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12 Nov 2010

The Ice Man Cometh...*

Is this him?

Ice Ice Baby

My work with the local University has introduced me to the Cambodian obsessions with passport photos and official documentation.  When they asked me to bring in some passport photos for my ID card I took in two I'd brought from England with me wearing a t-shirt on a white background.

They seemed perplexed that I would even consider a passport photo without a suit and tie, just as they had been when I turned up to teach my first lesson without a tie.  I've been told, twice, and it's now lucky that I brought one of my linen suits and a tie with me.

I was then taken on the university admin assistant's motorbike to Kratie Town's photo booth which is actually a bloke in a room with a big camera and this tasteful blue background.  I was under instructions to get eight copies, four large and four small.  I've only seen one of these being used (see below) and have no idea what they've done with the other seven besides one presumably being used for their own records.  Cost to me - $2 i.e. 25cents per photo, a snip compared to the rocketing prices back home, and a 'professional' photographer versus a machine too.

Yes, that does say full time!

The other thing I had to do was get my qualifications certified as genuine.  Once again, I had luckily brought a full set of colour photocopies with me just in case but didn't think I'd need them so soon.  It was off again on the same motorbike to the district town hall where they said they couldn't do it because they didn't know anything about foreign qualifications.

I'd buy that for a dollar!
It was then off the provincial town hall where they did seem to have the required knowledge.  I doubted it though because my assistant for the mission told a little white lie saying that my colour photocopies were originals which you can tell quite easily that they're not just by looking at them.  Again, an unnecessarily high number of copies were taken, stamped in red ink and signed by someone senior in the office who clearly had nothing better to do that day.  The explanation for the number of copies was quite clear this time, as the price you pay is per copy stamped.  But the damage to me was limited to $1.  I had been worried when our request was sent 'upstairs' to the higher level office because that can be a sign that the required payment (read 'bribe') is being escalated when someone starts to smell some money up for grabs.

So, all in all, $3 to get myself 'official' in the University books.

The Ice Man Cometh...
Next up is the Ice Man you may have heard about in previous blog posts.  His 4am raucous wake-up call courtesy of an electric power saw has been driving us both delirious with exhaustion and over the weekend this was compounded by a few beers at the wedding and our 'house warming' party.  The cold I thought I'd shaken off came back with a vengeance and I lay down to sleep on Tuesday night at about 5pm and didn't get back up until about 10am the next morning, still feeling quite hot, headachy and lacking in energy.  By the afternoon I was feeling much better and even dragged myself to work on Wednesday evening.

While this was happening I spotted that there was a full programme of Premiership football on Wednesday night and made a note to check the scores when I woke up on Thursday.  Because of my marathon sleep the night before I didn't feel tired when the noise kicked off as usual at 4am and so I went through to see that Arsenal were on their way to victory against Wolves, but also put on some clothes to take some undercover photos of the Ice Man at work.

The ice is transported every evening from the ice factory (location tbc) to under our house on the back of a big lorry.  It consists of blocks about 25x25x200cm, the picture above shows about half the total load.  It is covered in tarpaulin to insulate it but lots does melt and drip onto the floor overnight.

The big blocks are dragged out from the main stack using a pick.  A line is then drawn using this long handsaw.  This indicates where the power tool needs to be applied.  When the handsaw is pulled backwards across the ice it makes a scraping noise that I reckon would give some people that feeling you get from nails on a blackboard.

The instrument of our torture.  The power saw is used to cut a line about 3-4cm deep into the top of the block where indicated by the measurement above.  As the saw cuts, it throws up some icy spray which you can just about make out in this photo.  This a fairly large block is being made and the younger assistant's hand is a safe distance from the rotating blade.  I feared for his safety when some of the smaller blocks were being cut, he already has only one eye (literally) so losing a hand isn't going to do him any favours.

Here you can see a series of groves have been cut with the power saw.  A large cleaver and the back of a hammer are then used to tap into the grove and split the ice, which it usually does after a couple of firm taps.

Some of this cut ice is then loaded onto a cart attached to the back of a motorbike.  This is made up of various sizes and is destined for the shops and restaurants in and around the local market here in Kratie Town.  One of those square blocks costs around 50cents while the longer ones are more like $2.

Here is the cart getting loaded up to go to market.  Once it is stacked fully some of the tarpaulin is used with some rope to hold it all in place.  The rest (most of it) goes off on the big lorry to another town in the province to be sold there.

My brief interest in the trade and economics of ice cutting in Kratie Town is now firmly at an end.  We move house on Sunday and are staying with a friend on Saturday night so tonight will be the last we hear of this necessary but hugely anti-social cottage industry.

I dream of sleep!

*I somehow knew the phrase 'The Ice Man Cometh' but until I googled it yesterday I didn't know where it came from.  See for yourself here.


  1. from the look of the photo i thought you were the ice-man.

  2. It looks like I'm in a block of ice. What you don't see on the photo is the bags under my eyes!

  3. Sam I just love reading your blogs. They actually make me laugh out loud. Thank you it's so good to hear of all your adventures xxx

  4. Thanks Freya, we've been getting lots of good feedback on the blog so will try to keep up the pace and, if you say so, quality.

  5. What a lovely blog Samos. I had no idea you had internet access so much. In fact, more than me almost. Still waiting for a Sky man to cometh and install a bloody phone line. Sounds like you have many interesting stories to tell. I particularly like how you got robbed by the officials for $3. You must have cried yourself to sleep that night. What exactly are you teaching and who the hell let you loose in front of students!?

  6. We've got this USB stick that logs you on via the mobile phone networks. We were going to get a physical line into the house but then our housing situation became uncertain...

    I'm teaching English/Cultural Studies at first year University level here but the ages of my students ranges from 18 to 36. I'm only going to do one semester though as I need to reclaim my evenings and weekends. News of my new job to follow...

  7. Teaching them correct footballing matters as well I hope.

  8. I'll put up a post about the keepy-uppy game they play here with a plastic shuttle-cock style thing, the most exercise I've had so far in two months!