Opinion: COVID-19 Pushes Some Families to Construction Sites…to Relax

Dust and dirt.



Wind and heat.



Rocks and sand.



To the left, a couple of diesel-powered bulls bulldoze around the newly-laid layer of fresh river sand. To the right, several 12-wheeled metal goliaths roam the area to unload tons of dirt from their inclinable back. Black smoke rushes out of the exhaust pipes while the drivers hit the first or second gear on their trucks to climb a hill. The screaming combustion engines whisper through the air from afar.



Turn signals flash left and right alerting the surroundings for safer navigation. Dust particles blanket the air behind speeding trucks. A chaotic place reserved only for the construction personnel. A place that presents potential hazards. A place unsuitable for recreational activities for families with small children. Somehow, the definition does not always follow the rule.



A pandemic-induced recreational activity



Along the newly-constructed Hun Sen Boulevard or the 60-meter road as it is more commonly known, vast plots of land rise above the natural lake of Boeung Tumpun. Half a decade ago, aquatic plants once dominated this fresh water basin. Now, they are just another organic waste buried deep under the sand. A new part of the capital is emerging while the remaining fresh water basin keeps on shrinking minute by minute. While the COVID-19 pandemic once again lays an attack onto the Cambodian people’s health and the economy, this time with greater force, social distancing has almost become mandatory in many places in the country. The normal daily routine is disrupted. Outdoor activities are limited. Phnom Penh is now “getting sick.”



Enjoy the sand before the concrete



With the fear of going to crowded places like supermarkets or in-city recreational parks, this vast empty land on the outskirt of Phnom Penh has recently been acting as a stress reliever for some families with small children. Staying indoor for an extended period of time is not a pleasant experience. At around 5 in the evening, as the sky turns reddish brown and the temperature becomes more pleasing, cars and motorbikes full of passengers begin to appear one by one on these plots of empty land. Small clusters of families form throughout the area. Sheets are laid and food is unwrapped. Small loud speakers are turned on and beverage cans are opened. Children play on the sand while adults monitor them from afar. Some fly their kites onto the upcoming wind from the nearby river while others shoot their football back and forth. Some families come with two or even three cars. Some stay until nightfall with their battery-powered portable lamps. Although more and more people begin to recognize this location, social distancing is very well regarded and sanitation is practiced. People are wearing masks and are washing their hands regularly.



As the sun sets below the horizon, the translucent view of Phnom Penh city lights is visible from the distance. The dome of light, when viewed optically from afar, separates Phnom Penh from the rest. The wind picks up speed and, one by one, families start to exit the site. The traffic follows a row of street lamps back into the city shadowed by the pandemic cases.



This construction site has become more than what it was intended for. It has become an escape for some families with small children during this difficult time. Although the place is not well organized, at least it helps release some of the emotional tension of staying indoor.



What an exceptional and unexpected place to relax!




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