Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Old Stadium.

The Old Stadium, also known as the RCAF (Royal Cambodian Armed Forces) Stadium, or Stad Cha to the locals, is located just north of the Chruoy Chanva Bridge roundabout in Russei Keo district. The French embassy and former Funcinpec headquarters are just a couple of the notable structures/former structures in the area.
Its distinctive brick lighting towers can still be spotted from far away. The area around the stadium was sold off some years back, and has since been developed. The older picture isn’t quite as old as it looks. The green oil tanker gives it a 1950s look, along with the tint. However the 4WD behind it looks distinctly like a 1998 Land-cruiser, and the billboards look even more modern, so I’d guess it was taken around 2003 or so.
It was in some ways a very pretty picture, compared to the more built up look it has now, with a big development ringing the whole stadium, and all the surrounding streets built up to some extent too. Overall though, it’s still a dog-rough neighborhood, I’ve worked in it plenty of times. The whole now built-up street on the east of the stadium is taken up by auto-parts businesses. Greasy - pavements with grease-monkeys chucking oily chunks of metal about in a whole stinking carnage of sump-smoke, busted valves and burnt-out radiators. It’s a great place when you need some spares, but no place to go looking for coffee or pretty much anything else. The road used to continue north from here, and was the actual national route, but there’s no way through now north of the stadium. What used to be a thoroughfare is now a T-junction with a row of bog-standard Chinese-style shop-houses blocking the way. There isn’t really any way around it either, I’ve been through the back-lanes beyond with local and foreign friends but none of the tracks go anywhere anymore except deep into small neighborhoods, with their shop-houses striking up in the middle of all sorts of traditional houses, shacks and lean-tos. The main road now follows the river a few hundred meters to the east.
Anyway, the pictures are both taken from around the same spot, perhaps ten years apart, the differences are remarkable. You have the same bushes, light patches on the paving, and the lighting towers are still standing proud. Besides that, everything has changed, and the big mature trees in the foreground along with the parkland are now just more shop-houses.


Although most places around town have changed a lot in the last few decades, the view from Wat Phnom towards the park at 108 street hasn't changed much at all in the last 50 years, nor has this building just off Pasteur. The new pictures were taken at Khmer New Year when the streets are nearly empty.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Cambodian Cars

Back in the early part of the 20th century, Cambodia was a French protectorate, which in reality meant a colony. As could be imagined, most cars were imported from France, Citroens being the most common. Very few of these remain, the climate is not kind to body-work or steel, and unless kept in a good shelter and maintained machines decay very fast. One friend of mine owned a late 1930s Citroen, which was lovely to be driven around in. It had an engine from a modern Toyota, and odd-looking chrome hubcaps, but otherwise was an original colonial-era ride.
In the late days of the French era, a couple of assembly plants were set up in Cambodia, one at the new Sihanoukville port, and another on street 80 near the Phnom Penh Port. The Sihanoukville one assembled a box-van variant of the well-known 2CV model. The 2CV’s name came from French, the Deux Chevalle, or two horse power, and was a very low-powered but affordable little workhorse, born from the austerity of the post WWII years. As you can see from the pictures, it had a pick-up back with a canvas covering. The Citroen showroom which is shown in one picture was on Norodom Boulevard.
After independence, there were some notable achievements in creating industry in Cambodia. The SONATRAC (Societe National Des Tracteurs) plant in Sihanoukville fabricated and manufactured trucks, tractors, motorcycles and also motors for other industrial uses. Later, after the refusal of U.S. aid, a local style jeep was also manufactured. I have only seen pictures of these, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any surviving models.
The first picture is of a Citroen at Angkor Wat in 1910, and the next shows the Postal Car that ran the route between Phnom Penh and Saigon in the late 1920s, the picture looks like it was taken in Saigon. The next three are of the assembly plant and publicity shots of the Cambodian 2CV variant in the 1950s. The seventh picture is a Citroen sign on a wall above the old plant on street 80. Second last is the Citroen showroom on Norodom Boulevard, and the last is of a burnt out Simca in the early 1970s war.