Sunday, December 26, 2010

Comparative Study and Christmas Lunch

Well strangely enough I have sometime on my hands right now and having skyped with friends back home thought it might be interesting to do a comparative study of Christmas in Ireland and Cambodia.


1. Weather Cambodia
20-25C, blue sky and sunshine (warm)
Bright till 6pm                                      
Humidity 50%                                    

-10-0C snow (freezing no transport)
dark by 4.30pm
Snowmen and igloo's

2. Christmas Adverts
Cambodia-None (not on TV, Shops, Newspaper, Billboard) the and even if there were I didn't understand them.      
Ireland-Christmas ad's on telly since November and music inshops for at least 6 weeks.

3. Holiday/Time off
Cambodia-None-if it wasn't for the fact it was Saturday I'd be working. Will take couple days for new years.
Ireland-Anywhere between 2-10 days off depending on job andplace of work.

4. Presents
Cambodia-Didn't buy any and received two.                  
Ireland-Would have had to buy at least 12 and received the same.

5. Friends/Family
Cambodia-It means a hell of lot more to hear from them especially when your away.                            
Ireland-I would have intruded on someones (probably McDaids or Hynes) family Christmas and got drunk.

6. Food
Cambodia-Ordered in and had double bacon & cheese Burger, two portion of chips and sausages not the normal rice and noodles.

Ireland-Would either by having left-over pizza or a roast turkey with all the trimming's(no fear of that in Cambodia).

7. Christmas Entertainment                            
Cambodia-Die Hard was on the TV if that is classed as Christmas movie which it is  in my book. Also read a book and updated my podcasts.        
Ireland-Would have watched It's a Wonderful Life early with a beer then waiting for Indiana Jones or Star Wars after that and then off to pub for sneaky pint.

8. Meaningfulness 
Cambodia-Here it meant something to me for the first time in a while.
Ireland-An exercise in commercial excess.

9. Christmas Party 
Cambodia-No party but took my colleagues for lunch also went to Christmas eve drinks (other Vols did have party but wasn't my thing)
Ireland-Awful but fun themed work party with colleagues two weeks before Christmas. Mighty craic and mighty scandal.

10. Post Christmas Day 
Cambodia-Meeting few people in FCC and having nice meal and one or two drinks. Doing allot of thinking.                                                                                                                                                              
Ireland-Resurfacing after 48hours with a bad hangover and lacking in sleep. Maybe going for nice winter walk in the snow and doing some thinking.

Christmas Lunch
For Christmas Eve I had the bright idea of inviting all my colleagues and my boss Mr. Rong Chunn for a Christmas lunch in Khmer restaurant. The tradition been that if you invite someone you pay which was fine as I wanted to do something small to mark Christmas with these people I have been working with for three months.

Anyway they all turned up at the office on Friday (not everyone works Friday) looking very well dressed and off we went in convoy of bicycles and motodop's to the Boat Noodle on St 63. I was relieved when Sotras said he had been there before and it was good. I left the ordering to the guys as (food is ordered and eating communally not as individual meals) and as usual there ordered excellent food. We had ribs, beef with chill and veg, a full grilled fish with mango, seafood soup and a couple of other things. We also had some wine that Mr. Rong Chunn had gotten from the American Embassy. It was lovely lunch and it was great to get to know them out of the office. The entire venture cost me $20 not bad when you consider thats food and drink for 6 people.

After lunch we all headed back to office and finished off work for the weekend and I was told to go just a little early and to take some holidays next week after the project we are working on is submitted and do you know what I think I will.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Going Native with Food

Little bit of background first off. I am just recovering from something don't know what but it resulted in me sleeping for most of the weekend. Of course the best part was that I lost my voice while doing interviews and have only just got it back today.

Anyway this week has started off and still feels like a normal week, I swear I just can't get use to the idea that it will be Christmas Day this Saturday. I think this is due to a number of factors:
1. No Christmas ad's or television programs 
2. It is still bright till 6pm and nice and warm
4. There just isn't all that Christmas stuff you get at home
5. Rather than winding down at work we are winding up before the end of year closes.

Anyway I am not complaining, the lack of commercial Christmas is refreshing. One thing that I have felt this week for the first time in a while is that I am missing my dad which is a strange sensation after so long and I have found myself thinking about that this week and hope that I am keeping his memory alive in some small way.

Now back to the purpose of this blog. I skipped breakfast this morning and at lunch went to the local hang bai (rice shop) and had pork with vegetables and rice that's not so different from what you'd get at home except that the veg is in big chuck as is the garlic and there are whole chillis. That said pork, veg and rice is normal enough food and is something I think most westerns would not have an issue with. 

It was this evening after a long day at work and chilling out on the balcony for a while that I became a tad hungry and due to my now reduced budget in the run up to Christmas decided I would 'go fully native'in terms of food. I went to a restaurant on ST 63  called the Boat Noodle about 5 min from my apartment. I had been there before but had very safe dish. This time I skipped straight to the Khmer part of the menu. 

This include various types of fish dishes such as sour fish soup, fish heads, fish and different meats etc. After thinking about it for a while I decide to go with something that was described as follows:
minced pork, minced salty sour fish and egg fried with vegetables. Well what came out was kinda of like a omelet with the pork and fish mixed together and what I think was green banana, and some other stuff I didn't recognize.

It was very interesting, I was tucking in happily and just as the fork came to my month I got that strange fishy smell. They say that the smell of food has a huge impact on the taste and they were right. The texture and actually taste was very different to that, that my olfactory senses had prepared me for. I has a bit of gag reflex my continued to eat and actually found it very good. Then when of the staff came over and explained that there was a way to eat it that one did not just shovel the food it your gob oh no it was far more complicated than that. He explained that I would enjoy the dish allot more by dipping the omelet in a sauce and taking certain veg with it for different flavors. 

Well after a quick lesson in what to do, I was off to the races and have to say that it was a pretty good dish if very different from anything I have every had before. At times I think my poor old stomach thought it was back in college competing in a Iron-stomach. However that would do a huge dis-service to this real Khmer dish which was very filling and didn't break the bank at only $2. So I think from now on I'll be going truly native at least once every couple of weeks.

Although I'd murder a roast dinner and big-fry for Christmas so you haven;t lost me just yet.   

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The dear old Isle of Ireland

Now that I have regular internet access at home I have had time to check out what has been happening at home the  following caught my attention this week so I made links to the story and made some comments.

Former Minister of Justice Willie O'Dea was on the Liveline a generally ring in a complain show hosted by a man called Joe Duffy (just google the show). Anyway the former Minister in the course of his interview said he was a fan of a group called Rubberbandits. Well all I can say is you have to check out the link to the video, i am not sure that you will understand it unless  your Irish needless to say it's not the kinda of thing you expect a former justice minister to be a fan of. Also during the interview a woman rang in to complain about the state of things and Willie said she must support the opposition she then announced she was a former FF European candidate and Willie didn't know her. I just love Irish politics. 

So what can we learn from the latest poll-well people more people apparently want Eamon Gilmore (leader of the Labour party) as Tasoseach than will actually vote Labour (I would like to think this shows that labour policies are popular as he is he lead spokesperson). People say they won't vote FF but can we really believe them. Labour is losing ground to SF and FG but still doing well. And it is possible that Labour could lead a rainbow without FG or FF but with Greens and SF. Also 8% of people still support FF who are these people me thinks the cabinet and their families. All in all the next election could really change the make-up of Irish politics but I think when push comes to shove not as many people will abandon FF as the poll indicates. One thing is for sure Labour needs to develop more substantial policies. Also I can't understand why Eamon Gilmore is not in favor of  government appointee's to semi-state boards and quagos coming before the Dail even a token, FG have scored a point with this policy. 

Well this story real caught my attention for two reason it is not often that the Laois Nationalist (a local paper) features along side the BBC, Washington Post etc in my news feed and secondly Laois/Offaly is my home place. Back in 2006-07 I was heavily involved with Labour in Laois/Offaly and even tried to run. Anyway this story is ridiculous. Basically the local party are so amateur that they are having an all out war with the party head office about how many and who should run. This at a time when the government are at the lowest ratings ever and in the Taoiseachs own constituency. But no instead of having picked a long-term candidate in 2007 they are ripping each other to bits and no doubt allowing SF to gain ground. Will they ever learn. 

A very good friend of mine as pointed out that that with regards Labour bloodbath I should have mentioned that the Party HQ did not handle things as they should have. I totally agree and moreover admit it is probably the only area of my professional life that I have any negative feeling towards still which means of course I am somewhat biased.

The final story relates to that most controversial issue in Ireland abortion. The current situation is a Irish solution to a Irish problem whereby abortion is illegal but providing information on how to get an abortion is not. So the European Court of Human Rights has now ruled that Ireland needs to make provision for abortion in certain circumstances because denying it breaches the rights of women whose health is at risk. I totally support the ECHR but am sure this is the last thing the government want to deal with when they are on a count down to an election it also mean all the political parties will have to make their position clear. Abortion becomes election issueI wonder if there will be a country to come back to by the time this is all over. 

Tánaiste misses chance to pull a Christmas cracker 

A great dail sketch by  MARIE O'HALLORAN. Imagine if the Dail did seat next week it would be about time they started working a bit harder to get law passed and fix the country.  

Another load of Interviews

Well this week was one of my quieter ones were I mainly put my head down and got on with some work which included contacting the Irish Teachers’ Union, contact funders and drafting the Annual report along with Sotras and Kajta. We also had the next round of interviews for the translator/project assistant position. In the past few weeks I think I must have conducted over 30 interviews which is a great experience for me if not for the poor candidates who I am no doubt confuse with my accent and fast talk.

On the non-work sense I finally got internet at home which is great in terms of doing the blog and keeping up to date with the news from home. I also seem to have developed a sore throat which is causing obvious problems when interviewing so I am keeping a low profile in the evenings. Although yesterday I did go to see a documentary organised by PAC called Sisters in Law which was excellent. 

Dolphin Men and Seam Reap

So work wise this week I final finished the policy on teachers’ salaries, terms and conditions which now stands at amazing 20 pages which I am very surprised by. The fact that I have four more policies to write is not something I am thinking about or the annual report or all the interview which are looming next week. Anyway I think I was justified in mild sense of achievement and finished off my footnotes for the policy by Wednesday.

I became a salesman for the Dolphin Men of Kartie this week. Collette a former VSO’er that I have become friends with is involved with some really interesting grass root social projects. One of them is the Dolphin Men of Kartie, which is calendar for charity. All the men work in various aspects of the dolphin tourism industry in Kartie and they are famous as well having been featured in Feb 2010 issue of Asian Life. Anyway they have produced this fun and cheeky calendar which contains plenty of great pictures and fun facts both about the Dolphins and the Dolphin men.The best part is that money raised from the calendar goes towards conversation of the dolphins which need all the help they can get at present. The calendar costs $5 so if you would like one please let me know and I'll send you one.

At the weekend I headed to Seam Reap. This should have taken between 5-6 hours but due to a really bad crash it took about 8hours. The crash was very bad two lorries head on which I saw with one driving killed instantly. Anyway after arriving in Seam Reap I went register for Angkor Wat Challenge  my two events been the 100km bike race and 10km run the next day. Unfortunately due to demand I had lost my place in the run which turned out to be a blessing in the end.
Oly and I get some last minute carb's
I got up at 5am in the morning and cycled gently out towards Angkor Wat which was about 7km. After a short spell of hanging around the race got on the way at 6.15am. 4 hours and 25minutes later I crossed the finished line after 100km. The first two laps or 50km was reasonably ok with lap times of 58minutes and 1hour 10minutes after thet though I started to struggle. After a power nap, I went and got a best massage every and then headed out for the night to celebrate. On Sunday morning we got early again and went and supported our friends who were running the 10km and 21km run. All in all it was a great weekend. 

2 Day Week

When is a three day week not a three day week, when you are in Cambodia of course. Now the week-ending of November 28th   was not suppose to be so short but between the having Monday, Tuesday off due to the Water Festival and then Thursday off due to national day of mourning for the Diamond tragedy. So you would be thinking that seems like a two day week. Well no actually I made up for it by working at the weekend well kinda of but more about that later.

So Monday and Tuesday I was down in Kampot easily my favourite place and people in Cambodia so far. To see I lived it up for 24hrs would be an under-statement it was great to meet up with the Kampot gang namely Chris, Charlene and Kampot Claire. Among the highlights were the ribs at Rusty Keyhole which were simple fantastic I mean half a pig BBQed and served with spuds how can you go wrong. 

Then we went to Bodhi Villa and for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to and drink the entire cocktail menu and I nearly did with Chris’s help. Then to sober and freshen up we went for a swim in the river which was very refreshing an felt great. Although unfortunately Chris’s phone drowned and we could not resuscitate it RIP Mr. Phone.  

On Wednesday I went to Meta House the German Cultural centre to see a documentary called enemies of the people which included a Q&A session with Thet Sambath you was the reported at the heart of the documentary about the men and women who perpetrated the massacres – from the foot-soldiers who slit throats to the party’s ideological leader, Nuon Chea aka Brother Number Two breaking a 30 year silence to give testimony never before heard or seen. It was very powerful and the Q&A session was excellent.

Radio Panel about Education issues
On Friday I attended a Radio panel discussion with Mr. Rong Chunn and about 30 teachers. This was very interesting for me as my colleague Sotras acted as a translator and I was able to learn allot about the main issues that teachers are facing. The topics were varied and included, poor salary, lack of resources including books, corruption and discipline in schools. It was great to hear teachers explain their problems in their own words and their commitment to education.
In the Mangrove Swamp

Mr. Rong Chunn and I

At the weekend I travelled with Mr. Rong Chunn to Koh Kong were we were having a meeting to try and establish a new branch of CITA. We left at 6am because it’s a 7hour drive to Koh Kong and unknown to me until 1pm Mr. Rong Chunn was taking me to see community mangrove swamp project which was great.

The next day we had a very productive and again it was great to meet teachers and talk to them about CITA and their issues.
Teachers Meeting in Koh Kong

So despite it looking like a two day week it turned out to have seven just like every other day and each one was more totally different be very interesting. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Diamond Island the Bridge of Ghosts

On Monday night-Tuesday morning I got a text from my mate Rory (formerly of Wexford now London). It was a strange text that just said  “are you ok text and let me know” of course I had no idea what he was on about until 4am when I heard about what at happened in Phnom Penh.

The news at first (as always) was sketching and there was allot of different information. First I hear was that a bridge had collapsed, then that people at stampeded, later stories about the police using water cannon and some people been electrocuted on the bridge or jumping from it. During this time the numbers varied greatly.
It wasn’t until Tuesday evening when I got back to Phnom Penh that the true extent of the tragedy of Diamond Island became known to me. Over 350 people dead and the same again injured, the majority of them young and female who had gone to Diamond Island on the last night of the Water Festival to a free concert. The bridge which is now called Ghost Bridge became blocked and police and private security company seemed to have no clear plan on how to deal with the numbers of people. The majority of people died from suffocation and others jumped into the river.

This is the biggest loss of live in Cambodia since the Khmer Rouge and there were lots of rumours and stories going around about what happened. There was an ‘investigation’ but no-one has been held responsible with the cause been put down to people panicking. I don’t think there is any way for me to convey the emotions of the city of the people who lost family and friends so I won’t even try. What I have done instead is included links to some of the news coverage.
One of colleagues was telling the week after the event that some people belive someone must die on bridge so that their spirit will protect the bridge and that there are some who think what happened may have been for that reason. The truth is probably that the organisers didn’t realise how many people would be there and did not have the skills or experience to deal with the crowds. One thing that stands out is the police using water cannon which seems incredible. I shall leave it for you decide where you think the blame should be placed but there is no doubt what an sad incident it has been. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Catch up

Right well it been mad busy and some great craic the last couple of weeks but I have decided this evening to catch up with you all in blog land otherwise it’ll never happen. So you’ve heard about the Pirates my first two weeks and work and my party piece so week 3 went something like this.

In work did interviews for translator/project assistant. We seem to be having a spot of trouble filling the post I hope it has nothing to do with my interview style. Anyway the rest of the week was spent learning about teachers working conditions and reading reports in order to prepare CITA’s position papers. On Friday I went with Sotras to a project meeting at the EU Del office which was interesting. Afterwards I had a very good meeting with an Italian NGO called CIAI who have been working on Child Friendly Schools and might provide training for CITA members (fingers cross). So that a bad old week work wise.

On the social side it was a busy one. On Tuesday evening Emily, Chris and I went to screening of documentary called Pay or Die about the Cambodian health sector which was organised by Cambodian NGO and included an Q&A session which is unusal for Cambodia, There is great former VSO Vol called Collette (irish of course) who is we meet there and she is doing great work on project called PAC (Peoples Action of Change) which is seeking to bring NGO’s and people together in grassroots movement around key issues.

Wednesday I went to the plays produced by the kids at the International School Phnom Penh where Sarah works. There were two plays and they were both very good and showed some promising young talent in terms of writing, directing and acting.

Thursday was Emily's birthday so a load of people turned up at Tamarind and several people were surprise guests who had told her they couldn't make it. It was great night with plenty or chat, food and booze.
The boats

team VSO
Sweat it good for you
Had early night Friday in order to be ready for the boat race on Saturday morning. Ah the boat race it was an amazing experience. VSO has the only boat with non-Cambodian’s on it and we are generally admired just for turning up I think. Anyway we boarded our boat near the FCC and rowed it put to the start line, this took about 30 minutes and really tried some of us out. We were boat 210 and we raced against 209,at the start I thought we were doing well but before the half way mark 209 had left us from dust and the two boats in the next race were passing us out. We eventual crossed the finish after a massive amount of shouting to keep up our pace so that we didn’t get beaten by the 6th boat.

Where is the pizza

All dressed up 
After the race I went to FCC, broke out the credit card and got very happy with pizza, chips and beer. It was a great day. The following evening I went to the riverfront to watch the light boats and fireworks which was fantastic. 
Light Boats
The following evening I went to the riverfront to watch the light boats and fireworks which was fantastic. I also has great dinner with Wim, Dom, Sarah, Anna and Jughey (check-out the photos on photos). Although it was a little scary trying to get home that night as it took 20 minutes just to cross the street and I had to lift my bike over my head which enlisted shouts and cheers from the locals who cleared a path for me. 
the crowds
The following Monday of course was when the Diamond Island tragedy happened which really shocked everyone. I was in Kampot at the time be effect of the events were felt even there and are still been talked about here. 

Party Piece

So I have gone too, two CITA workshops with Mr. Rung Chunn so far the first in Kampong Cham and the second in Kon Kong. Unfortunately  I didn't have a translator on either occasion but I managed to understand the basics with Mr. Rung Chunns help. Anyway the night before the first workshop Mr. Rung Chunn told me I should say something and introduce myself so I spent a hour or so putting the following together with the help of my notes from Dara's language training. It has now become my stump speech for introducing myself to CITA members. Of course the whole thing is written phonetically and I avoided the word help which if mispronounced means f$%k but apart from than that I think it an ok party piece teh English version is at the end.
Knyom ot kneya pesa kmer pon tai knyom nung kom byýee-ayee um. Raboh knyom chmoo-ah John hi-noon mock pii prety Ireland. Kynom Sabachet nan knenigh choie-moie neak tonéye kynom nung twoaca choie moie ongkar CITA hi-noon kru-bon-rieen now prety Kampuchea pii chnum. Knyom kit kar twoaca ongkar CITA som kann nan hi-noon santapea kro-bon-rien aa-krok now prety Kampuchea.

Kynom nung sawsay kole-no-yo-bai obroom som-rab cita hi-noon kynom twoaca choie-moie Bong Rung Chunn yiu-taa-sah CITA. Kro-bon-rien trou-gaa la-or laykana pee-pro ombroom sum-kann nan owe ak-pii wot prêt Kampuchea.

Onkun Charan

I don’t speak khmer put I will try and make an effort. My name is John and I come from Ireland. I am very happy to be speaking with you today and I will work CITA and teachers in Cambodia for the next two years.

I think that the work of CITA is very important and that the situation for teachers is bad in Cambodia. I will write education policy and  advocacy strategy  and work with Mr. Rung Chunn to develop CITA.  Teachers do good work and education is important for the development of Cambodia in the future.

Thank You. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Mekong Pirates - Sur les pas d'Ibn El Hakim - Concert 21/11/08

Mekong Pirates, Kampong Cham Workshops and Nice EU people

Jayus you take your eye off the ball for what seems like a brief moment and the next thing you realise that a month has gone by. I have been getting more and more into work and I am really enjoying working with  CITA and Mr. Rung Chunn. No week is every the same and there is always some problems to be solved and things to learn. Last time I mentioned boat-training, the highlights for the following week were the CITAworkshop in Kampong Cham, a meeting with EU Delegation Education team and the Mekong Pirates at the FCC

On Tuesday 9th it was Independence Day and CITA  held a workshop in Kampong Cham where I did my language training.  The meeting was held in home of one of the members and over 25 teachers turned up. Unfortunately may Khmer was only good enough to catch maybe 10% of everything , but I answered questions about the Irish education system and role of teachers unions at home and introduced myself in Khmer. It was really good to get to meet CITA members and to hear first hand about the issues they face and this has both motivated me and helped in writing up campaign policies. 

On Thursday 11th I was provided with the opportunity to meet the EU Delegation Education team. This was very useful for me as it gave me an chance to hear from a third source what they felt were the main issues in Cambodian Education. We also discussed different budget lines that would be suitable of  CITAto apply to in the future. The value of this meeting was immense in just discussing how to improve CITAs future project proposals and having a frank discussion about the issues that I am likely to face. I was very grateful for these very busy people to give me some of their time, knowledge and experience. 

Check out Mekong Pirates at

On the social side the highlight was the Mekong Pirates who played the FCC. and it was my first time in the FCC.  which is fantastic building with great views if just a tad pricey (in future I’ll be there once a month). Anyway the gig was free and few of us went along and half of France seemed to be there to as the band have big French following. After a couple of drinks we got into the swing of things and started dancing away. The band are 14 piece, with great singers and brass, the music style in mix of French, Cajun, khmer kinda jazz I don’t really know but it was amazing. I think the fact that the band were having fun ensuring we  had fun to.So in week two ended with good balance between work and fun and my sprits are still on a high. 

I am starting to enjoy this blog business nice you to reflect on what as actually happened, hope your enjoying it too. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

That sinking feeling

All aboard the truck to training

Very comfortable transport

For the past few years VSO has been entering a boat in the race which is the highlight of the Bon Om Touk (Water Festival) which takes place this coming weekend. I’ll give more details about the festival after it has happened but right now I want to blog about the VSO’s race history and the training day. So for the past number years VSO’s boat the only baragan (foreigner) boat has not been terribly successful.  Indeed when I attempted to get the stat’s on the last three years I was told that we had come, 4th, 6th and 5th, which sounded ok until you realise the boats race in pairs and this essential meant that the boat was beaten by boats in other races.  
This doesn't seem so bad and we get lifejackets

It's easy on dry land
So some of you will be aware of my competitive nature (not to be confused with been a task oriented bastard) and enjoyment of new activities so naturally I signed up to be on this years boat and in the run up to training was determined to put in a good show.
So I got up on Saturday morning heading to the VSO office were the VSO rowers where gathering, I only know a few people among them was Ingran who it seems is spending some time in PP these days. Anyway the usual joking, boasting of performance or lack of it was good fun as we heading in truck to the practice area which was about 30minutes out of the city. 

We disembarked from the truck and straight away I felt I was in a collage of scenes from full mental jacket, apocalypse now and deliverance. The entire village including monks had gather to watch this odd collection of foreigners go through rowers boat camp with a Khmer man I like to call Sergeant Dancer. Sergeant Dancer wore an improvised military costume and had whistle which has we all know is the ultimate form of authority.
So under his careful and strict instruction we formed two lines (harder than you might think) what with the shouting and whistle blowing and began to practice on land which was a damn sight easier than water as it turned out. We had about 15 minutes of dry practice and then boarded out boat for the real thing.
see how well we were doing
At this point Sergeant Dancer really lived up to his name as through a combination or whistle blowing, shouting and dancing he attempted to get some form or rhythm out of us while also motivating us.  It truly was surreal to be in a  30 foot boat which at best was 2foot wide with a Khmer man dancing on the bow while we dipped our ores into the water attempting to gain some sort of momentum in the might river.  So we went up the river, turned and back down the river several times at before we stopped for lunch it seemed at least to me we were making some kind of progress although the laughing of the onlookers should have warned me.

sometimes you get the sinking feeling and then realise you are in fact sinking
After lunch we prepared for another gruelling session in the boat with some people clearing having tried but not yours truly I was has high as kite from the physical exercise and sense of achievement. So again we strained at the ores to shouts of moie, moie, moie pii, moie and the odd little dance as we went up stream and turned and then raced back again.
Sergeant Dancer puts so through our paces

Sergeant Dancer made us complete this one more time increasing the rhythm of his shouts of moie, moie, moie pii, moie so that we rowed even faster. So just as I felt we had arrived and that we would match Hun Sens boat we were joined on the water by another boat with a full Khmer crew and naturally we challenged them to a race down river. We knew this was last practice and we had competition so this time I and several others give it everything has we heading down rivers, both rowing and shouting as much as I could.

Needless to say I was delighted to see we were holding pace with the other boat for about 500m although I did notice half their crew kneeling then, there dancer gave a shout and off they went and in fleeting moment they were gone and we were knackered from our effort which only keep pace with them when they were taking it easy. 

Coming to a stop thank god
So what have I learnt well I think I am going to more realistic about our performance on race day and if we can come 4th that will be go enough for me. It was a great day and great experience and I am still very excited about the main event this Saturday. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

All play and no work makes John a dull boy

Following what I can only describe as disparaging remarks (from close friends and family mind you along the lines of sounds like great fun, still a student dosser, what is it you actually doing a two year holiday?? etc) and general queries from other people as to what exactly it is I am suppose to be doing for the next two years and why I haven't mentioned it yet I have decided to try and rectify the situation.

First off let me say that while I have been here since the start of September (over two months now) for most of that time I have been under the dutiful care of the VSO Cambodia office and attending the in country training, so it is only in the last two weeks that I have started what most of you would call ‘WORK’. In fairness I would agree and say that only since moving into my apartment on the 19th of Oct. and starting work on 25th with CITA has the reality hit me but so far so good.

The best way for me to provide an insight is to walk you through my last two weeks:

Monday 25th
I arrived at work after a pretty sleepless night this was due to the fact that it had been hammered into us during ICT to take our time, build relationships and not worry about been active for at least a couple of months (those of you who know me, will know that I am at times a TOB or Task Oriented Bas*&*d). So I had been fretting about how to build relationships in work and what small talk to make. As it turned out it was fine.

I got to the office at 7.55am and was greeting by Mr. Rong Chunn, CITA President and Sortas the Office Manager and shown to my desk and then pretty much left to get myself settled. At 8.30 Mr. Rong Chunn and another board member took me for coffee and we discussed current affairs and the World Teachers Day on 5th of Oct. Then back to office and some time on the internet.

At about 10am Mr. Rong Chunn cam to me with about nine CV and informed me that he would like to be part of the interview process for both a translator/project assistant and accounting officer (little did I realise been part of the process meant interviewing them by myself and recommending who to hire). So I like been interviewed but hate interviewing and decide a better have some kind of scoring sheet and some exercises for the candidates to do preparing this took me to lunch time. Just before lunch Mr. Rong Chunn again emerged from his office and asked if I would proof read a petition for a press conference that CITA was organising for the visit of Ban Ki-Moon (UNSG) the next day. So my afternoon was spent editing the petition with Sotras and reading the CV’s.

Not exactly the slowly, slowly approach that we had been advised to be ready for but I have to say I was elated by the experience of my first day at work and the range of tasks that were given to me.

Tuesday 26th (another day another dollar)
I had already settled into a work routine arrive at 7.55am set up computer and by ready to go by 8.05am. Day two was just as eventful as day one. I started by revising some more documents to do with the Press Conference and re-reading CV’s. Then the Press Conference kicked off and I was stood there in the background  like one of those minions we are use to seeing on TV. The conference went really well with loads of reporters and journalists and was attended by a UN representative. After the excitement of that I returned to dealing with email and getting ready for interview in the afternoon.

Then after lunch (I should say at this point lunch is 12pm-2pm)  I interviewed a candidate for accounting officer and I think I was more nervous than she was. I wasn’t sure what questions to ask how tough to be and working through a translator was a new experience. And so ended day two.

Wednesday 27th
Same start as Tuesday morning (I like routine) only this time I was interviewing pretty much all day for both the translator/project assistant position and accounting officer position. But of course you never do the same thing all day and after lunch Mr. Rong Chunn asked me to draft a letter to American Embassy and prepare petition for Hilary Clinton who was visiting Cambodia at the weekend and I of course dutiful obliged and thus ended day 3.

Thursday 28th
Was pretty much the same as Wednesday interviews and revision to letter and I was also informed that I would be attending a EU Workshop the following Wednesday. Then shortly before we were due to finish Sotras told me that we would have Friday 29th and Monday 31st off because of public holidays (kings father birthday and the like) even though we had arranged a interview for Monday and meeting to discuss education policy all of which I was told would now be done on Tuesday the 2nd instead. Not one to argue with should sound logic nodded a simple thought  about how to fill the days off when Mr. Rong Chunn asked if I would like to have dinner on Saturday which turned out to be the relationship building part of my week and was hugely enjoyable.

Tuesday 2nd
Of course after a long weekend just like back home it took sometime to get back into the swing of things and it was a particular light day what with no petitions to edit and only one interview so I spent a good bit of time chatting with Sotras and looking over the notes for the workshop the next day.

Wednesday 3rd:
The workshop
The EU in Cambodia
Well I could be lazy and just say I was at EU workshop all day but that would not to justice to the workshop or the young people who were there. The workshop was on youth engagement in economic and civic dialogue and included presentations from a range of youth NGO’s that were nothing short of inspiring in terms of their ideas, their energy and their thirst of change. 

Links s to some of the Youth NGO's at the workshop:
The workshop also provided a great networking opportunity for a newly arrived NGO workers and I spent the coffee breaks swapping business cards with as many people as possible and found that this networking lark isn’t half as bad as I felt it would be.

Thursday 4th:
I spent the day following up on my new interest in networking by emailing each of the people who I had exchanged business cards with and trying to get meetings with as many of them as possible which was more successful than I expected. Since the candidate we offered the translator position to could not accept we decided to re-advertise which mean doing interviews again and the rest of my day was spent editing a project proposal to the ILO.

So that my work and long may it continue and I have to say I am taking relish in the variety of tasks that I am getting to do and way that my opinion if valued for example a suggestion I make is briefly discussed and then implemented rather than going 10 rounds like at home which is the benefit of working in small NGO I guess. So, so far so good.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

New apartment, floor clearner, beer, hangars what else do I need

Finally after seven weeks of In Country Training, I hopped the bus from Kampong Cham back to the bright lights of Phnom Penh. It was Monday 18th and I had just returned from homestay and had managed to make arrangements with my landlady to move into my new apartment in Phnom Penh later that evening.

The thoughts of having my own place, my own space and my own fridge after 7 weeks were too much for me to resist and upon return from the homestay I took the first available bus which was the 10am to Phnom Penh. I arrived at 1.30pm a mere 30 minutes late due to the bus breaking down just outside Phnom Penh. My first destination the Programme Office to pick up the rest of my gear. With my newly acquired Khmer I haggled the tuk-tuk driver down to $1 and heading to the office. Further stretching my Khmer skills I explained I needed him to wait for me while I got my bags and then give him directions to my new house. 

Well folks, there are no words that do justice to the feeling I had when I turned the key in the front door. Now maybe I was 'tried and emotional' but I really felt like I had finally arrived in Cambodia after 7 weeks of hotels, hostels and PO rooms. The first thing I did was empty every single bag I had  and started to unpack, then I promptly fell asleep for while. That evening my new neighbour Emily (also a VSO Vol) who lives downstairs and I went to dinner. The funny thing is that we had done some of our preparation courses together, although she had already been here for 6 months so just goes to show you it is a small world.

So quick tour of my place: it is St 322 which is nice area, there is mini-market right on the corner, plenty of motto’s and tuk-tuks though I have bike. After you come in the double gates you head around back and up to flights of stairs which quit steep and not to be taken in hurry. Then you are at my place. First up is the kitchen area which includes a utility space (formerly a bathroom) in which you find the washing machine, two ring gas cooker and fridge with separate freezers I kid you not.

Then you head down the hall the master bedroom (the only bedroom that is) is on the right and has an ensuite bathroom with hot shower.
Then there is the jewel in the crown the living room. This room is huge, and comfortable fits a set of furniture, dinning table and chairs, book cases and TV.
 Then the final piece of the apartment the balcony which is about 3 foot wide and 8 foot long were I have set up two hammock and now spend about 30 minutes every evening reading and watching the sun set.

On Tuesday morning I woke up more refreshed than ever, I had my first shower in the new place and then went with my Landlady to sign the lease. I spent the rest of Tuesday moving things around and making lists of things I needed to buy. Items such as floor cleaner, clothes hangars and plates and cutlery were placed on the list beside milk, beer and hammocks though not in that order.

The strange thing was that no matter how many times I went to the market or planned the list I either never managed to get what was on it or added other things to it. Again most of Wednesday was spent getting things just so and I can't tell you how happy I am with the apartment. Sure it has it quirks but what place doesn't and seen as I spend most of my time in the hammock on the balcony I don't really care about the small things. 

The rest of the week flow by on Wednesday afternoon ICT started again with some more session in the Programme Office and eventually finished up on Friday with sector meetings. On Thursday night I went out with Chris from Kampot but that’s another story for another blog and on Friday I went to Danny’s to say goodbye to the group has we all prepared to go to our placements. I cooked dinner for Leandra and Andra on Saturday which I think went well no-one got food poisoning and just spent the weekend taking in my new surroundings. 

I am very happy with my new home and invite you all to come an visit, my list of beverages ranges from fresh juice to chilled water and beer and even tea and coffee after the last trip to the market.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Highlights and Happenings in Kampong Cham

Cambodian version of the QE2
Well folks a lot has happened  in the two and half weeks since my last blog so I have tried to select the best bits and the bits I can actually remember which may not be the same thing for this entry. The last time I posted I has discovered another side to sleepy little Kampong Cham. Well within a couple of days of the end of Pchum Ben and end of LEO beer promotion the town quickly returned to its’ former sleepy nature. 

Enjoying the Sun Deck

So in order to maintain some level of activity I joined the majority of the group on a ‘river cruise’ up the Mekong from Kampong Cham, which included a visit to one of island villages and another very old Pagoda.
We boarded our trust boat which was organised by out guide Gideon and needless to say those of us who were on the “boat” mentioned in cycle blog felt it was like the QE2 if for no other reason than we could stand up straight without the fear of capsizing. 

So we meandered slowly up stream for couple of hours and then moored at one of the Mekong Island. The village made up of 250 people including 25 children is a seasonal home with the houses been floated back to the shore in the wet season. We were greeted by all 25 children (it felt like it) and had a tour of the village and met the chief and some elders.
The Children of Island Village greet our Boat
Ingrain aka Peter Pan chats to the kids

The most striking thing for me was the sheer simplicity of live and the children in particular seemed happy with the simple treats we had brought them which was mainly balloons. The chief told us about some of the issues affecting this commuting village and what the different groups were doing to help. He also showed us the school which provided grade 1 class after which the children most go ashore for school.                                 
Island school
The houses on the island
We get seen off by the kids
Dave get's first class treatment from Kath
I am the king of the world hwo needs Kate Winslet
So after a relaxing time on this small island which had more cows than I have seen so far in the whole of the rest of Cambodia we boarded our trusty vessel and continued up stream once more. At one point having a race with a empty cargo boat which was heading up to Kartie to collect stones for road building. We soon overtook this boat and shortly thereafter docked near the old pagoda. 
The infamous steps
Someone decided to run up the 250 odd steps but quickly ran out of steam and ending up crawling the last 70 steps but still made it to the top first. We met the tourist police and paid the required $2 fee to have a look around the Pagoda which dates from C1st BC. We had lovely picnic has the heavens opened and this included such delegacies such as Branson Pickle and Cheese sandwiches. 

After lunch we had our very own Indiana Jones experience, when we literally went off the beaten path and heading down the hill to the bottom of the Pagoda complex. We then boarded our little vessel and heading back down the river at very relaxed pace enjoying the scenery and sunshine.   

So what else did I get up to before finishing language training and saying goodbye to Kampong Cham. Well I decide to go for another cycle this time a mere 25km trip out the main Kampong Cham-Phnom Penh road to visit what is called Man and Woman Hills. This idea was one of my better ones but unfortunately it rained for most of my cycle back and I was very, very wet. It was still worth it for the great pictures I got and of course to see the monkeys.