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.