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Bamboo trains derailed

COLUMN ONE

Fewer in Cambodia use the humble norry, once a lifeline.

April 27, 2010|Mark Magnier

" Norries are dangerous, shabby-looking and won't last in the 21st high-tech century," says Touch Chankosal, an official with the Ministry of Public Works and Transport. "Real trains going at over 30 miles per hour would run right over them. The drivers' lives are worth more than preserving norries."

Union leader Sareurn has little nostalgia for the contraptions that have earned his keep for decades. "If the government provides compensation, we'll all stop the next day," he says.

Others aren't quite so sanguine. "I'm worried, but what can you do?" says Chanthorn, 37, who's been driving since he was 10. "The rails belong to the government. We're just borrowing them."

During the Khmer Rouge days, there were no norries, only endless walking by starving people, Sorn says in his house beside the tracks made of beams and tin. His wife, Dorn Mao, 50, shows where she was hacked with a machete by a Khmer Rouge fighter for taking a few bananas. "It's hard to think about," she says.

Recently, more foreigners have been riding his norry, Sorn says, including three with big bellies who initially balked, thinking it too flimsy to support them.

"They worried that the bamboo would break, but bamboo is very strong," he says. "If I can carry eight cows, I can certainly carry a few fat foreigners."

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mark.magnier@latimes.com

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