Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Fire in Siem Reap town today

Alan and I were coming out of Lucky supermarket when we noticed big smoke behind the building. Kosal was picking us up so I went with him on his moto to see what was going on. We went behind lucky, turning right. Many people were also racing to see what was going on. We saw thick, black smoke rising. Kosal had to stop his moto as there was a jam. I hopped off and walked towards the fire.

I saw this - a fire truck was already there and people were helping to pull the hose to spray the fire, which was engulfing a typical Cambodian provision shop, made of wood, with a zinc roof.

You can see the fire truck in this picture.

The policemen were trying to get people to stand back, away from the fire.

I stood opposite, outside the Angkor Land Hotel. This guy was racing to connect a hose from the hotel to help put out the fire.

The fire trucks managed to hose down the flames in less than 15 minutes.

The house was completely destroyed by that time.

You can see the coconuts spilling all over the ground. The umbrella was also burnt. There was hardly anything left of the small provisions stall.

The fire truck was leaving and you can see the policeman on the right holding up the electrical wire with his baton. At first I was thinking he was trying to prevent the wire from catching fire. 

Then I realised he was lifting the electrical wire to let the fire truck pass under.  You can see more clearly in the photo below.

This lady was crying and hugging her son, so I assume it is her shop that burnt down. She had only grabbed her little blue metal cash box. 

I felt so sad for the lady I wanted to cry. Must be terrible to lose everything in this way. But many Cambodian houses are similarly vulnerable to fires, because the walls are made of wooden planks and zinc sheets for the roof. Very few people have fire insurance so when you lose it all, there is nothing you can do. I've often thought about the houses we have rented in Cambodia. What happens if there is a fire? The landlord loses everything because the tenant cannot be expected to pay, and the landlord has no insurance.

The house Alan and I rented in Siem Reap is actually a death trap if there is a fire because there is only one door in and out of the house. Plus, all the windows have grilles (typical here in Cambodia because of security concerns).

Thank goodness the Bloom guesthouse is better designed, with a front and back door, another two more doors upstairs to the large balconies on the front and back. Best of all, there are no grilles on any of the windows - good for easy escape in case of a fire!

Monday, December 06, 2010


I keep meaning to put photos up of our new shop but have been so busy with our new guesthouse. I did write in a previous entry how proud I was of our new wall. I had rented this shop space because I thought the walls outside the shop had potential as a marketing tool. It was previously salmon coloured so I white washed it and paid a Cambodian artist, Khey, to paint our new logo and the words. (Khey has 2 shops of his own, one in the Old Market and another one near my previous shop where he sells his original paintings). 

This is the Bloom wall:

In the day time.

And at night.

Tuk tuks line our street at night.

Khey did such a good job! Many, many tourists take photos of the green wall, with our logo and "Green is Revolution". They even pose with it!

I chose this slogan over many I have in mind, because I think it best encapsulates what we stand for. I had adapted it from Iran's Green Revolution, the name given to 2009's Iranian Presidential Election, in which many Persian protestors risked their lives to dispute the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over Mir-Hossein Mousavi.

Green is revolution in so many ways. As I see it, concern of the environment is waking people up from their robotic consumer lifestyles. So many people go through lives semi-conscious, never really using the brain to think about the choices we make.

To me, the green movement is revolutionary, forcing us to re-examine the way we thoughtlessly consume the earth's limited resources. We are only now beginning to think about our unsustainable lifestyles and the stress it puts on our planet. From buying hybrid cars to changing our diets (fat people cause climate change, says the British government's chief green adviser) to buying recycled goods, many, many people are trying to make changes in the way they lead their lives, so as to live more responsibly. (Some say it is too late, but I think better late than never).

For me, the green revolution also means change towards a fairer, more just, and more thoughtful society. People now care more about other people and animals and things as they think about how climate change affects poor people (half a million displaced people in Bangladesh pour into the capital Dhaka each year as their homes are destroyed); polar bears (forced to be cannibals as they have smaller platforms to hunt seals); and our planet's future ("by 2025 there could be three billion people without adequate water as the population rises still further. And massive urbanisation, increased encroachment on animal territory, and concentrated livestock production could trigger new pandemics" - 2009 State of the Future).

It is my hope that this new concern for other people also includes interest in making trade fair, in ending the exploitation of poor people in the third world, just so we in the developed world can have our cheap consumer goods.

I think it is happening. I have seen people come to the realisation that part of the problem about climate change is that rich countries are consuming too much at the expense of other countries. From there, it is not a big jump to conclude that the lifestyles of people in the developed world are being subsidised by poor people in the third world. Thinking about climate change, people realise how interconnected we are, how interdependent we are, and how one problem in one part of the world will ultimately affect the rest of us.

And this is how "Green is Revolution" applies to Bloom. At Bloom, we make products with recycled materials as our way of contributing to saving the environment. At the same time, we pay fair wages to producers and charge fair prices to customers as our way of trying to make trade fair. This is why the other part of the wall says "Making Trade Fair - one bag at a time." I hope this makes sense to you. But if not, please let me know, as it helps me sharpen my thinking about the issue.

A final pic. My team was so cute. They asked me to take a photo of them in front of the wall because they had seen many tourists do the same. 

From left: Bora, Kagna, Socheata and Piseth. Hope to see you at Bloom Cambodia!


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