Thursday, August 9, 2012


Cambodia revisited

One year has passed since I left Phnom Penh after my IBM Corporate Service Corps assignment in Cambodia had ended.

In the following months, I wrote articles about the CSC experience for our local employee magazine and for our corporate social responsibility site. A professional writer covered the story for the THINK! Magazin. Our company internal Global Web Services newsletter featured another article. This one happened to find its way to my client HRINC, where it got published on their company website as well.

In February, another #ibmcsc team visited Cambodia and worked with a different group of clients, mostly educational institutions. During their preparation I had the pleasure to share some of our team’s experiences, including recommendations for sight-seeing, dining and entertainment.

Writing and talking with colleagues, friends and family about the trip always brings back fond memories of the great time spent in Cambodia with the “Tissabamokah” team, our hosts and the various people we met during our stay.

I occasionally hear from my friends at HRINC about life and work, and follow the updates from the Cambodia Retirement Village (CRV) project.

The IBM team has stayed in loose contact also. We didn’t manage to arrange our first annual reunion that we had talked about before we left, and we never completed our team video. Somewhere that raw footage is waiting to be edited and cut, maybe for another anniversary.

If you ever have an opportunity to spend some time on a voluntary assignment, whether as a company sponsored activity or with a volunteer organization like Australian Business Volunteers (ABV), go for it, and if you don’t, try harder to find one.

Looking back a year later, I wouldn’t say that one month abroad made me a completely different person, but I certainly learned a few things about myself too. What made the most lasting impression on me was the Khmer people’s positive and cheerful attitude, which I admire and often miss.

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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

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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