Latest news & views

How Was Your Commute?

Commuting in Phnom Penh is a little 'same-same but different.' It is the same awful feeling when the alarm wakes you from a deep sleep, the same tea and coffee routine - just add some nice tropical fruit to those cornflakes. The same voices on National Radio Morning Report and Checkpoint - only streamed via the internet to my phone. The same peak hour traffic but with more interesting things to look, and get mad at - what happens to the passenger of the motorbike holding the large sheet of plate-glass or the baby without clothes (let alone a helmet) when they crash? At times we get gridlocked just like Auckland, but here you think nothing of riding footpaths, kerbs and through service station forecourts, accelerating wide around cops, being careful not to make eye contact!

My day started at 5:30am with breakfast then a fairly rapid commute north before the traffic becomes too heavy using a 100cc scooter to the University where I teach dentistry. After a 7am lecture to 5th year students it's back on the bike, but now the tar-seal is breaking up into potholes and ruts, trucks blinding me with their dust as I head 30 minutes further north of the city.

Mental note to self - pack goggles!

I spend a very pleasant morning at the “Elderly Living Hope Church” (great name) providing very basic dental free care (mainly extractions) to the local community, all of whom have been forcibly relocated here after being evicted from slum dwellings located on prime development land in Phnom Penh. It's an OK location but this far from the city there are very few jobs and for most, such relocations result in them being much worse off.

I work here with the pastor's wife in their house beside their 'church' - a concrete courtyard. Three years ago they noticed how many of the community had dental problems for which treatment was completely unaffordable. The church began praying for a dentist and when none eventuated they sent the pastor's wife, Leangna, off to Dental School where she has just completed year 1 of 7. Ever tried smoked fish and watermelon? Turns out that's a very popular among older Cambodians. Today when I turned up with a melon Leangna rushed off to buy a little smoked fish to accompany it for our lunch - delicious!

This afternoon I’ll take a ‘back seat’ and supervise some of my students (a couple Christians and others not yet) as they learn the trade and help some locals along the way. There's no shortage of rotten teeth here - Cambodia has among the highest rates of dental decay among kids in the world (the average 6 year old has 9 rotten teeth)! Fingers crossed as we head home late afternoon - monsoon rain can add a whole new dimension to travelling by motorbike. Wonder what I will see along the way....