Saturday, July 16, 2011


One week in Cambodia. Over and out.

Last Friday the Atlantis space shuttle took off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center for the last time. When the first orbiters launched, the world was watching the takeoffs and listening to the crackling sounds of astronauts describing how beautiful our planet looked from outer space.

The recent conversations with my family often reminded me of conversations with a spaceship. Not that Phnom Pehn wouldn’t have decent connectivity: there are 3G networks everywhere, and even in more remote parts of the city the mobile coverage is great, unlike in rural areas where electricity and communication lines are often poor, if available at all. Calling from mobile phones is fairly expensive though when there is so much to recount, even though a call to Cambodia costs much less than what a national call used to cost two decades ago, when we were used to brief facts only telephone conversations.

Voice over IP to the rescue! The Boddhi Tree hotel not only offers great hospitality and friendly service but also reasonably fast, reliable and free wireless connectivity, so talking over Skype or Y! Voice should be as easy as 1-2-3. Unless the computer refuses to recognize the built-in microphone, that is. Several reboots and desperate attempts to change the audio settings later I found a discussion thread about failing ThinkPad audio drivers on the Lenovo forum, downloaded and installed the simple Conexant driver and had a working microphone again.

For reasons unbeknownst to me, we can have a good chat with clear quality and minimal delays one day, sound like spaceship commanders in orbit the next day or suffer from long delays (“Hallo hallo hallo hallo hallo?”) and bad echo. At some point we even reverted to CB radio voice procedure, passing control and muting the line in-between, much to the fun of the kids, who then limited their conversation to shouting “Over”. They don’t seem to miss me too much but did send kisses over the wire(less) and commented unfavorably about our food.

The first week has been incredibly busy and gone by so quickly. I cannot believe that we have been in Cambodia for a week already. On Monday we had an introductory coffee meeting with our #ibmcsc clients at the hotel. “Coffee meeting” is an understatement, as the coffee was accompanied by a nice buffet of fresh fruit, sweet and spicy snacks, pancakes filled with fruit, more like a brunch.

During my assignment I will work with a local organization that provides HR recruitment, outsourcing and consulting services, training, and IT services, as well as on a social project for the elderly, about which I will write more shortly. Others on our team support socially responsible small businesses in the tourism and IT services industries and a company that created jobs for land mine accident survivors in the food industry and produces delicious dried fruit, of which we get daily samples through Wolfgang and Patricia.

The welcome at our client’s side was fantastic. We were greeted by a big decorated sign on the entrance door, and then introduced to the teams. My week was split between meetings with the managing director and staff to get an understanding of the organization and where I can help, preparing my work plan for the month, putting together workshop materials, running the workshop with an active and enthusiastic group, doing security testing, and preparing more workshop materials for the following week. On Wednesday Marisol and I took the opportunity to visit a small training factory for garment workers and a large school run by the French charity
Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE), which provides education, healthcare and three meals every day to the students in Phnom Penh.

Speaking of meals, we had no more spiders this week but explored other culinary delights of the city together in the evenings and tasted Cambodian, French (well, at least before the onion soup was enhanced with spices :-)) and Vietnamese food.

That’s all for this week, and now it’s time for a relaxing weekend in the seaside city of Kep. Over and out!

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