet pointed towards the road. There was some vehicle there with a flashing red light, and a crowd of 40-50 standing around gawping. Our bus just continued on. 

Getting back here, I’ve started my first regular teaching work with a  local uni, only eight hours a week at first, but I expect that will grow.

A Short Trip to Vietnam (part 1)

Thursday 2 Sept 2010.
I’m having a four day holiday I Vietnam, specifically Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC as I should call it.) It’s cleaner and greener than Phnom Penh. There seem to be more park space around the Ben Thanh market area where I’ staying. I’ve booked a room for $17 a night right opposite where the bus pick-up is. It has hot water, aircon, and a mini fridge. I’ll go on a couple of one day trips tomorrow and the day after.
On the night before I left, Wednesday night, someone tried to enter my room, but I had the latch on the door. I woke up at the noise. When I went to investigate, one of the staff told me one of the other guest just got confused about his room. Not likely I suspected. About 15 minutes later there was yelling and screaming. Someone head entered a room of a couple on the third floor: The room didn’t have a chain on the door. A guest decided to check out pay his bill and jump on his motorbike at 3 am. No one tried to stop him. He left his girlfriend behind in the room, but he fitted the description of the guy entering the third floor room. When the owner finally appeared she agreed to get chains on all the rooms.
The next day on the way here to Vietnam there was a commotion on the bus, and people stared out the window. Apparently the bus driver has either knocked someone off his bike, or a motorbike rider had gone over trying to avoid us, I don’t know which. But the bus driver didn’t slowdown, and nobody suggested he did. The other passengers appeared to be Vietnamese or Cambodian and I couldn’t communicate “shouldn’t we slow down?” I don’t know if anybody would have paid any attention if I did. As a thirty-something woman said to me a couple of weeks ago. “You have to look out for yourself on these roads because nobody else is looking out for you.”
The odd thing is the next day a guy came up to me in a park in HCMC park and said, “You were on the bus yesterday.” When we talked about it turned out he did have OK English. He said he heard something hit side of the bus, but couldn’t see what happened to the motorcycle rider. I guess the moral of this story is either have a big vehicle, or go really slowly and give everybody a wide birth like I do on my bicycle.
The scenery here is not much different from Cambodia, although I noticed that almost every building had a Vietnamese flag out the front. Patriotism? Compulsion? I don’t know.
In the area around Ben Thanh market, there are lots of “tourist security” people in bright green uniforms: I don’t know whether they are real police or private security guards or what. I found the exchange rate confusing. It’s really 2,000 dong to the dollar, but in an ATM I attempted to withdraw $100, and discovered later I’d only withdrawn $10. It will probably cost me another $10 in fees and things by the time it gets back to Australia.
I didn’t get much chance to see anything except the market and the revolutionary museum by the time things closed up tonight.

Friday 3 August 2010

On Friday (today) I went to a few museums, one of which was the “War Remnants Museum.”
(Nice neutral title that.) Some parts of this museum don’t make nice viewing. There I saw a photo of a US soldier holding up part of a corpse: the head, a shoulder, some of the torso and one leg were together and he was holding that all up by the leg. The rest was in a mess by the ground. There was also a group of American soldiers sitting around some beheaded Vietnamese corpses. Now before any body jumps to any conclusions, yes I’m sure the North Vietnamese behaved in a similar way with enemy bodies, and did things I could only guess at. And they probably won’t put those photos on display in their own museum. These photos just happened to be taken of Americans by Americans and ended up in Vietnamese hands after the war, so they ended up in the Vietnamese museum.  I don’t know why people take these kinds of photos, or let themselves be photographed holding up part of a corpse to display for the camera. But I’ve never been in combat so maybe I just don’t and won’t ever ‘get it.’ The museum, obvioulsy is designed to show the war from the victorious (North) Vietnamese side’s point of view.

I went to a water puppet show which I’d highly recommend to anyone coming to Saigon/ HCMC. The puppets float on water with a backdrop of the exterior of a house behind them and the puppeteers are controlling the puppets from behind the backdrop using wires that go under the water. You never see the controlling strings or wires like you do in western puppet shows.
You can tell Vietnam is better off economically than Cambodia, just from the lesser amount of rubbish, broken cement and left over masonry on the roads and sidewalks. There are almost no tuk tuks, and there are motor bikes every where.

People told me Vietnamese book sellers, cyclo drivers etc were much more aggressive here than in Cambodia, but that hasn’t been true. I’ve just said “no thanks ” or shook my head, made no eye contact and kept walking staring at the pavement 40 feet a head of me. No body has really hassled me.

Tomorrow I’m gong on a trip through the country side and to have a look at the tunnel systems the Vietnamese used during the war to hide and smuggle arms.