IN A WORLD without PlayStations, kids do amazing things: they create, they imagine, they…..play!
Play and fun were outlawed from 1975 to 1979. Toys remain beyond the reach of lots of Cambodian families, even in its capital city. Polystyrene becomes a toy plane, a mango seed a ball, rubber bands’ uses know no bounds. Wandering the informal settlements of Phnom Penh in the 90s, kids were everywhere, making their own fun, and making me laugh.
The inequality in Phnom Penh was stark, and the rich had only been getting rich for a decade or so.
It wasn't all play for the city kids, as these rag-pickers would attest.
In the Russian Market, a young girl seems to be wondering what she did wrong in her past.
Some work after school. Others don't go to school, but children peddling goods on the streets puts food on the table.
Even those with a nice wooden house lived a lfe of want.
Cottage industries were common, even in better houses.
Kids from farming families, like anywhere, would have plenty of chores after school.
Kids whose home was the Stung Meancheay rubbish dump had the harshest life of all. There were many scenes vastlty more heartbreaking than this.
Railway lines in developing cities seem to be synonymous with urban poverty, but these two don't seem to mind.
Brother and sister lived in the railyards, where their parents split wood for a living.
In another part of town, a girl primes the family's outdoor kitchen.
Another girl helps Mum tend shop.
Elsewhere, the humble cardboard box is the Toy Of The Day.
Paper products are multi-functional.
Boys get creative with some dress-ups. A bit like our Prime Minister.
And on special occasions, the ladies get to play with Mum's make-up kit.
The kid with a partially inflated plastic soccer ball, some string and a banana patch rules the roost.
Tyres! The King Of Street Toys!
Mango season sees footpaths all over the country converted to bocce-style courts, the pips used for balls.
Cambodia's national sport is without a doubt, the Thong Game. A pile of banknotes at one end. Hit 'em with your thong, it's yours.
No roll of riels? Cigarette packs next best.
Next in the Phnom Penh Olympiad, rubber band high jump, played all over town and country. Rubber band skipping a big one, too.
My favourite. The local pool, which also doubles as a water purification plant.
Found an old stethoscope? That's your play sorted for weeks.
Or if you got nothing but a hay-stack, then just everyone pile on the little kid til he cries.
A kid with a trike has earned the right to pull tough guy sneers.
And if your playground is a rusty old tanker, you got respect.
Among the rough and ready world of Phnom Penh's streets, siblings and friends would usually look out for each other.
Even if they were just hanging out on the local piece of random disused machinery.
This lonesome lass was cocooned from head to toe in cotton 'krama'. She'll be right.
Working kids faced long, often dreary days. When I grow up, I want to sell brooms, said no girl ever.
Much better if your Mum could make sugary sweets to sell.
Balloons: fun to play with, bad career option.
It's possible that these market urchins never saw the inside of a classroom.
A great many children of the Killing Fields were left orphans.
In the post-KR years, young families boomed, and kept their children tight.
Phnom Penh's young population was evident in the streets, hanging out, goofing around, just doing kid stuff.
After the shit that went down, I'd be shouting about it, too, pants or no pants.