Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tongue Twisters, Bike and Boat Rides

Heading off to School/Work in Kampong Cham
 Tongue Twisters
So for the past week I have been in Kampong Cham with the rest of the new arrivals learning Khmer. The group is split into two groups my group have language classes from 1.30pm-5.30pm Mon-Sat (the other group have class from 8am-12pm) in the Western International School which is about 15 min cycle from the accommodation.

It is amazing but after only 6 days of lessons or 21hours I already have as much Khmer as French which I studied for 6 years and way more Khmer than Irish which in theory I have studied for 12 years. There are probably a few factors why my Khmer is coming along better than my pervious attempts at learning other languages.
In Class Daniel and I swamp notes
1. The emersion factor is a big part. So that I am not just learning the language in class but using it when buying food and talking to locals although I have to really think about the sentence I want to say before I start it.

2. The grammar and verbs in Khmer are remarkable easy for example do you remember in French how you spent endless hours memorising verbs and endings well in Khmer you don't have any of that for example.

Rienn: to learn (and it stays the same) so all you have to do is:
Knhom Rienn: I Learn
Nea Rienn: You Learn
Qwot Rienn: He/She learns
Poo Yun: We/us learn
Poo Ka: They Learn

And that is as about as complicated as it gets.

3. Because we are only learning to speak we can just spell everything phonetically, which for me is a dream come through and is actually making it easier for me to get words into my head.

4. Without a doubt our teachers and his teaching style is part of my success so far. Dara is very energetic teachers and he really knows his stuff. Unlike my experience learning other languages he started by giving us about half a dozen verbs and all the pronouns and then got us to start making up sentences.

So after 21hrs of lessons I have about 150 words that I can recall pretty quickly and can manage to keep a conversation going for a couple of minutes. It's great as well in that we have learnt to construct for very long sentences using conjunctives which makes my simple sentences sound quite complex.

My favourite sentence so far as to:
I work a volunteer with VSO in PP and I work with teachers. Every week I write a report and eat Khmer food.

Khnom twoaca neak-smack-cheat choie moie ongkar VSO now PP hi-noon Khnom twoaca choie moie kun bon rienn. Roll a-tit Khnom saw say robika hi-noon khnom nyam ma-hope khemer.
Keeping Fit Khmer Style

So the bulk of the past week as been spent doing the above in class for 3 hours a day and in your study groups for a hour or so a day. Let me tell you about the study group which is good fun. Leandra who is miles ahead of the rest of us with her Khmer does up flash cards and we have to translate what is on the cards. We also turned it into a bit of game by taking turns making up sentences to be translated with the sentences becoming longer and harder each time. Oh on Friday evening Dave, Ingrain, Sam and myself managed to play a bit of volley-ball on the banks of the Mekong which was great as I had allot of energy that needed to be realised.
The adventurers take a break after the bridge

Sam and Ingrain take Kizuna bridge
Sunday-Day Off
Well what will we do now folks?
So after a week of learning this new language I have found myself slipping into pigeon English from time to time which is annoying and by Saturday afternoon my brain was well and truly fried. We had Sunday (yesterday) off and six of us (Sam, Gilly, Dave, Paul, Ingrain and I) decided to go for a cycle. Now you have to bear in mind that we have basic one gear bikes with baskets on the front and has we found out it can get very hot between 11-2pm.
Sam's Bike takes and pit-stop

Anyway we assembled at 9.30am with some basic supplies and headed out for the Kizuna bridge over the Mekong towards the Chup rubber plantation and factory. Well less than 20 min's into the trip Sam's bike developed a problem so we pulled into one of the many bike-repair dudes on the side of the road. After been told the repair could take awhile Sam and Gilly decided to catch up with us later and the four of us that were left cycled pretty much non-stop the rest of the way to Chup which was about 20km.

Ingrain at the start of the Plantation
Spider Boat!!!

A bridge somewhere!?!?
We then cycled back along Route 7 and turned onto Route Goudronner passing through the d'eveas rubber plantation where we meet up with Gilly and Sam (whose bike was now better than new) the repair had taken about hour and cost $2, you can't beat that. We continued along Route Goudronneur to Pagoda over a very bad road. Picture a tarmac road with large rocks randomly sticking out of it. Anyway it was on this route that Paul took a minor tumble of his bike and was quickly assess by our team medic Ingrain. By now it was 1pm and between the heat, the sunburn which we had all got to varying degrees and the hunger, it seemed we had bitten off more than we could chew.
This doesn't look like the main road do I hear a banjo
As we started to cycle again Gilly got a bit faint and then out of nowhere literally came the rest of our group in tuk-tuks as they had been doing more less the same route as some but in the comfort of tuk-tuks and with plenty of food and water. Gilly did the honourable thing a climbed about the tuk-tuk with her bike after completing about 30km. The five remaining cyclists continued to cycle to Point Metalique over the Tonle Tache river. Then we stopped for lunch which was great and badly needed as it was now 3pm. We then continued to cycle with a plan that we would reach the shore of the Mekong and get a boat to bring us back up-river towards Kampong Cham. At times it did seem like a cross between LOST and Deliverance but we persevered and eventually found a couple of boats that would take us and our bikes.

All Aboard!! wait where are the lifejackets?
Ingrain looks after the bikes just in case
We loaded up the bikes and ourselves and for me it was the highlight or the trip as we motored up the Mekong Ingrain and five bikes in one canoe rest of us in another one. After about 30min they dropped us off somewhere opposite to the K'ile Koh Themi island on the east bank of the Mekong and from their we took the Piste Longueur Mekong for about 10km back to Kizuna bridge and into Kampong Cham. 
Kizuna Bridge at Sunset
So after cycling about 50km, a boat ride of about 3km and been very hot and tried I decided blow the budget and had a few beers and dinner in Joe's. All in all it was a great day trip and now I am looking forward to another 6 days of language classes before I head to Phnom Penh for a placement visit week.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cambodia's Third City

Monks out and about in Kampong Cham
Kampong Cham
So on Sunday 12th we took the 2pm Capital Bus from Phnom Penh to the city Kampong Cham. If you have a look at Patrick’s notes you can read about what Kampong Cham has to offer. The journey was on a 1980's circa bus which was fully booked with out group has the only non-Asians. The journey took about 3hrs which included a 30 min stop for the bus to be re-watered. The country-side between PP and KC is exactly what you would expect from the movies, largely flat, green forests and paddy fields with small villages through out.

One of the fun things to do is count how many people you see on a motorbike or moped as it speeds by so far I have spotted 6 although the most impressive sight was the man with a huge block of ice on the front and statue on the back.
Lazy Mekong Daze a curry and drink for $3 how bad?
We arrived promptly at 5pm and hopped onto the waiting tuk-tuks to our accommodation which is in the Mekong hotel which over looks the mighty Mekong River. That evening we went for a meal in the Lazy Mekong and had a good (both in terms of quality and quantity) chicken curry with rice for $3 I also had a couple of mike shakes bringing the bill to $6 and then we played some pool.
Andre, Ingrain and Dave playing pool in Lazy Mekong
Kampong Cham is the provincial capital of the Kampong Cham province and is the third biggest city in Cambodia with just under 65,000 people.  A quick note on the government structure here in Cambodia. The government is highly centralised which is also a feature of the power structures within Cambodian society. However since 1991 the constitution as established local and regional government structures so that it should work as follow:

Central (National) Gov. in Phnom Penh with Prime Minister in charge.
Provincial Government (Provencal offices of Gov. Departments and an elected Governor in each province)
Districts Government (district offices of Gov. Dep.)
Commune Councils (elected forum at community level similar to Town Councils)
Village Phum's (in rural areas)
Up and over Kizuna
Kizuna Close up
Kizuna Bridge 1.5km long

Anyway Kampong Cham sits right on the Mekong which truly dominates the city along with the Kizuna Bridge which was built in 2001 and was the first bridge across the Mekong in Cambodia and measures 1,500 meters across. Ingram and Dave to of my fellow travellers decided to go for jog over the bridge needless to say they are both in good shape and adjusting well to the climate. I declined the run and instead had a beer on the bank of the river and watched the small low boats motor up and down. 
The VSO gang enjoying the more relaxed and cheap life in Kampong Cham
KC is considerable cheaper than PP and has a lot less tourist although there were a number of Intrepid tours also staying at our accommodation on their way north-east to Vietnam or south to PP. While the Lazy Mekong is a nice spot the numerous small Khmer restaurants and food stall offer a good size meal from $1.50 upwards. There is a particular good street for restaurants just before the bridge. There is also a street full of laundrys where you can get 1kg of washing (cleaned, ironed and smelling lovely) for 5,000 Riel.

All in all KC offers a very different take on life to PP but I guess one could say that of any when comparing the wider country to the capital city. It is certainly a very friendly city where the locals are delighted to let you try your Khemer but will laugh when you get it wrong.

On the last couple of evenings after Language class I have gone running and this has had three effects on me-1. I felt much better after some exercise (but I was sweated at least litre of body fluid) 2. I was stuck by all the keep fit and dancing classes/groups. There are at least three along the river in Kampong Cham doing their work-out dance to three different types of music. 3. It was when I was running along the Mekong that it final hit me that my home for the next two years is Cambodia.

Me and my trusted Bike number 159.
One final note is that much to my surprise I am not only enjoying language classes but am actually managing to learn but more on that in the next issue.

Monday, September 13, 2010

In Country Training or ICT to those in the know!!

So last Thursday I arrived in PP and as already mentioned the humidity hit me like blow-dryer in the face. So naturally I did what anyone would do after unpacking in the Burly House on ST111 (see the map) I headed to Rory's Pub and had a Angkor beer just the one mind you. Then I went to the VSO office were dinner was provided and I meet my fellow Volunteers who are-Gilly (and Sam), Daniel, Danny, Dave, David, and Janet, Kathryn, Ingram, Paul, Jan and Thea, Vicky and Leeandra and Andre. All of of whom are very different but fascinating people who any organisation would be delighted to have.

The bulk of the group fall under the VSO Cambodia Education programme which apparently is very normal for the September arrivals. There are three programmes in VSO Cambodia Education, Health and Livelihoods. So those in Education-me, Gilly, Danny, Janet, Jan and Leandra will have various roles such as Educational Teaching and Learning Advisers (who work with teachers in Cambodian schools), Education Technical Advisers who work with the ministry or colleges of education. The role of the other vary form Paediatrician to development advisers so it is quite a varied group in terms of experience despite the education overload.

So we have had a packed week which I will outline below:

Friday 3rd-
Welcome to Cambodia-Basics about the country, and PP.
Introduction to VSO Cambodia Programme Office-Told about the office and various programmes they run.
In Country Training preview-What to expect in the next few days.
Security-Personal security in a new country

Saturday 4th-
Cyclo Tour-for those not in the know the cyclo is a French import (see that Cath). It is a bike with an extra seat in the front that you ride in so that the cyclist is behind you. It is a great way to explore PP although at times I wondered if my cyclo operator would last the pace as he was in his 60's at least. At other times I thought I wouldn't make it as we ducked in and out of traffic and around potholes. 

Sunday 5th-
And on the seventh day the lord rested and this is exactly what I did I was wrecked. I was also frustrated with numerous technical difficulties which varied from my Irish mobile not working to not having a headset to use on skype.

Monday 6th-
Role of Programme Office-We were briefed as to what support to expect from VSO once we started our placements.
VSO's work in Cambodia-This session looked at the background and process through which VSO works in Cambodia.

Tuesday 7th-
Overview of VSO Cambodia's Health Programme
Overview of VSO Cambodia's Livelihoods Programme
Overview of VSO Cambodia's Education Programme

All of which did what they said on the tin, but it was great to hear about what has been done, what has worked and what has not worked and what the future holds and where we fit in with the future plans.

Child Protection
Obviously a big issue we had a good talk from an NGO called the Child Safe Centre.

Wednesday 8th
HIV & Aids talk-which was presented by a former VSO Volunteer now working in the area. 

Gender, ethnic and minorities issues- presented by a current VSO Volunteer

Cultural Do's and Don't-Which was really good and stopped me for one making a complete western tourist twat of myself. Well ok it can't work miracles but it made me less of twat in terms of cultural norms.

Mines in Cambodia-This talk was given by MAG and covered their work and the dangers posed by mines left over from the US bombing during the Vietnam War and of course the Civil War and Khmer Rouge regime. Cambodia still remains one of the most mined countries in the world.

Staying Healthy-The VSO doc called by and give us all some very good advise and information about how to look after our health and what the symptoms of various things might be.
View of the Olympic Stadium in Phnom Peng
Dave and Ingraim at the Olympic Stadium

Thursday 9th 
Working in Cambodia and with Cambodian's-This was a great session as it looked at the practical problems that could arise for all of us both in terms of working in a new country and of course in a workplace which is cultural different to that at home. The importance of hierarchy and diplomacy been the biggest differences as well as the language barrier.

Meeting with British Ambassador-But before anyone starts there is no Irish Ambassador in Cambodia and the British Embassy looks after all Irish citizens in the country. This was a really good session which the Ambassador and his Economic Advisory and covered a wide range of issues which included: the Cambodian tribunals, aid and NGO's. the role of DFID and the Embassy and the future development of Cambodia.

History of Cambodia: Good interactive session bringing us swiftly through the complexities of contemporary Cambodian History which is very complicated. Want to know more read

Friday 10th
One-to-One session with Programme Managers-This was an invaluable meeting with my VSO Manager Vanthna where we discussed CITA and my role with them.
The Group having dinner at the VSO Cambodia Office in Phnom Penh
Saturday 11th 
And on the 6th Day the VSO Volunteers rested after a very late night and very long week. 

Sunday 12th 
Traveled to Kampong Cham which located 120km North-East of PP on the Mekong River. It is a welcome change from the manic pace of PP and I will be based here for the next two weeks.

Now just a quick side note on Thursday 9th and  Friday 10th, while I have been taking it handy regards going out and having a few drinks on Thursday I decided to live a little and do some social networking as I am after all going to be living here in PP for the next two years. So what did I do on Thursday nite I went Swing Dancing classes in Equinox. I kid you not it was great craic and there was very little drink involved. So I think I may have a new hobby which is a tad different and not easy when you have no rhythm. Also have come across a number of Irish ex-pats which seem so far to be the second biggest group after the Brit's.

Now Friday with my new information acquired about my placement and day off due I decided to blow of a little steam with my new friends and colleagues. This began with cocktails and pool at Equinox which was fine until happy hour ended and the we moved to a wine bar somewhere not sure where I just pedaled till I was told to stop. After the wine bar a by now very small by elite group of adventures headed for Pontoon (Eoin you'll be well imppressed with it) which is dance nightclub on pontoon/boat. Needless to say the excitement of been in a new country with plenty of really interesting people caused me to dance my heart out until some ungodly hour in the morning. But hey you got to live a little sometimes!! the really amazing things was the lack of a hangover the next day my only conclusion been that I danced and then cycled it all the alcohol out of my system. Oh and note to future visitor to PP the city is really beautiful when your cycling home at 4am.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Getting up to speed-The hows and whys of going to Cambodia

Hey folks,
               It has been a very interesting ten days in Cambodia so far although the idea that I live here now as yet to sink in. Has I have not yet perfected my blog style or content I would be delighted to get feedback and or questions from you all.

Let me just recap for those joining late and to add some additional information that I have learnt since my arrival.

So what brings me to Cambodia, well last October I applied to Volunteer Service Overseas VSO  as I pretty much felt that I had hit a wall with regards my career in my last job, also wanted to do something which would I hope have wider impact in another country and of course the change to see and live somewhere every different from Ireland.

So after been accepted as Volunteer and deciding to give a 2 year commitment I completed 2 online courses and 2 residential courses. I did not have geographical preference as to where I would volunteer and decided instead to look for the role that best fitted what I was after where-ever that may have been.

So I was offered a placement as an Advocacy Management Advisor with the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association CITA which I gladly accepted. I am not sure how much information you want to know about CITA. Basically it does what it says on the tin, it is the only independent teachers' organisation in Cambodia which has political environment which is not exactly predisposed towards trade unions or civil society although that is changing. Anyway CITA was established in 2000-01 by Mr. Rong Chhun who is a very committed and inspirational union leaders and political activist.

My role or at least what I think my role is at this stage  is to help CITA develop it's advocacy and organisational capacity, so basically to help them develop policies, actions and training that will further the organisation in reaching its objectives. This role obviously will be very varied and challenging but I am hoping it will prove befintal both to me, CITA and VSO. So how does it work well while I am called a Volunteer I am not in the through sense as I receive an allowance while working with CITA and the relationship is one of Employer-Employee. Anyway if you want to know more about CITA or my role just let me know.

So last Wednesday I departed Dublin airport dropped off by Rory McDaid (thanks Rory). The first crises was at the Eithad airways desk when for a brief moment I was told I would have to pay €280 for excess baggage. However this was quickly resolved as I was traveling on a special fare and entitled to a 40kg allowance thank goodness. Eithad by the way are the best airline I have flown with, comfortable seats, great crew, good in-flight service. Anyway several hours later I arrived in Abu Dhabi and caught a flight to Bangkok were I decided to go mad and check into a room at the airport to sleep during the 7 hour stop over and boy oh bot did I sleep.So eventually after waking up refreshed I continued onto Phnom Penn at 14.30hrs and was greeted by VSO staff and duly got my Visa sorted (well kind of) initially I will have three month visa until I got my work visa which will last longer.

So after that we headed to the VSO office which is on ST 214 see the PP map very close about 5min from Royal Place. Needless to say that since arriving the temperature has not dropped much below 20C but is the humidity that is the thing you have to get use to which on a good day is 60% but usually 80% especially now as we are in the rainy season.

Anyway I have been in PP before and was not overcome with the desire to do all the usually touristy stuff so instead I found my away to Rorys' pub on ST 178 or art street because of all the arts and crafts shops and yes I had  beer. That was on Thursday 2nd which seems like an age ago so much has happened since which will be the subject of my next blog.