Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Goodbye, Cambodia!

Renata was the first to leave on Saturday morning, and probably the last one to arrive home after an amazing 68 hours odyssey with delayed flights, missed connections and a closed airport.

While others were checking out and heading to the airport, I went for a five hour walk to explore Phnom Penh by foot again. The first sight was the main post office, a recently renovated colonial-era building, with time tables for letter postings and a commemorative stamp counter where the clerk would patiently search through piles of first-day covers and stamp packs to find the desired items. Here I could also finally mail the postcards I had written a fortnight ago; unlike in most other countries stamps are not available from stores and I didn't see letter boxes anywhere in the city either.

The next stop was Wat Phnom, a pagoda on a green hill and a place where people make generous donations of food and money, and only foreigners pay a modest entrance fee.

The railway station looks as if it was still in operation, with nice wooden benches in the waiting area and time tables listing train connections, only no trains have been running for many years and only now there are attempts to start at freight services again.

The Olympic stadium provided protection from a sudden monsoon rain, and the security staff was kind enough to let me take a peek inside where some soccer game was about to start.

The real athletes were outside though, two workers mounting a huge billboard and climbing the scaffold with ease in their flip-flops.

The day ended with a nice dinner with friends of a friend of mine, a couple living in Phnom Penh who invited me to their beautiful colonial style house and afterwards to Rahu, a new and very stylish restaurant at the riverside.

On Sunday morning I began to appreciate everyone's complaints about packing. Although I had resisted the temptations at the various markets and had not bought much, I ended up with a full suitcase, a seriously overweight backpack and a large extra bag of dried fruits from Cambodian Dried Harvest Fruit, one of the companies our team had worked with.

Patricia and her friend left early to catch a bus for a ten hour drive to the north, on-board Karaoke included. Since the weather great I decided to spend my last day visiting a few more sights by car with a wonderful driver, Chin Bond Sreang (his contact information at the time of this writing: phone +855-12855281, e-mail bondservice81@yahoo.com).

The first stop was Phnom Chisor, a temple ruin set on a hill, some 300 steps from the parking area. Arriving in a fancy four-wheel drive on a lazy Sunday has its disadvantages, especially when you are one of the very few tourists in the area, so I had plenty of kids wanting to show me around. After having seen Angkor the temple remains here are not so special, but the view from the top over to Vietnam and Thailand is spectacular.

Next I visited the Phnom Tamao zoo, a sanctuary for birds, lions, tigers, crocodiles, snakes, elephants and monkeys, lots of monkeys. A young and very knowledgeable volunteer guide showed me around and we talked about his plans to finish school and move to Phnom Penh to become a tuk-tuk driver one day. The way he talked about the capital, full of passion and desire, it sounded like a wonderful place far away.

There are many beggars along the road to the park, which is quite popular with locals too, and some special figures too. On the way out when the afternoon rain started I was glad to be in the car, not on a tuk-tuk, as the road was getting quite muddy and all the carefully cleaned motorbikes and their drivers looked much less clean within minutes.

Last was Ta Promh, another temple ruin in a scenic setting, near a pagoda and a lake where people spend their weekends.

Along the way I saw again packed vans with some people sitting on the roof, motorbikes loaded with poultry and pigs, and near a wet area several food stands offering grilled frogs. Before you ask, I was not hungry and didn't try any, although they looked pretty good.

Thus ended my last day here, goodbye Cambodia!

Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible, memorable and enjoyable, first and foremost my family for letting me be away for so long, the “Tissabamokah” team and our colleagues at IBM who helped with enabling this assignment, our organizers and hosts from ABV, our client teams, the wonderful staff at Boddhi Tree hotel, our drivers and tour guides, and all the people we met in Cambodia, សូមអរគុណ!

Post scriptum: The flights from Phnom Penh to Vienna via Bangkok and Frankfurt went well, only I forgot that Thailand is on a different time zone and almost missed my connecting flight to Frankfurt. As I boarded the plane the captain was just announcing that they were waiting for two more passengers, I guess one of them was me, ouch! I left Phnom Penh with temperatures in the thirties at night. Upon arrival on Monday morning, Frankfurt reported rain and a temperature of 12° C, and Vienna wasn't much better. I will miss a thing or two from Cambodia for sure.

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Saturday, August 6, 2011


Our last week in Cambodia: Action!

Here in Cambodia I have spent a busy, exciting and fun month working on a Corporate Service Corps assignment, learning about the country and its people and getting fresh perspectives professionally and personally.

The four weeks had passed by very quickly, and before we knew it was our last week in Cambodia. And there were so many things still waiting to be done!

At work I completed my training program with two more sessions on web design and usability, and a brief overview on search engine optimization and web application testing. The Cambodia Retirement Village website started to look pretty good, and we launched the English version on Thursday as planned.

The weather was still not too bad although clearly rainy season had started, with more thunderstorms and sudden downpours of rain, and an increase in power outages. Power supply is generally not very reliable, with frequent fluctuations and short spikes, but we had more and longer outages this week both at the office and at the hotel. Work continues normally, only the lights are off and the beeping of the UPS boxes is somewhat annoying.

At Monument Books and Toys I wondered if they were closed since the location was pitch-dark, but it was just another power outage. The Blue Pumpkin café on the first floor had the cash register connected to a UPS so you could still pay the coffee which you could no longer get because there was no power for the espresso machine. At least I was able to select a cake for Baskar’s birthday in the light of two birthday cake candles, how fitting!

We had already worked on a press release covering the #ibmcsc Corporate Service Corps assignment with the communications team. The other piece of communication was the team video. The final cut is still in the works. No matter how the video will look in the end, the shooting of our introductions and statements, with camera man Baskar directing the “actors” and our first experience using a teleprompter, was already well worth the effort. Action!

On Wednesday we celebrated Baskar’s birthday with a “surprise” party. Well, we kind of gave away the secret over breakfast. Thanks to a great performance of Jose making up a story on the fly about a business event with catering that Baskar had to organize, we were able to at least secretly decorate the hotel lobby with a birthday banner.

பிறந்தநாள் வாழ்த்துக்கள், Baskar!

Srey Neang and the boys joined us that evening, as well as our colleague Andrea from the Philippines, who manages the corporate social responsibility programs in the region and came with our team for the final client reviews and to get feedback from the organizations which we had worked with. After dinner a few of us went for a blind beer tasking. Apparently our drinking habits have become very Cambodian, as we recognized the two popular local brands easily and considered them the best beers, almost guessed another one, and ranked the two European beers low enough that nobody wanted to finish those.

Our final ranking:
  1. Angkor
  2. Anchor
  3. Lao
  4. Beck’s
  5. Heineken

On Thursday the team at the office took me out for a lovely lunch at a Khmer Thai restaurant, in an elegant setting and with delicious food.

When the team told me we had a car, I was wondering for a moment how the whole IT team would fit into one car. I should have known by now …

The best was yet to come though: we had agreed to take a group picture in the afternoon, but there was obviously something else going on with people moving tables around in the lobby. The alleged photo appointment was really a gathering of the whole office staff to say goodbye with cake, a very touching framed thank you note with everyone’s signature, and presents for Marisol and me and for our spouses for having agreed letting us go abroad for the month. We had started our assignment with a very warm welcome, and we ended with an equally special farewell. Thank you to the fantastic people at HRINC, ITLINK, BDLINK and SHRM&P, we’ll miss you!

Also on Thursday I found a location for the long awaited Karaoke night. The Champs-Elysées hotel had the perfect setting, with a stylish VIP room with illuminated glass tables and a reasonable selection of English language music. We had great fun with two expert Karaoke singers, Jose for English and Vuthy for Khmer, a perfect dance choreography from Daniela and Marisol, and everyone chiming in, Betrand even on the Khmer songs :-) Only the staff seemed a bit unhappy that we managed to sing without consuming loads of drinks first, and my camera was obviously considered a weapon and had stay in a safety box outside.

Friday was our last day together as a team, and we ended the month were had started it, at the Romdeng restaurant which serves the fried tarantulas that we had already tried, and also a beef dish with red tree ants, so I tried that this time.

From Romdeng it’s only short walk to the usual places for evening entertainment, Howie’s Bar and Pontoon, where we took our last group photo on the dance floor before the group began splitting up.

Some returned to the hotel to complete their packing and get some sleep, some went dancing at Heart of Darkness, and we all knew that a few hours later the first colleagues would head to the airport and leave Cambodia. The assignment had come to an end. Goodbye team!

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