Friday, October 07, 2005


Phnom Penh continues to get its props from the rest of the world, as today's edition of The Cambodia Daily informs me that The Economist Intelligence Unit, affiliated with The Economist magazine, has ranked this fair city as one of the least liveable cities in the world, achieving a position of 122 out of 127, behind the capital of Zimbabwe and ahead of Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea. (Ah, but Baghdad and Kabul were not included in the list; surely this town is better than those towns.) The cities were assessed on stability, health care, culture, environment, education and infrastructure. Apparently, well, Phnom Penh blows.

But this is the thing friends and neighbours, ladies and germs: What are we to make of this distinction? If I was safe and sound back home in the St.Catharines of my childhood, I would take one look at a list like this and imagine Phnom Penh to be a place of perpetual destruction: explosions, rapes, murders and lawlessness. (The kind of place I imagined Beirut to be as a kid.)

It's not. It's a desperate place, yes, poor and decrepit, certainly, but there are most definitely a lot of rich folks in this town, and more than a fair share of interesting sights and sounds. None of which is relevant to the report, I realize, which focuses more on the standard of living, but the aftereffects of the report will linger in people's minds around the world. Phnom Penh equals danger, despair, a place one would not want to endure for any extended period of time.

And yet, life is more resilient than that. For the poor of this town, Phnom Penh is, indeed, an inhospitable place; good luck finding any help from the police or the hospitals if you are absent from cash. Having said that, quoting the great Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, life will find a way. People will live, and keep on living, and keep on reproducing. The schools will be shit, the hospitals abominable, the safety questionable, but life will hop and skip ahead, regardless.

Which is not to say that the report is wrong; I tend to agree with its conclusions, formulaic as they are, stastical as they are. There is just more to it. There is always more to it.

Oh, and what city was the best city in the world to live in, you ask?

Vancouver, Canada.

And yet I would bet my bottom dollar (or just my bottom) that if I were to walk around Vancouver and Phnom Penh on an average day and count the number of smiles I see, there would be no contest -- Cambodia's capital would top that survey, for what it's worth.

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