Archive for March, 2008

Went inside for some more photos. The light was too low so I had to crank the camera up to 800-1600 ISO.


Strange meat & seafood everywhere. This place smelled terrible.


Inspecting chicken.




Gutting & cleaning a snakehead. These fish can breathe oxygen, so they stay fresh.


Orussey Market has three floors. The top two are filled with cheap jewelry and knockoff designer clothes. Most of the shops were still closed.


Binding chickens to be sold. Bird flu central.

coconut huskers

Husking coconuts outside the market.


Kids here love it when you take their photo and show the the result on the LCD screen.


Orussey Market has just about every possible service you’d need.




The same porter I’d seen two hours earlier, on the other side of the market. Still hoping for work.


Motodops have a lot of time on their hands.


Tip: for hassle-free photography, don’t take shots of police, even if you think they aren’t looking.




This guy managed to stare at me while sharpening a knife. Skill.


Bringing live ducks & ducklings to the market.



He wanted $3 for his photo. No deal.

bicycle repair

Rest of the set here.


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Got inspired the other day and decided to blitz a local market with my cameras. Things start early in Cambodia, and I wanted to catch some of the crazy Saturday morning market action. Rolled out of bed at 5:30 and took a moto over to the Orussey Market, which was just starting to get busy. Took about 150 shots in all, 66 of which made the final cut.

orussey market entrance

Street photography is fun, but I had two overcome a few obstacles. First, walking up to someone and sticking a camera in their face is awkward. Also, being the only westerner around means everyone has their eye on you. The point is to be unobtrusive and invisible, which turned out to be nearly impossible unless I used the telephoto lens. So I wandered around for about three hours, shooting randomly and generally bewildering people.


Got lucky with this shot. Usually panning with a slow shutter speed ends up too blurry.


6:30am. Porters waiting for vendors to arrive with stock.


Telephoto shot, but they spotted me.


Amused by a traffic jam.

cutting ice

Ice arrives from factories, where it’s cut into blocks and sold to vendors, who use it to refrigerate perishables.

ice grinder

Sometimes the ice is crushed in a grimy wood-chipper machine. Definitely not safe for drinking.


This guy was trying to force his way into the market with his enormous load of styrofoam food containers.




Motodop waiting for a fare.

banana bike

Banana vendor.


Waiting for something.

pork vendors

Need pork?


pork vendor

moto park

Moto parking lot at the market.

meat wagon

Meat wagon. Lots of flies.


Cyclo. Good for transporting stuff but slow.



More photos tomorrow.

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Being big on history, I did a lot of background research on Cambodia during the cold, dark Minnesota winter. And since Cambodia’s recent history is mostly dark and disturbing, I wound up reading several books on the Khmer Rouge era. I was curious to see firsthand what sort of legacy the genocide has had. Still being in tourist mode within a week of arriving in Phnom Penh, I decided to check out the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, which, along with the Choeung Ek Killing Fields outside of town, is one of Cambodia’s important memorials to the roughly 2 million victims of the Khmer Rouge from 1975-79.


Tuol Sleng was a high school prior to the Khmer Rouge takeover. In 1975 they renamed it Security Prison 21 (S-21) and turned it into a detention/torture center for “political prisoners.” An estimated 17,000-20,000 people passed through here, most were tortured until they “confessed”, then sent to various killing fields in the countryside. When the Vietnamese overthrew the Khmer Rouge and liberated the prison, they found 7 survivors.
I went early on a Monday morning to avoid crowds, and found the place mostly empty except for a large group of French tourists.


These rooms are preserved mostly as they were found nearly thirty years ago. There aren’t any panels or background info, only profound starkness.


The buildings and rooms haven’t been restored beyond simple preservation.


Moving on to the next cellblock, I encountered thousands of these mugshots.


The Khmer Rouge was very diligent and thorough in the way they documented prisoners. Every single prisoner who passed through here had their picture taken and a full biography written, including whatever “confession” they had been tortured into making.




Upstairs there were brick and wooden cells, most too small to lie down in.


There was also an interesting photo exhibit on Khmer Rouge leaders, many of whom never paid for their crimes. This photo is of Son Sen, the Khmer Rouge Minister of Defense. He died peacefully in 1997 without being brought to justice. His and other photos were defaced by angry graffiti.


A similar exhibit had before-and-after photos of minor Khmer Rouge figures: Group Leaders, Commune Commandants, soldiers etc. Most live quiet, unassuming lives as farmers, shopkeepers, mechanics, fishermen, anything. This man, a former KR village chief, is now a rice farmer.


Overall it was a powerful experience. Not anywhere near the level of Auschwitz or the Berlin/Washington Holocaust museums, but it had the same impact.

bird on a wire

Rest of the set here. I took the original photos in color, but during the editing stage decided to convert them to monochrome. The place had a real dark feel to it anyway.

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blue wall

This woman sit in the same spot every day, always with her feet up & blue flops on the ground. Seen at the end of St. 312, Phnom Penh

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Just got back from HKL’s annual general assembly in Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s primary port and resort town. It took five cramped, sweaty hours in a packed bus to get there, but it was good to get away from Phnom Penh for a bit.

Below: bathroom break, Cambodian-style. Wander into a dry rice field in full view of the bus and do your thing.

bathroom break

Sihanoukville isn’t anything special, but it’s less humid and has beaches, which counts for a lot. The first day was seven hours of powerpoint presentations in incomprehensible Khmer, but the banquet afterwards was excellent. Steaming mountains of rice, delicious fish, strange crustaceans and mollusks from the Gulf of Thailand, dragonfruit & papaya for dessert. Servers brought pitcher after pitcher of Angkor beer, which everyone drank with huge ice cubes. Cambodians love toasting, clinking glasses every couple minutes or so. This is probably why they drink their beer watered-down. I preferred mine ice-free, which made things difficult as the night wore on. There was the usual Khmer dancing, and as anticipated I was nothing but a clown.

Day 2 was a free day, and most people went to Ochheuteal Beach, myself included. The sun hid behind the clouds most of the day, but the water was warm and the sand soft. Vendors hawking everything from seashell trinkets to swim trunks wandered the beach.

grilled squid vendor

The most popular beach food is fresh-caught squid, skewered and grilled and served with chili sauce. Surprisingly good. We also feasted on mango and raw peanuts. And plenty of Angkor. I didn’t get a chance to take a bunch of photos, but here are some of what I captured:


These kids were selling some deep-fried pastries I’m sure would get me sick. Very friendly though.

crustaceans & mollusks

My stomach wasn’t prepared for this stuff.

mango vendor

Two options for mangoes: green or ripe. Green mangos are a little on the bitter side and are served with salt and spicy peppers. I prefer the ripe ones.


This girl was scouring the area collecting empty cans of Angkor and coke. She would watch you until you finished, then take the can to her mom, who had a sack filled with cans. Sometimes she would find a little coke or sprite at the bottom and drink it. I took a couple shots of her and showed her the results on the LCD screen. Other shots here.

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tenements by day

And at night:

tenements by night

These tenements a couple blocks from the apartment are fully occupied by squatters. Apparently there are plans to tear this place down, but they won’t go quietly. I took these two photos a couple days apart, and didn’t realize I had captured almost the exact same angle until just now. It’s an interesting place for photos, especially when the setting sun hits it just right…


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When I was doing research on places to explore and photograph in Phnom Penh, I came across some interesting articles and photos about an enormous landfill somewhere in the industrial outskirts of the city. The problem was I had no idea where it was, other than it was called the Stung Meanchey dump. I consulted my map and found an area in southwest Phnom Penh labeled Stung Meanchey. It looked to be about 3 miles away, the perfect distance for a Saturday bike ride. Problem is, Phnom Penh isn’t built for casual Saturday rides. Phnom Penh weekend traffic is madness. The main boulevards were packed with wild-driving Cambodians heading out on family excursions, and the safer side streets clogged with market traffic. So I stuck with the boulevards, where at least you can shadow locals riding their bikes. After 45 minutes of this I reached the dismal neighborhood of Stung Meanchey, where it wasn’t too hard to find the dusty turnoff to the dump.
approaching the dump
The Stung Meanchey Municipal Dump is the landfill where the garbage of 2 million Phnom Penhois ends up. About 2,000 people (including 600 children) live in the dump, scouring the hundred-acre wasteland for anything salvageable and recyclable. They usually earn about fifty cents per day.
Also known as Smoky Mountain, the landfill is permanently on fire. Methane produced by decomposing waste burns in inextinguishable subterranean fires, creating noxious clouds of smoke that seep out of the trash and add to the surreal atmosphere of the place.
It looked like a WWI battlefield. The hot, humid air was choked with the fumes of millions of tons of rotting trash. Black, fetid water stagnated in deep trenches. I could only imagine what sort of mess this place would become after a few months of heavy rains. Strange Cambodian pop music drifted lazily from somewhere. Hurrying through the cloud of smoke, I emerged in a clearing where people were wallowing in a sea of garbage.
It was Saturday, so there weren’t many garbage trucks arriving and hence less activity than usual. I felt incredibly self-conscious taking photos, so I didn’t get anything near the quality of some of the other photos I’ve seen of the place.
chasing after a dump truck
A few kids took notice and came running up with the usual “hello-what-is-your-name” greeting that is so common with Cambodian children.

They were happy to mug for a couple shots until a few teenagers strolled up and started to inspect my camera and bike with disconcerting interest. Time to leave.


I rode through the toxic cloud past a group of gasping Japanese tourists and up to the summit of Smoky Mountain, where I had a panoramic view of the dump.


Hard to imagine people living in such desolation.


The rest of the photos are here. Also, check out this set for the most powerful photos of the dump I’ve seen.

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