No, I Did Not Die in the Stampede

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November 23rd 2010
Published: November 23rd 2010
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Some of you have heard about the stampede that occurred last night. Well, I did not die in it.

You might also have heard that this is the greatest national tragedy since the Khmer Rouge. I don't want to publicly disagree with that, but I was not involved in it in any way.

This Saturday through Tuesday have marked the celebration of the annual water festival in Phnom Penh. I am remarkably ignorant about the custom given the fact that I live in Phnom Penh. But it seems to be a festival to celebrate the end of the rainy season (I assure you, it's been raining every other day and humans celebrating is not going to stop this fact). Some people race in longboats down the Tonle Sap River; I vaguely caught a glimpse of this over the shoulders of the crowd. You know, I think I'm taller than everyone in the country, but that's only when they're not standing on a two-foot ledge by the riverside.

There were some festivities by the NagaWorld Hotel, including an honest-to-gosh carousel and Cambodia's only functioning train. Also a bunch of booths each of which had four speakers turned up to max, all trying to shout over each other. I'm sorry, the best way to market things is not to leave your customers deaf.

That was a somewhat annoying part; what really annoyed me as a resident was this: The city has a population of approximately 2 million, and has the physical size of downtown Cincinnati. Three million MORE Cambodians come in from the countryside to celebrate in a city that barely has the infrastructure to support itself as it is. Most of these visitors really are yokels who have never seen a Westerner (I had trouble getting past folks because they wanted to stare at me and it didn't occur to them that they were in my path); they have never seen an escalator (I met grown adults at Sorya Mall who couldn't seem to step on because the stairs were always "moving"); and don't know how to behave in a crowd (twelve-year-olds shoving old ladies aside; families sitting in the middle of the road, etc). Phnom Penh is a chaotic place to begin with, but this was a new level of ridiculous. It was almost like a city mouse/country mouse spoof. And people were noticeably stressed out, pushy, and in a rush on Saturday before the festivities started, in ways that I do not associate with Cambodia.

After dark, it was simply impossible to get anywhere, so thick were the crowds. I was content to sit on the balcony, watch the fireworks, and simply not try to do anything. After all, this is their holiday, not mine.

Today, I'm glad I didn't! I didn't even realize there had been a stampede till I turned on the news this morning...although I did wonder why I heard all the ambulances. I live almost directly across from the area where this happened, you see.

I am very sorry to hear of the hundreds of people who lost their lives in the stampede (most of whom seem to have been children or the elderly). At present moment, they still don't know what caused it really. I have heard that there was a massive bout of food poisoning (this doesn't usually make people panic, though) and that people were afraid the bridge would collapse under the weight of so many people (no one panics when all the trucks and cars drive across it, though). My own private suspicion is that it has something to do with drunken yokels who don't know how to behave in a city or a large crowd.

Who knows? Rest assured, family and friends, that I am alive and well, because for once I had the sense not to climb into the thick of things in the name of investigative journalism.


24th November 2010

Be safe!
Yanzi, I'm so sorry to hear about what happened, an unbeliveble tragedy. It was good of you to let your family and friends know right way that you are OK. As soon as I heard about it, I thought of you. I hope the rest of your time there is safe and happy. Just so you know, I'm now back in China. In fact, I might be here in Beijing for 8 months next year. I never imagined this. But hey, given my new situation, I'm going with the flow right now.
24th November 2010

Alan that's great! I doubt I'll ever go back to China what with the trouble I got into last time. Glad to hear you are doing OK for yourself now.
26th November 2010

Praise the Lord that He gave you the sense to stay at home the day of the stampede! Phew! That was a close one!

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