21 Jun 2012

What signs say in Cambodia, a selection from Kratie

I’m planning a book to profile a collection of photos of hand painted signs that I’ve taken in my current hometown of Kratie in Cambodia.  As part of this I’m working with a local called Chhay to translate the text from the signs from Khmer to English.  It is proving a worthwhile exercise, both for the insights into local customs and culture and also because of some of the fun we’ve had doing it.

Above is a sign that says, “Soiy Parth spit roast pig”, the first part being the name of the proprietor which is just as common here as anywhere else in the world.  I find it interesting on two counts, first is that it appears to depict a flying pig, as in ‘pigs might fly’, and second is that the pig appears to be executing an escape given that it is flying in the opposite direction to the restaurant…

Here is one from the ‘incongruous products’ category, this shop offering both motorbike repairs and hifi equipment sales.  Many of the signs are double sided and interestingly this one only lists the motorbike repairs on one side.

School Roofs

This is for a carpenter/handyman who can do all sorts of jobs around the home such as windows, banisters and wooden panelling.  One market which is clearly big enough to warrant its own listing is “school roof maintenance” services.  One for the rainy season perhaps…

Dog Meat

I, perhaps naively, thought that this might be a sign for a vet or supplier of guard dogs.  Upon translation it simply states, “Dog meat for sale”.  I’ll say no more.

Skin Whitening

As you might guess, this is for a beauty salon.  Various services that you would expect are listed including hair straightening and curling, makeup and nail painting.  What you might not expect is the availability of “skin whitening”.  This is a common practice here and listed on the many signs of this type around town.  It is perverse that many people with light skin pay to have it browned, while those here with naturally darker skin pay to have it lightened.

Pedigree Bull

Finally, perhaps my favourite and one that generated lots of laughter as we discussed the meaning in English.  In full it says, “Pedigree bull, 40,000riel [about $10] per mating, call 077 268 934”.  Some kind of bovine gigolo it would seem…

These is just a small selection of almost 150 signs that I’ve documented.  I’m now in the process of editing them and writing some text to accompany them before laying them out into book format.  More news and how to order to follow.

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