Cambodia Traffic Metaphor

Cambodian Traffic… a metaphor

In Cambodia, a country experiencing greater and greater numbers of vehicles overwhelming its increasingly busy roads­ ­– somewhat paved city roads, mud and dirt side streets, and very few highways – a metaphor of life is glimpsed through the thick haze of exhaust, quietly heard above the constant din of well-meaning horn tooters.

As in so many Asian countries, traffic here seems unrelenting, never ending, with regiment after regiment of bicycles carrying people, bicycles carrying refrigerators, motorbikes, motorbikes, motorbikes carrying workers to and from work or entire families of maybe five, even more, to the market, and a few cars occupied by the elite, the corrupt, the government officials. An occasional bus or truck suddenly looms large, absolutely oblivious to the flow of traffic – an abrupt, impolite monster temporarily the ebb, bellowing aloud for everyone to hear its top rank in the traffic pecking order.

Picture a city street three lanes wide, one lane for traffic purportedly leading south, the other north, the center lane a no man’s land for those brave enough to attempt a turn. Well, no, that’s not the case. For courage plays no role here. Chaotic yes; fearful no. Dozens, perhaps, hundreds, of motorbikes mixed with a few bicycles, cars here and there, all moving in and amongst, more often than not between lanes. Nobody in the pack seems in a hurry, everyone buzzing by at about the same moderate pace. 

One after another motorbike taxi, groups of them three, four, five abreast, four, five, six deep, usually a guy delivering another guy, his legs straddling the bike, or a pretty petite gal, delicately perched side saddle, her feet relaxed, sandals hanging limp, ready to fly off at the slightest bump. To this add a younger girl, and many more like her, her motorbike approaching an intersection of the busy road. No thought is given to stopping, looking, or waiting to join the flow of traffic. She simply continues at the same speed, meandering through an unseen maze of ever changing paths between oncoming motorbike, which politely make way for her as she merges into the traffic. She proceeds a bit slower, hugging the curb, driving the wrong way against the flow of traffic. She’s not concerned. No one is. There is no wrong way.

A car approaches, turns abruptly into the oncoming parade of motorbikes. He barely slows. He may signal. He just turns into the traffic, expecting and receiving the space from others to make his turn. Doing so slows the flow of traffic, yet no one is the least bit upset. He is simply another ebber going about his business, no more, no less important than that of the countless others on the road this morning, ebbing and flowing with the tide. 

Amidst this seeming chaos, traffic in Cambodia, with drivers showing little concern for lanes, unconcerned whether driving on the ”right” or “wrong” side of the road with or against traffic, mostly ignoring signal lights, totally ignoring police, can be looked upon as a wonderful metaphor of how life is lived her, perhaps, as life should be lived everywhere.

Hordes of people bustling about, always giving way, taking time to make way for others. No anger. No emotional outbursts. A monster here and there, but mostly a simple acceptance of the way things are, a making way for fellow travelers driving on their own journey this day.