Today was a sad day. I lived in a town called Battambang for a long time last year and I am there now. Battambang is a nice old French colonial town on the Sangkae river in North West Cambodia closer to Thailand. It has both a beautiful and then tragic history. Battambang has always been the hub that links Phnom Penh (the capital way down south) and Poipet (the main exit through to Thailand). I work around this town in the villages or further out to the rural areas and I’ve grown to love this little place.
I also love history. Adore it. Treasure it. And it breaks my heart that we destroy beautiful things. It’s idealogical to think everything can be retained and maintained. But there’s some things that have huge historical significance whether it’s ancient or modern. I am horrified what is happening in places like Syria and Mali. I cannot understand how genocide is happening in Syria because that’s just it – it’s just happening. But I’m also terrified that thousand year old sites are – and may – get ruined. We’ve preserved those moments in time for so long and they tell stories on and on and on passed from one generation to the next. They are inspiring, awe-exacting and provide moments of gentle reflection of time, space and life.
Last year when I lived here I visited the old Pepsi factory. It opened in the early 1960’s and the story goes that Thailand had an exclusive contract with Coca-Cola, so Pepsi built a factory in Battambang and shipped their products over the border. In 1975 when Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime hit town, and sought to destroy all foreign influence, the Pepsi factory was seized.
The complex is filled with a neat number of warehouses, bullet holes in the walls, some shell damage and a conveyer belt from the 1960’s still inside. Along with thousands upon thousands of beautiful old crates and bottles of Pepsi, green Miranda, Singha Soda Water, and Teem from the 70’s…yet to leave the factory. It’s like a ghost town. A ghost factory. Abandoned. Left as is. Preserved in a tragic moment in time. A momentous weight of history.
Sadly today this history disappeared. The factory was torn down and destroyed. I stood there silently, helplessly watching the remains of time broken into rubble. And although I’m not a fan of the Pepsi and Coke companies of the world there was an innocence to this factory. It was 50 years ago. It provided jobs. It wasn’t then the symbol of conglomerate greed and profit it is now. The beautiful old crates crumbled. The bottles shattered. My heart along with it.
So what’s a retro, history lover to do? Rummage through the debris, to find a treasured whole bottle whilst the skies open up and unleash a tirade of madness. Cambodia is a country filled with fables and myths, perhaps today the history gods unleashed their fury.
It feels weighty writing this even though I know it’s just a factory. But it represented something more and it quietly disappeared today. There’s a surge of water overwhelming me inside. The rain was cleansing but it’s erasing history. I felt I needed to capture the moment. To somehow preserve that it had indeed once existed. So pasted below are the photos of last year and today.
Last year the Japanese guarded the place quite fiercely. To my best knowledge they still own it. And I hear rumours of a water plant being built. What I do know is that I was in that thundering rain and lightening with two other wonderful local guys who will preserve this legacy for some time longer. Old bottles will stand in Cafe Chocol’art and an artist will make something of a few others. The Pepsi logo was quickly sold to a Vietnamese man for $1,500.
For me, I have one beautiful bottle etched with Pepsi. A 1972 edition. I rarely ever buy souvenirs but today I have a piece of Battambang’s old beating heart.
And in it’s destruction…
*all photos are my own