Coming to Phnom Penh from the provinces can be a bewildering experience. Pov Sokhom, 23, a cyclo driver, has lived in Phnom Penh for six years, but remembers when he first arrived.
“Now I am accustomed to the city, but when I first came I was afraid to walk outside, or step in the street,” he said. So when he saw people at the Water Festival this week who looked lost, he slowed down and was careful not to hit them, he said.
Not everyone has as much patience. Chea Sreng, 39, a moto driver, said that if there is a traffic accident involving sons of businessmen or high-ranking government officials from Phnom Penh, and people from the countryside, a fight would be inevitable.
“The Phnom Penh teenagers will just start beating them up right away. The rich kids look down on the poor people from the countryside,” he said.
Chhoy Nay Yan, 35, a sugar cane juice seller, agreed. She said she had seen such conflicts erupt before. “Last year, if someone from the countryside stepped on the foot of a teenage gangster from Phnom Penh, there would be a big fight,” she said. “They think that they are smarter and stronger than people from the countryside.”
But Kav Sothin, 21, said that although teenagers from the countryside and teenagers from Phnom Penh don’t necessarily socialize if they haven’t met before, that doesn’t mean there will be problems. “I’ve been going out every night for four or five days, and I haven’t seen any problems or fights,” he said.
Sopheap, 21, insisted that he doesn’t look down on people coming in from the countryside. “I used to see fights between countryside people and city people, but not this year. It’s usually because there isn’t enough space on the street,” he said.
Most Phnom Penh residents interviewed around the river front said they enjoyed all of the visitors. “The more people the merrier! No one has stepped on my foot yet,” said Sa Reth, 20, a garment worker.
But Chan Thorn, 15, said she wished there weren’t so many strange people in town. “I like the Water Festival, but I don’t like all of the other people coming into Phnom Penh. I can’t breathe, and there’s no space,” she said.
Helping her mother cut sugarcane on the river front, Chhoy Nay Yan’s daughter, Chhun Chan Thoeun, 12, agreed. “I like it better when it’s quieter, and I can walk freely. Right now I am afraid I will be crushed by all of the strange people,” she said.