Monday, March 11, 2013

Slicing Up People: A Coffin on a Motorbike in Phnom Penh

In part to provide another taste of life in Cambodia's capital, I recently shared some scenes of various items being carried on small motorized vehicles. However, a bit of "life" is not all that can be found in such scenes. One day as I walked Phnom Penh's streets, something passed by that I had never seen before.

motorbike carrying a coffin on the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Not intended for flight

I'm not familiar with coffin delivery services in Phnom Penh, but I find it easy to believe what I saw was not the first instance of a person transporting a coffin on a motorbike there. This method of coffin delivery is not unique to Phnom Penh. Similar examples from elsewhere were easy to find online, including a pedal-powered vehicle in Vietnam (this image) and motorbikes in Uganda and the Philippines. And I would not be shocked to see something like this in China. However, I suspect that a coffin being delivered in the manner seen above would be much less likely to occur in some other countries such as the U.S.

Even though I know of no formal research to back up my beliefs about coffin delivery services, they are at least symbolic of how some behaviors or practices can be found in many, but not all, regions across the world. This in turn suggests how categorizing people, whether for academic or business purposes, is sometimes not as simple as cutting up regions on the globe based on their proximity. For example, some of what can be found in Cambodia might be found in Uganda but not in far closer Japan and Singapore.

It's often not easy to define the appropriate groupings for the task at hand, but doing so can be crucial in the pursuit of not only better understanding people, but also better discovering, designing, and, yes, delivering solutions which address people's wants and needs.

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