Crossing Cambodia

Thursday, October 30, 2008

October '08s' last Chasing Cars

Another week, another list of traffic related news:
  • Drawing up a workable traffic law is proving to have some difficulties. Not here in Cambodia, but over in Vietnam. Apparently the the Ministry of Health was requested to come up with physical requirements needed to be met before obtaining/extending a drivers' license. According to AFP, the Ministry had drafted an 83(!) point plan, no less. The main points:
    'The Decree 33/2008 says that those who are under 1.45m tall and weighing under 40kg will no longer be allowed to drive motorbikes, and car drivers must now be at least 1.5m'.
    Basically it had been some crude guess work by officials. Anyone under the Vietnamese average (that's usually 50% of the population) should be viewed as unhealthy and thus unfit to drive. Besides discriminating against women (who weigh less and are smaller), disabled would also be discriminated against.

    Naturally common sense caught up with this plan and it has been shelved:
    'The Ministry of Health has admitted its recent decision to set 83 health criteria for drivers of cars and motorbikes was unworkable'.
    However the aforementioned AFP article sees some (cheap?) way of gaining extra readers. One of the standards to be met included the circumfence of the drivers chest:
    '... spurned jokes about traffic police with tape measures enthusiastically flagging down female motorcyclists, and predictions of a run on padded bras'.
    However, it seems AFP have problems with the anatomy of flat-chested persons. They tend to be males. Oops.

    What about drivers who can't see over the bonnet of their Lexuses?
  • When is a crash, an accident in Cambodia? On the one hand, you could say that traffic participants in Cambodia are so ignorant, that every accident must be an accident. Or the reverse, due to the ignorance (and it being known to all) all accidents are intentional. Stay at home, no accidents. However this is no laughing matter to some:
    'Well-known comedian Prum Manh, 58, told the Post Tuesday his motorbike crash over the weekend, in which a car collided with him, may not have been an accident and that he continues to fear for his personal safety.
    Tin Prasoeur, Phnom Penh's municipal traffic police chief, told the Post Tuesday: "I was informed by one of my officers that the car involved in the accident was yellow and made in Korea, but it will be difficult to find without the plate number." '
    How many yellow Korean cars are there in Phnom Penh? Not many.

    Anyway who could be an enemy of a comedian? A very serious guy? Another comedian? The accident though has not affected his sense of humour:
    ' "I know the car's plate number, but I will not reveal it now," Prum Manh said. "I will only tell a competent police officer when I file an official report." '
    CC wishes Prum good luck with that quest; that should keep occupied for a couple of years.
  • Traffic safety issues are a worthwhile cause. The first 9 months in Vietnam have seen a 13% drop in traffic deaths.
    'He emphasised the need for continued campaigns to create awareness of traffic rules, for the provision of regular street patrols and strict punishment for those who violate road laws.

    He placed special emphasis on long-distance buses and those travelling on motorcycles without helmets'.

    Let's compare with Cambodia, gosh all the above does not apply here. Now the more difficult question, why not?

  • Proof? Khmernews mentions a new regulation:
    'The Phnom Penh municipality called on all citizens, who are doing business on Phnom Penh City roadsides, to stop selling goods or foods on those pavements within seven districts'.
    They've been given a week. But:
    'Phnom Penh police chief Touch Naroth said that we will try to reinforce the public order although we cannot reach 100 percent'.
  • Are Cambodia's railways really being spruced up? The Phnom Penh Posts believes so:
    'Management of Cambodia's national railway is set to be transferred to an Australian company that is to upgrade the system and collect revenue.

    The 30-year contract would go to Toll Holdings to renovate the existing system and add additional lines.'
    One surprise is that:
    'We expect the railroad to be mainly for passengers, not goods'.
    Hmmm, that seems to be in contrast to all the earlier agreements. And why then sign a contract with Toll Holdings, who are an Australian logistics operation with no proven knowledge of transporting passengers. At least according to their web-site. Time will tell?

Friday, October 24, 2008

I suppose it's another chasing cars

Keeping you up to date on Cambodian traffic (un)possibilities:
  • It's rainy season, though it's nearly over. The Mirror has translated a Khmer language article: Rains flood the roads in Phnom Penh.
    'A Phnom Penh road traffic police officer complained again that their office is flooded stronger than before after the recent rain, and there is no drainage to let the water out, and the Phnom Penh municipality does not take any immediate action to pump out the water. The flood makes it impossible for the road traffic police officials to do their work and solve traffic problems easily, because the water goes up to the knee and stinks'.
    Does anyone have a job description of a traffic policeman?
  • An in-depth report on how to get from Bangkok to Siem Reap overland. How to bargain:
    'As for me, while filling in the forms, the men told me they could help me get a taxi from Poipet to Siem Reap. One of them insisted the price was USD60. I said, how can that be? I paid only USD35 from Siem Reap to Poipet. He said it is because of the police, who demand tax from the taxi drivers. I said no, the taxi is only USD40 (a French customer had told me this was the amount she had paid) . This guy then said, yes, before it was USD40, but now, it is USD60 "because of the fucking police," he spat. He said it with such conviction I almost believed him.

    There was another younger man, a boy, really, who was listening to all this and who kept saying, "It is ok bong-srei (elder sister), you can take a taxi from the other side" (once you get across from the checkpoint is what he means). When I said I would take the taxi if it is USD40, the first guy told me to hold on while he calls his boss. While waiting for his boss to decide, this guy proudly showed off his gold bracelet, worth USD200. I decided he must make good money scamming tourists.

    In any case, his boss said no go. When I had walked away, the guy actually drove his motorcycle up to me and tried to bargain one last time. "50 dollars ok, bong-srei?"

    Of course I said no and continued walking. I was just amazed--they must make such good money from the scam they would even turn away a fair price for one of their taxis.

    While walking towards the checkpoint many other taxi touts came up to us. I was so annoyed by then I said loudly in Khmer, "I always thought Cambodians were honest (smao trong), but you're not. I live in Cambodia, helping Khmers and yet you still try to cheat me." I was really quite pissed off. Anyway, two of the men seemed shocked and one said in Khmer, no, no, we will charge you a fair price, USD40 for the whole taxi. It was the price I was willing to pay all along so I agreed and they helped mom and I with our bags'.
  • Biking for fun? Apparently this can be done in Siem Reap. Well, actually it's a race, not everyone's idea of fun:
    'The 30K races cover one loop around the magnificent Angkor Wat complex and other temples, including Angkor Thom'.
  • More discussion on sidewalks. This time from Khmer 440 forum:
    'Khmer parking always reminds me of that Woody Allen movie where he gets out of the car and says, ''It's OK. I can walk to the kerb from here.'' '
  • And more discussion on city 'improvements'. Traffic lights (pointless?), poor surfacing, poor parking. The solution:
    'If there are Town Planners in this city, they need to be fucking shot. I just despair some ( most ) times'.
    Luckily, I can't believe there are any city planners, just as well.
  • The lack of city planning in Phnom Penh was also observed by Nat. Geo. Adventure magazine. For a discussion see DaS.
  • A tuk-tuk ambulance?
    'The tuk-tuk ambulance service will be available to all Siem Reap children and will deliver them to the Angkor Hospital for Children'.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Up Next

Interesting or not? Just the other week the police were announcing their future crackdown plans (on helmets), today's (October 10, 2008) Phnom Penh Post mentions that as of next week, poor parking will be main target of the traffic police.

The article reveals that even the traffic police leaders, are apprehensive about the effectiveness of the measure:
'But Tin Prasoer, chief of Phnom Penh's traffic police said changing people's parking habits would be a difficult task. "We have had a ban on parking before. [not valid anymore?]
We need to re-educate drivers and ask them to pay the extra money it costs to police the area and bring their cars to the police station." '
A cryptic message at best. No other than the governor of Phnom Penh has mentioned that
'All cars that park on the sidewalk for no reason will be fined'.
As there are hardly any other places to park in Phnom Penh than on the sidewalk, potentially it means that car owners will have to leave their cars at home while shopping or employing a chauffeur to drive circles while the owner runs errands. But isn't parking a valid reason?

The article then goes on how street 284 will be made an example of. Funny enough, the article comes with a photo, which is not of street 284, but of street 274, otherwise known as Sihanouk Boulevard. Now that boulevard is infamous for poor parking, especially near the Lucky's supermarket, ANZ bank, the new night hot spot 'The Place' and the offices of the country's no. 1 mobile phone company / internet provider Mobitel. But near the Olympic market, as the article suggests, poor parking is less of a problem, complete chaos is a bigger threat.

Now why single out street 284? There are actually no parking problems on this street, see photo. Another misinformed article by PPP?

Street 284: just another Phnom Penh street. Where is the parking problem?

Friday, October 03, 2008

October's first issue of Chasing Cars

  • With P'chum Ben well and truly behind us, the Cambodian government have starting backslapping themselves. Why? Because a perceived doubling of accidents during P'Chum Ben holidays has not materialized. The reason?
    'Traffic officials say road safety education programs are paying off, with fewer accidents during this year's festival'.
    That's funny when the figures rise, the blame is on the traffic participant him/herself, when they drop it's due to official policy. Let's hope the drop is not proven to be one-off (dreadful weather might be another explanation), otherwise the officials will have to come up with a new explanation.
    By the way the PPP article also mentions:
    ' "We will expand our program in November and focus on the importance of wearing helmets, because 80 percent of people who die in traffic accidents die from head injuries," she [Sann Socheata, Road Safety Program Manager of Handicap International Belgium] said. She added that police will begin fining drivers not wearing helmets in January'.
    Now let's hope the traffic police themselves are also as informed.
  • By the way, city officials claim the drop was due to 'increased police presence'. Neither, neither.
  • Vuthasurf seems to be already on the right side of the law:
    'I am now accustomed to wearing helmet almost every times while riding motorbike to work or go anywhere. It is more than 5 years since I have worn safety helmet. Before I thought it was not necessary, or comfortable to wear it. By the way, it was heavy a little bit, and difficult to move around'.
  • The KR and asisting at scene's of accidents:
    'Finally, speaking of fear of strangers, I hate to admit that sometimes Cambodians do appear to be a little self-centered. Like you, I’ve come across many incidents where commuters do not help the victims of accidents, in fact, I never have either. But having said that, I believe this is mostly, if not entirely, due to the trouble you get from saving people. For instance, If someone sees an accident and tries to help the injured, he/she may have to pay for their hospital bills (as you know, people are very poor and nobody would want to spend their own money) or to be involved with the police.
    The lack of help for victims of accidents which now is the cultural norm is extraordinarily unusual. I can’t think of another country or society in which it happens even though there are many where governments are corrupt and there are many poor'.
    Don't count on assistance! (Isn't that weird?)
  • Back to the officials. As often reiterated on this blog, they haven't got a clue about solving traffic problems before they arise:
    'A total lack of urban planning is putting Phnom Penh in danger of serious traffic jams and flooding'.
  • A big surprise, Cambodia's national flag carrier is yet to appear in the dark and cloudy skies. Blame it on the 'negotiations'. With airlines going bankrupt, easy finance disappearing and a global slowdown possibly around the corner, nobody is expected to invest in an airline, let alone in Cambodia. But Cambodian ministers remain upbeat:
    ' "The new carrier is expected to be profitable because of the rising number of travelers coming to the Kingdom," he [Deputy Prime Minister Sok An] added'.
    But surprise: increasing numbers of travelers don't result in a profitable company.

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