This past week was eventful in very uneventful ways. As Open Development Cambodia is in the midst of a significant change to its platform, work is very busy. I have been working on developing and revising content on land law and issues for nineteen pages of the new website. These include topics ranging from Cambodia’s land policy in general to the nuances of special economic zones and land concessions. While I was able to explore Cambodia’s provinces two weekends ago, this past weekend I was confined to the apartment. First a plumbing issue and then an Internet outage left me stranded waiting for assistance on both Saturday and Sunday. Though the time was great for relaxing after a busy workweek it was not conducive to arriving at a topic for this week’s blog.
On Saturday night my colleague invited me to see Jurassic World at the local mall where I experienced a bit of reverse culture shock. The Aeon Mall is a behemoth beacon of western culture. It is the largest mall in Cambodia and also the largest I have ever visited. Just over a year old, the four-story building is pristine, bright, and packed with stores featuring a variety of items and brands that I could never afford. In keeping with true excess, the first floor features an open food court with (mercifully) moderately priced food while the fourth is home to dozens of very expensive western-style restaurants. In between is a two-story movie theater and tens of stores catering to practically any need from standard clothing to travel assistance.
Based on the cost of goods in this mall, no one there was below middle class, and I suspect that few patrons were below upper-middle class. Their wealth was also reflected in their attire. People in Cambodia are generally more modest than in the U.S. A Khmer woman in shorts is a rare sight in most of Phnom Penh, but the female patrons of this mall were dressed like any American woman. Glittering nails, made-up faces, and straightened hair were abundant.
The experience was exceptionally unreflective of a typical Cambodian’s Saturday night. In a country where 80 percent of the population lives in rural areas and 70 percent subsists on agriculture, the Aeon Mall is literally a one-of-a-kind place.