Sunday, July 29, 2007


I have returned from my trip to the beach, bronzed (maybe more of a reddish-bronze) and relaxed (maybe more exhausted). I traveled down by taxi on Friday night with two other Americans and a girl from New Zealand. We checked in to our beautiful hotel (see picture of pool) and then met up with Jens, Bernhardt, Anya, and Emir for dinner at Eden.

After dinner we ended up at the Blue Dolphin, apparently quite the hopping place. Here we stayed, drinking, playing in the water, dancing like fools, and watching people much crazier than us, until 4 am. This bar also has these chains with balls on them you can light on fire and do all sorts of fun dance type things. I stayed away from the drunk people with flames. Although, there was a young girl there who was quite skilled at it. After the bar we went back to our hotel and swam in the pool until about 5, watching the sun come up in a light rain.

Saturday we just spent playing on the beach and in the water. Really beautiful beaches and warm, clear water. Was extremely relaxing and much needed after our late night out.
Saturday night we all went out to dinner (joined by one more American at this point), then we all went for a walk down the beach to meet up with some other people. I made it in before 1 am this time!
This morning just got up and went to the beach for a few hours before we had to head out on the bus.
Some of the interesting things to happen to us: Danielle's camera fell out of her bag in the taxi and even though she called the next morning the driver, of course, could not find it. Johanna had her camera stolen out of her bag at the beach on Saturday. Lots of little kids around there stealing money and valuables right out from under you. I caught one before he made off with stuff from another girl's purse. Kind of brings the relaxation value down a notch.
Saturday night when we were walking to dinner a moto flew by and tried to grab Johanna's bag. The guy didn't get it, but he pulled her along for a second and she has bruises all over her arm now. Then on our bus ride home we saw someone on the side of the road who'd been killed in an accident--probably on a moto. So that was a little tramatic.
On a lighter note, a cow came onto the dance floor at the Blue Dolphin last night. Stood there for a few minutes (not quite long enough for me to get my camera out although I tried) before they chased him out. That's almost better than home!
Tomorrow morning I'm heading to Battambang, a town that's supposed to have some of the best French-colonial architecture in the area. And from there I'll take a boat to Siem Riep and spend some time at the Angkor Wat temples. So, the next blog will be when I return from that little trip--should be good pictures!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Anyone looking for a business opportunity?

Maybe I really will move to Kratie. Sitting here reading the Cambodia Daily at the office and I see this: Riverfront Bar/Restaurant/Guesthouse for sale in Kratie. $5,000. Think it's a fixer-upper?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Been nice to know ya, I'm moving to Kratie

Had an absolutely amazing time in Kratie this weekend. Saturday morning I met up with 6 Germans who are working in various fields here in Phnom Penh and we took a 7 hour bus trip into the Northeast area of Cambodia. That, in itself was a bit of an experience, as we stopped in a few towns for food breaks and had such entertainment on the tv as a Cambodian comedy show, a Chinese movie with baby ninjas and the worst (irritating) dubbing voices I've ever heard, and Cambodian karaoke videos (primarily lovely love ballads filmed in the rice paddies). This first picture is from the bus--as you can tell it was raining a bit, which kept it nice and cool (that and the a/c).

We arrived in Kratie around 2:30, and set it up with our hotel guy to go see the dolphins around 3:00. This next picture is the view from our balcony of the Mekong River. Kratie is a really nice little town from what we saw. Lovely restaurants along the riverfront and some nice markets and such in the "downtown" area.

We each had our own moto-driver to us the 15 km to the boat docks. The drive itself was almost worth the trip. We went down this smallish road, probably 12 feet across, lined on each side by houses. It was just beautiful, and it smelled like cows, which made me feel right at home ;-) In fact, on the way back after seeing the dolphins (did I just ruin the surprise, yes, we saw lots of dolphins) we actually had a rather entertaining moment that completely reminded me of home. Cruising along on the moto when all of a sudden this cow, who is being led by a little boy, decides to become a bit frisky (it was that nice cooling off part of the evening when they tend to want to do that) and jumps and spins and kicks into the road--close enough I could easily touch him even after my moto driver swerved. Everyone was okay and I think it scared the driver much more than me. It just reminded me of my days in 4-H.

These pictures below are of our journey out. First, all the foreigners (us) on our motos, then some cows and a goat coming into town, then a pony and cart (they use these quite a bit up there...I think I'd have to get one as well), then one of the houses along the road, and then the actual road.

We arrived at the boat area and headed down to the flotilla. Four or five to a boat so our little group split and I did my boating with a French couple and Jens and Christian from our group.

It was just a short little trip out to the main feeding grounds of the dolphins. Once we were there the driver cut the engine and tied up to some twigs and there we sat, listening to the river and the frequent exhale of breath and water as the dolphins surfaced. Absolutely relaxing and soul replenishing. The dolphins usually surfaced in groups of two or three--it was extremely tricky to get a picture of them although I did my best for all of you. They came up quite close to the boat though and we were able to see them fairly clearly. Beautiful animals that look more like a small whale with their rounded heads than the bottlenose dolphin. According to the tickets we got for the boats there are only about 100 Mekong Rivery Irrawaddy Dolphins left in the world. They feed primarily in these two deep-water pools, usually around 25 at a time can be found at one of those areas.

We stayed out with the dolphins for around two hours, and then headed in right as the sun was beginning to get a bit lower. One of our group had the brilliant idea of heading up to Wat Sampot, at the top of the hill seen in the first of the pictures below to watch the sun set. So we took our motos up to the wat. The picture of the tall statute is at the base of the first set of stairs to the top. There were three similar sets of steps, and I quickly realized how out of shape I've gotten sitting at the office! Also at the base, our moto drivers set up a card game while they waited for us, and I found myself a horse.

The hike up was well worth it, as once we got to the top we had incredible views all around of the fields and Mekong. The sun set up there was rather nice as well. We went down while we still had a little light and watched the end of the sunset as we went back on our motos along the river. We ended our evening with some dinner at a nice little restaurant on the river and then sat on the rooftop terrace of our hotel.

This morning we got up, had a bit of a look around the town, and then headed home on the bus again. The last picture here is of a field with what we think is a hay pile (just for Cece, reminded me of the stacks) and some cows--much like the one that tried to kill us. So, overall it was a terrific getaway, and I think I might get myself a cart and pony, a kayak in which I can commune with the dolphins, and move on up to Kratie. Or I'll just come home to Idaho :-)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Morning commute

I took these photos last Friday of my morning commute, it's just taken me a little while to get them up here. Things have been busy around here lately. Friday we met with two men from the Asian Development Bank who have been instrumental in the creation of the draft Law on Education. I'll discuss this with anyone interested after I return home, as not all of the things I have to say are terribly complementary and it wouldn't be nice to post them online. I will say that the Cambodian representative was extremely competent and was able to clearly articulate the pros and cons of compulsory education (which I'd already researched and included in my memo, so nothing new there), and he finally agreed that if we could find a way to get our suggested changes to the Commission of the National Assembly that would be looking at the draft, ADB would support having a debate about the issue.
Yesterday I attended a workshop on Education for Sustainable Development at the Senate. It was primarily for Senate and National Assembly members and was hosted by UNESCO. Kind of interesting, but much less about education than it was about sustainable development. The UNESCO reps spoke very broadly about what the goals of education for sustainable development are, and then there were speakers from the Ministry of the Environment and some Senate members. The highlight was really the coffee/tea breaks. One productive thing did come out of the workshop; we spoke to the head of some organization here (can't tell what Doris is calling it, will have to have her spell it out for me) and he was very interested in the issue and agreed to give our memo (Doris condensed it, but yep, my work) to the leaders of each of the political parties and then organize this meeting tomorrow with people from the Ministry of Ed., and all key players in the issue, to see if we can get a debate going about compulsory education. It's pretty exciting. To tell you the truth, I understand the government's argument (according to the ADB guy) that they shouldn't put something into a law that there's no way they can enforce. But on the other hand, compulsory education is mentioned as a goal in every other Cambodian plan and document on education, so not putting it in the law would be a step back. Okay, enough about all that.
Regarding the pictures....most of obviously of the drive to work. The tower looking deal with the clock in front is Wat Phnom, a Buddhist temple. There's an elephant there, as well as monkeys, that I get to see on my way to work every morning. Then a picture of my driver (he lives near me I think). He's a cool guy, man of few words. He speaks Khmer to me and I speak English and somehow we get things worked out. Then we've got some monks walking down the street (extremely common). And then there's Doris, Savady, Vanny, and me (the legal team) in front of the Ministry of Women's Affairs sign.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

What I've been up to....

This week has been a fairly slow, uneventful one. Probably a good thing because I've become an insomniac for some reason. Either I can't get to sleep until 2 or 3, or if I do, I wake up at 2 or 3 ready to go. So I've been just kind of dragging though my days. Maybe it's some sort of really, really delayed jet lag?
I have been working pretty hard all week though with the current work project being this draft education law. All week I've been voraciously reading everything I can get my hands onto about education in Cambodia, and today I'll be typing up a little report on why the new law needs to have a compulsory education requirement. To tell you the truth, after all of my research I've come to the conclusion that while such a requirement is needed, it is also unrealistic to expect the country to meet it. When parents simply cannot afford to send their children to school because 1) they are hit with high costs for uniforms, books, and fees to teachers (who are incredibly underpaid to the tune of around $20/mo. in many cases and for the most part completely unqualified) and 2) cannot afford the opportunity costs of sending children to school who could be working, especially girls who have numerous domestic duties if nothing else. On the costs, for example, it is estimated that private expenditure for having one child in primary school represents 79% of the per capita non-food expenses of the poorest 20% of the population. So now what if you have two children? Choices have to be made, and girls are kept at home. Also, the per capita cost of secondary education is between two and seven times greater than the non-food consumption expenditure of the poorest 20%. So you can see why only 2% of the students in the upper secondary come from the poorest 20%.
This is just one of the obstacles standing in the way. Others include: 1) distance to schools (parents are less likely to want to send girls longer distances as well because of the perceived danger), 2) lack of toilets (seems like a small thing but with 65% of primary schools not having a toilet when girls hit puberty and toilets are shared or non-existent modesty becomes an issue), and 3) pupil-teacher ratios of over 50. So clearly, until some of these obstacles are at least lessened, a compulsory education requirement is not going to accomplish much.
However, I would still argue that it is necessary to put it into the law because it demonstrates the commitment of the government to making education a priority in the country. In addition, it is required by international human rights standards. Also, the Cambodian Constitution has a provision stating that "the State shall provide primary and secondary education to all citizens in publi schools. The citizens shall receive education for at least 9 years." This does not create a compulsory system (although some have interpreted it that way), but shows some level of commitment that should be solidified in the education law.
So that's what I've been up to. Next Tuesday is a public hearing in the Senate that they're calling "Education for Sustainable Development." Between now and then Doris is trying to set up meetings for us with UNICEF (UN Children's Fund), UNESCO (UN's Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), UNIAP (UN Inter-Agency Program) and ADB (Asian Development Bank) so that we can develop a united front to show at this meeting in trying to get this law amended. The law is currently before the National Assembly, and it becomes very difficult to get a law changed at this stage, as I've discussed previously. So it's pretty exciting and interesting, and that said...I guess I should get back to my work so I'm prepared with something for these meetings. Wish us luck!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Friday afternoon here in the office

I've been trying to be productive, but it's a little crazy in here today. I think we have a bit of a "while the cat's away" situation going on. Suzanne is the boss here, and it's her house and cat I'm "sitting." All week there's been quite a bit of non-work going on around here. Pizza parties, random strangers hanging out, talking and laughing. Okay, I'm really just trying to justify why I'm blogging instead of working right now.
This week has been filled with meeting new people. Tuesday I met with the German legal advisor to the Senate, and he was great. He is a law professor in Germany, primarily in Constitutional Law. We spoke about what the role of the Senate is here in Cambodia (really quite limited as they get laws after the National Assembly and we've already seen how much the National Assembly does) and what his job is here, which seems to consist of quite a bit of much needed capacity building. I'm going to be reading over some articles for him that he's writing for this Encyclopedia of Public International Law that is being put together. Professor Miller is also contributing to this, seems to be a worldwide effort.
Wednesday morning I had a top secret meeting that I can't talk about, but I just want you all to know I'm attending top secret meetings :-) We were somewhere we weren't supposed to be, talking to people about things we're not supposed to be involved in. Okay, I guess it's really not too top secret, maybe just semi-secret. I got to contribute some of my research and ideas on a law to a UN agency and then they're going to put together some pressure groups to try to get some changes to the law implemented. The Ministry just can't be seen to be behind the changes.
Then Wednesday afternoon I met with someone from the International Organization on Migration to discuss issues relating to human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Cambodia. It was really interesting, as much for the information on that as for the general information about working in development and working in Cambodia. The man has been in Cambodia for something like 10 years (also knew a lot of the people from Moscow who've worked over here) and had a lot to say about going into development work.

Thursday I had lunch with the legal specialist from the World Bank. We talked more about broad concepts of how to best go about development and legal reform. Instead of trying to change the whole system to fit to western ideals of "best practice" he thinks we should work with what is the current situation in Cambodia and find ways to just make little changes to make it more equitable. Maybe not indicative of World Bank's approach, but interesting. He's worked a lot on labor reform, land issues, and umm, some third issue I can't remember. So we talked a little about the land issues and how people tend to want to use conciliation methods instead of the courts to deal with conflicts.
Today I had lunch with someone from GTZ who works on land management issues and has been in country for 9 years. He has been very involved in that conciliation system here and we talked about that some. Pretty much an Alternative Dispute Resolution approach that utilizes the local officials instead of the courts. He also shared information on the frustrations associated with working in a place like this, not the least of which is the foreigners who are all out for their own gain.
This is something I've noticed here as well. I was expecting to meet more people who were here because they want to make a difference, change the world, etc. Maybe they started out that way, I don't know, but what I see is that for many people here these are just jobs like any other. Cooperation with other agencies in an attempt to create positive change is often sacrificed for personal gain. And maybe everyone does want to make a difference but they think everyone else is out for personal gain and so they get frustrated and a little less likely to cooperate. Chicken and egg problem. Or it could just be all the different ideas about the best approach to a problem coming into conflict and people wanting their way to win. I'm really not sure though. It does seem to take a different sort of personality to make it here for a long period of time though, that seems clear.
Anyhow, that's been my week. Oh, and I got a Thai massage on the 4th as my little Independence Day celebration. This weekend I'm just going to stick around the house and read law review articles (people trying to get onto law review have submitted papers that we have to grade and rank to determine who gets invitations to join) and get some other errand type things done. Hope everyone is doing well.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

A day at the spa

Yesterday I took a day away from the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh (again) and went to the lovely Raffles Hotel Le Royal-a $260-2000 a night hotel that is absolutely amazing. The speaker at the workshop I went to last Thursday is a professor at Eastern Kentucky University, and she was staying at this hotel and invited me to come swimming. So I spent the day laying by the pool (FINALLY got a little bit of sun) and then hanging out in the spa. Then we had some beers in the Elephant Bar. It was really nice to spend a little oasis time after constantly being around traffic, yelling people, and dirt.
I also moved in to my new house yesterday. I will be there until Suzanne comes back on the 20th, and I think it will be really great. Really nice rooms, an exercise bike, huge garden area with hammocks, maid to do my laundry--everything a girl needs. And I found out yesterday that the Irish Pub I'd been staying at is apparently some sort of mercenary hang out. Figures I'd be attracted to a place like that. There were always all these very sketchy looking middle aged men sitting around at the bar, guess that kind of explains that. Not sure what Irish mercenaries do in Cambodia, but probably better I don't know.
Later today I'm going to go pick up the pants I had made. For $5 you can have pants made, and then I got a whole suit for $30. Hopefully the clothes will all turn out nice, but they should because I gave them my favorite suit and favorite pants to use as models. Okay, time to get back to work.