A Travellerspoint blog

I run over Cambodian policeman

Last bicycle ride in Phnom Penh and planning of the upcoming rural adventure

sunny 35 °C

Many complain about the chaotic traffic in Cambodia. Lanes are purely for decoration, traffic lights are frequently ignored and direction of traffic never stopped the locals from driving against the flow. All this sounds (and looks) rather scary for the uninitiated tourist.But once here, serious road accidents are rare (I'm talking about towns now) and upon closer look, one will find an intricate system of gestures, movements and eye-contacts making this chaos surprisingly functional way to get around.

Giving myself a week after I arrived to find my way and buy a bicycle, the last two months have been conveniently enhanced by me being mobile, self-sufficient and hardly ever feeling at risk. But as it turns out, it is not the locals who should be accused of dangerous driving, it is me. On my last day before embarking to explore the rest of Cambodia, I took my last ride towards to Orassey Market in a quest to find a buyer for my bike. Not quite sure which of the shops deals with second hand bikes, I slalomed through the traffic, picking a store across the road. Making my way across, I was greeted by the polite but seriously unhelpful 'yes', as a response to every question.

Deciding to venture to one of the side streets, I had two options. One was to cross back to the other side of the street and cycle 15 meters before turning left to a small street full of bicycle stores. The second one was to stay where I was and cycle along the pavement against the traffic, turning left into the same street, without the unnecessary double-crossing of the main road. Ha. Encouraged by my previously experience, I chose the former. All went well until I failed to spot a sturdy policeman lurking behind a parked van, who decided to walk into the road exactly the same moment I was passing the van.

  • The result: a full on collision.
  • Policeman damage: none!
  • Bicycle damage: mangled front basket
  • Me: bruised chin from a direct impact of the policeman's helmet and busted kneecap.

The positive side is that I get to say that I run over a Cambodian policeman. The less positive side is my impaired ability to hike (and chew), which is scheduled to be the main activity for the upcoming weeks, together with bus rides and boating. Fortunately, despite a less than ideal state of my bike, I negotiated a $16 price, which is mere $4 depreciation from my purchase price.

Rid of my bike, I walked back to the hotel, no longer able to refuse plentiful tuk tuk and moto offers on the grounds of having own transport.

With less than a day left in Phnom Penh, the Duke is arriving this lunchtime to join me on the rural part of my adventure. Having organised a tuk tuk pick up for him from the airport, I am determined to make my way through the rest of the relevant Lonely Planet chapters, before making an informed choice which bus ticket we need to buy. Tara for now.

Posted by TheDukes 26.01.2013 19:40 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia phnom_penh policeman bicycle accident Comments (0)

Drag show ala Cambodia

Last day of volunteering and first visit to Cambodian drag show

sunny 34 °C

It has been emotional. For me at least. As if finally recognising it was my last day with them as a volunteer, my boss went out of her way to make the most of me whilst I was still there. Finishing the Marketing proposal document and sending it off, I expected to have a leisurely afternoon full of heartfelt good-byes and private research into my upcoming three weeks of exploring rural Cambodia. Instead, I was showered with multiple requests for help, almost wondering if I will have to start saying 'no' at some point.

Looking at the positive side though, at least I had things to do unlike most other volunteers I got to meet in the guest house. When the time came for me to say good-bye, I was surprised how much I wished it wasn't over yet. Over the past two months, I was lucky to work in an environment where I got to contribute, as well as learn. Experiencing the working culture first hand, I am aware that the professional and fairly structured environment is by no means a given in Cambodia and that my experience is very different to probably most of the other volunteers. In fact, I grew to love the country, the culture and the people to the point when I am open to temporarily setting up a base here, should the right work opportunity present itself. But for now, I have some jungle trekking and elephant riding in front of me, followed by a less than welcome return to my 'day job' in Germany.

As is the case on most weekends, Friday night in the guest house was a low key affair. The eight of us who forfeit the chance to spend the weekend outside of Phnom Penh split into two groups. Group one heading to a Condom Bar (not kidding, it is actually called that) for a night of karaoke (yack!), and my group headed to the Blue Chilli for a bit of gay bar / drag show action. This proved to be an excellent move. Whatever the show lacked in quality the performers made up in enthusiasm. Home-made costumes, badly plucked eyebrows and bad playback were more than offset by friendly atmosphere, frequent flirtation by the main protagonists with eager audience and interesting crowd.

The night was in fact so good that for once, we didn't even contemplate going somewhere else more 'dancy' afterwards. Instead we stayed in to watch the show until our stomachs started to demand a food top up. A tasty pizza stop later, were were crowded into a rattling tuk tuk on our way to the guest house. Three out of our four-people group were leaving the guest house on Saturday and so 2am arrival was just about right to make sure we have plenty of time to pack and move on to pastures new.

Not exactly pressed for time, I am spending my Saturday morning packing, talking to people, eating, distributing unwanted stuff and generally slowly getting to the point when I can leave. My last task is to sell my bicycle and after that, I am temporarily moving to another guest house closer to the centre, to be joined by the Duke on Sunday morning. Bring on the next part of our adventure!

Posted by TheDukes 25.01.2013 20:50 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia phnom_penh volunteering drag_show Comments (0)

Last week of volunteering - Phnom Penh

Fighting the battle with own quality standards and preparing for the end of my volunteering placement

semi-overcast 33 °C

In my ‘normal’ work life, I am almost exclusively surrounded by bright people who directly or indirectly push each other to work harder, faster and more efficiently, putting huge emphasis on quality. In my ‘volunteering’ work life, I have been forced to make some compromises. I don’t mind compromises in principal. But there is such a thing as compromise threshold and I have just about reached it.

Aside from a number of ad-hoc tasks I have been approached with since Monday, there is the Facebook company presence enhancement proposal which I want to finish before leaving my volunteering placement tomorrow. With the C-level peeps eagerly awaiting fruits of my labour, I am coaching a marketing officer on things like how to structure proposals, do cost/benefit analysis and create process maps. The task in itself is not difficult and so far I have completed 90% of the work myself. But there is the 10% which are starting to drive me up the wall.
One of hundreds of adjucent motorbike shops

One of hundreds of adjucent motorbike shops


Over the past two weeks it has transpired that when it comes to some marketing staff, common sense is not that common and anything other than following detailed instructions is not to be expected. You might think I am too demanding and should cut him some slack for the sake of cultural differences and lack of experience. Trust me – I have. That is why 90% of the work is ready and the 10% goes through endless loops of draft – review – discussion – draft – review – discussion – you get the idea.

Don’t take me wrong. I have really enjoyed my volunteering experience and enlarge I feel that my professional background as a consultant has equipped me to make a real difference and contribute to my adopted company for the last 2 months. Yet, there seem to be some people that irrespective of the patience, time and guidance you give them, they just don’t have the skills to do the work. Now the ‘nice me’ says – give him more time, go through it with him again and finish it together’. There is also the ‘not so nice me’ which has a different idea. For now, the ‘nice me’ is keeping the upper hand.

Given that this is my last week, I have set myself a goal of going to yoga or Pilates at least twice this week. Despite some temptation to skip my Monday lesson, I went ahead with it and got rewarded by a huge plate of 12 fried Chinese dumplings for $1.50. Delicious treat worth writing about. With two months of free food in the guest house, I am starting to register signs of noodle and rice overdose so anything not consisting of one of these two ingredients is a major reason for celebration.

Whilst my Monday lesson went in the usual semi-relaxing mode, yesterday was completely different. Encouraged by the arrival of ten new yoga enthusiasts, the instructor decided to demonstrate exactly how hard yoga can be. Still keeping to the ‘basic’ level of exercises, it felt like an hour of permanent full body muscle tension. Although my legs are fairly strong, my arms muscles have panacotta consistence and by the end of the session, I was seriously questioning if I ever will be able to exude enough energy to untangle the band out of my disheveled hair.

The not so nice side effect of being one of the longest serving volunteering members is the regular departure of people I became good friends with. This time it was a wanna-be American journalist Bryce who managed to enroll into a Peace Corps in Senegal and was heading to Korea and Japan to enjoy his three weeks between volunteering and proper work. Always happy to hit the town on whatever pretence we might find, Tuesday night was spent in the Blue Pumpking cake shop / restaurant overlooking the riverside.

A lovely night of average food and pleasant conversation finished far too early and once again another person was gone, probably never to be seen again. This reminded me and Mikkel, a Danish volunteer from Copenhagen, that Saturday is our last day in the Tattoo guest house and so starting today, after-work drinks are a must. Bring it on!

Posted by TheDukes 23.01.2013 18:01 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia phnom_penh volunteering Comments (0)

Another leisurely weekend in Phnom Penh

Soaking up the relaxed atmosphere of Phnom Penh, getting hit on by super friendly locals and struggling to take any good pictures

sunny 33 °C

Conscious of slacking a little over the last few days, I am back and ready to report for duty. To my defense, contrary to most of my fellow volunteers who are continuously complaining about having nothing to do, I am busy. And that means work busy and social life busy. I do accept that the meaning of busy has relaxed significantly since I left the western world behind me. Still, relatively spoken, I am really busy. And I might also be becoming tiny bit lazy.
Two brothers selling bracelets

Two brothers selling bracelets


However much I want to ignore it, my stay in Cambodia is slowly coming to an end, and my volunteering placement is taking the first hit. Last weekend was the ‘volunteering break’ weekend and from next weekend my status changes from volunteer to traveler.

With hole in my budget and three weeks left to travel around Cambodia, I forfeit the opportunity to join one of the many groups heading out of town to Mondulkiri, Siem Reap, Sihanoukvill or other popular destination. Instead, I chose to stay in, get my hair done and roam around Phnom Penh with my by now battered SLR.

Saturday morning was a decision point for me – to walk or to cycle. Keen to take pictures, walking is much better but also quite slow. Cycling, on the other hand, giver more coverage but means that by the time I stop, things change or I am simply not able to stop my bike because of the stream of traffic ushering me forward. After serious contemplation I chose cycling.

Unfortunately, as predicted, I was not entirely successful at getting good shots. The best (and the only) pictures were taken from a table in one of my coffee stop breaks when a couple of local kids came around to sell bracelets. Fortunately, my quest for a good manicure and hair colour was much luckier, so by the time my stomach started requesting dinner, I was sorted.
Woman selling household goods

Woman selling household goods


In the morning, chatting over a plate of fruit, I met a Slovak couple on a year travel through Asia and South America. It is not every day I meet Czechs or Slovaks and keen to indulge in talk in my native language, I invited them to join me in the evening heading out for a drink. With only few people left in the guest house, we boarded a single tuk tuk and sped through the traffic to Sharky’s for a night full of cheap beer and pool.

It was nice having a small group instead of the usual crowd and without noticing the evening flew by. At 2pm most of us started to feel the need for a food top-up and so leaving the bar, we managed to find a last open pizza place at the corner of otherwise completely deserted street. This marked the end of our evening and we all agreed that a weekend without the Heart of Darkness or Pontoon is quite refreshing.

Sunday went in a similar mode and instead of sightseeing, I pottered around Phnom Penh, sampling different coffee shops, reading my book and soaking up the leisurely weekend atmosphere. The highlight of my day must have been a middle aged Cambodian man who joined me whilst having a coffee and through a very roundabout process propositioned me if I would like him as a boyfriend. Hmmmm – maybe not. But thanks. Clear sign it was time to seek the safety of my budget guest house.
One of hundreds of adjucent motorbike shops

One of hundreds of adjucent motorbike shops

Posted by TheDukes 22.01.2013 02:47 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia phnom_penh research Comments (0)

Newborn Cambodian and smug Englishman

Mixing with ex-pats and a trip to the hospital to welcome a new addition to the Kingdom of Cambodia

sunny 33 °C

Despite best intentions to cycle wherever possible, I learnt my lesson. Arriving to business meetings covered in dust with beach style hairdo is not the best way to make lasting impression. Instead, I leave my bike at the guest house and opt for a moto taxi instead. Price: $1. Driver: Mr. Vi. Destination: my last research interview.

Having been through it multiple times the meeting goes really well and I feel privileged to have met yet another remarkable person in charge of apparently socially responsible microfinance institution. We part with warm wishes of good luck and fortune and I am relieved to find Mr. Vi waiting outside the office, ready to take me to my next date. Price: $1. Destination: Phnom Penh Centre.

One of my previous interviewees put me in touch with an English expat in charge of a recruitment agency, allegedly knowledgeable about the fragile dynamics of Phnom Penh’s economic, political and business landscape. Concluding that there is no harm in having a chat about my adopted country, I arrive early and am briskly shown to a basic but comfortably air-conditioned office.

When I am leaving an hour later, I cannot help but feel disappointed. Kevin in his 50’s is a proud owner of underperforming recruitment agency, stagnating consulting career and super sized love handles. His own feeling of superiority triggered by years of being surrounded by
Cambodians attributing white westerners various qualities merited only by the colour of their skin is oozing from the way Kevin bombards me by a wanna-be impressive list of his personal contacts and connections. Instead of an interesting discussion, I am listening to Kevin’s life story and amusement about corruption, existence of shadow companies and the importance of knowing people and being known. Not exactly a revelation, mate! At least the coffee was good.

With some real work waiting for me in the office, I call my personal moto driver Mr. Vi and leave as soon as good manners allow. Note to self: don’t let other people waste your time. Price: $1. Destination: my office.

However, my work will have to wait. Before I left the office yesterday, a lovely guy on my team suddenly jumped up, packed his stuff and rushed out of the door, shouting that his wife’s water broke. It transpires that the baby has arrived and so instead of work, I am summoned by my boss planning to visit the new parents and little Kim Nora. After a brief stop at the city mall where I source kick ass T-shirt, shorts and socks set, we set off towards the hospital.

Struggling to locate the correct maternity room, we are collected by the proud father and shown to a VIP area inside the maternity ward, resembling a comfortable flat complete with kitchen, sitting area and a couple of beds. The new mum Achi is positively exhausted, so we huddle around her bed and marvel at a little purple bundle of flesh lying on her right. The father Odoum is bouncing around the room, struggling to contain his joy at this new addition to their little family of two. As delish as the boy is, half an hour seems long enough time to make our excuses and head back to the office. Still, after an up and down morning, this is definitely the highlight of my day.

The ‘highlight’ status of this trip is then reconfirmed in the evening, when we head with a few people to the Willow hotel to take part in a pub quiz. Based on an experience few weeks earlier I suggest naming our team ‘At last’, which is greeted with general agreement. That way, we are prepared for whatever the outcome might be. This shows to be a good move, as despite much effort and not a little pondering, we once again end up last. Not something to brag about but at least we are consistent.

With three of my team on a field research visit and one of them spending his time with his newborn son and wife, Thursday in the office is rather quiet. My Marketing strategy meeting is set-up for Friday morning and so I decide to spend the day working on my own research.

Having done all of the interviews and more, I now have a set of competed forms and audio recordings waiting for transcript and analysis.
Whilst I really enjoy the field research component, my enthusiasm about data analysis is less acute. Fortunately The Duke loves numbers and information overload and so using my lunch break, we have a super useful Skype call about excel functions I only half understand. At the end of it though, we are both leaving happy. The Duke satisfied his analytical hunger and I have a data capture template to make. Result.

Now the working part of my day is coming to an end and I fear that my Pilates class can be put off no longer. You probably know enough about the type of crowd I live with to know that as soon as I arrive at the guest house, I will be subjected to temptations of drinking, relaxing, eating, talking, playing and similar important activities. As of now, Pilates class is 1 hour and 45 minutes away and I am definitely going…. Hmmmm.

Posted by TheDukes 17.01.2013 01:40 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia phnom_penh research Comments (0)

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