What I'm Doing Here

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February 19th 2011
Published: February 19th 2011
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Wat PhnomWat PhnomWat Phnom

Notice that the statue is wearing glasses
After posting the last entry, I continued north to Wat Phnom. There the insect noise was amazingly loud. There were a lot of monkeys on hand as well (but not on my hand—I don't have any desire to touch wild animals, including the cat I saw creeping into the rafters of a temple). I walked back south by a different route, stopping again at Monument Books/Blue pumpkin for a lime juice and plate of fresh spring rolls. (Blue Pumpkin prepares foods to a tourism quality standard, meaning that ice and fresh fruits and vegetables can be eaten.) I located the guesthouse where I'm meeting C., the student who's joining me tomorrow. Nearby I found a clothes shop that also advertised iPod accessories. There was a tiny display of these at the back of the room, including a part I needed in order to set up a substitute to the solar charger for which I didn't pack a part. It works! And now I have a charger with Cambodian prongs. Don't try this without a voltage converter or an appliance that can switch from 110v to 220v, like an iPod or this computer. I'm glad, both because I win the game of developing an alternate strategy, and because I was right in the middle of The Windup Girl and wanted to keep listening to it.

What I'm doing on this trip

This is my 4th trip to Cambodia. Each time I've been able to build more relationships that allow me to be helpful in ways that are personally and professionally satisfying. Because what I do is determined by the people on the Cambodian side and their U.S. partners, there's a better chance that what I bring feels satisfying and useful to them as well.

To recap, my first trip was in late 2006 with a psychology delegation with People to People International. We first went to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, and though I haven't been back to southern Vietnam yet, I had an opportunity that has opened some significant doors for me. Throughout this tour, we received presentations by the Vietnamese professionals we visited, and in turn we made presentations for them. I proposed and was chosen to present a brief training on Uri Bronfenbrenner's ecological model for the psychology undergraduates and faculty at a university that the People to People group visited. That summer, the leader of my People to People group and others in the delegation were able to bring the director of the psychology program at Royal University of Phnom Penh, whose program and students we had also visited, to the U.S. for the annual American Psychological Association Convention in 2007. I was able to host a visit to my university; she met and presented to my faculty, and toured some social service agencies where our students train. I had gone looking for a U.S. group that supported Cambodian causes and had found Friendship with Cambodia. I was able to arrange for our guest to visit with members of this group as well. Over the next two years, I attended several Friendship fundraising events, including craft sales and programs.

Having made this first presentation an professional visit in Vietnam, I was able to return to Vietnam (this time, to Hanoi) as a representative of my undergraduate program and guest instructor. There I also rendezvoused with one of my students, who joined me for the week of teaching and professional visits at the university.

I began to volunteer with Friendship. Hoping to take their responsible travel tour, I booked a trip to the
Tonle Sap RiverTonle Sap RiverTonle Sap River

I don't know quite what's going on here, but I've seen the red-and-gold objects for sale in the market
region in winter 2009. I set up a schedule that had the tour in the first two weeks, ending in Phnom Penh where I would then spend a week at the university, and then go to Hanoi to do the same. As the economy worsened, the tour didn't fill. I decided to go to Southeast Asia anyway. This was to push myself to be more independent and adventurous, which in many ways I'm not. I flew first to Bangkok for a weekend, enjoying a couple of days exploring. I spent two weeks in Siem Reap, Cambodia, visiting NGOs and similar organizations to get a better sense of how aid works most effectively in Cambodia. I enjoyed talking with volunteers and aid workers, including medical personnel. I then spent a week in Phnom Penh, meeting and working with another of my students and visiting some agencies associated with the university. I also presented at the university. I concluded with just under a week in Hanoi, presenting at the university there as well. In these two weeks, the university programs chose the topics of these classes from a list I gave them based on my areas of expertise. I was happy to

In reference to The Windup Girl, which opens with one of these
know that I was providing training that they wanted rather than imposing something that I thought was important but wasn't what they wanted. I wrote about this trip in my first blog.

By 2010 I was a board member for Friendship and signed up for the responsible travel tour. Friendship was working on a book on responsible travel. I was one of the contributors, as was the person in charge of internships in Cambodia for my university system. We had communicated a little and he asked me to make some friendship visits to sites the internship program was working or negotiating with. I was able to make a visit and some calls and begin to build a relationship in a different way. Before the trip I'd received a small research grant and was able to begin conducting interviews. In addition to those I was able to set up, Friendship helped me meet several others as well. Friendship's responsible travel tour overlapped with some of my previous activities, but introduced me to a number of new people, programs, and program participants. This trip is my second blog.

The present trip is packed with a variety of different activities. I carried 40 copies of the responsible travel book from the U.S. to Phnom Penh so that Southeast Asia Development Program can have some on hand. They'll swap me crafts that Friendship bought from organizations we support—fair trade and training programs that employ or support vulnerable people (poor, rural, with disabilities, women, children, and formerly trafficked or exploited women), on earlier buying visits. I'll take these to Friendship and, if you're on their mailing list, you'll see them at the next crafts event. Not on their mailing list? Go to http://www.friendshipwithcambodia.org/ and click “Get Involved.”

Here's the basic schedule:

Sunday (tomorrow), meet C. and go to the office of, Southeast Asia Development Program to provide an HIV training for the university students whom Friendship helps to sponsor their university education. Going to university is a big deal in Cambodia. The annual sponsorship isn't very expensive for an American, but about 5 times the average income in Cambodia so economic support is critical. The students give back by providing educational services and leadership in their communities, and the topic of HIV was chosen by the SADP social workers, who also gave me guidance on what to cover and how to structure the training. I received the go-ahead to talk about embarrassing topics, though I've been training people about HIV for so long that a) I myself have no awkwardness left, and so b) I have to remember that issues like homosexuality or drug abuse may still be shocking. That a tourist can buy a DVD of the latest season of Weeds here doesn't mean that the average Cambodian is watching it. C. is studying public health and I'll be interested to debrief this 4-hour training with her. I'm hoping that some of the students I met when I was on the Friendship tour will be there.

On Monday, I'll do a training on psychological assessment at the request of the psychology program at Royal University of Phnom Penh. This is the department I've been visiting on each trip. I'm not sure exactly what they want, what time it starts, or how long it will go, which is good for me because even though I can teach on the fly, I can get wrapped up in my worry that I'll disappoint them. I am guessing this will be a small seminar-style training and I'm planning to focus on the interplay

of formal assessment and clinical judgment, as well as cultural considerations in testing. At some point in the later afternoon I'll be interviewed about the responsible travel book and talk by a reporter for The Cambodia Daily. I should be able to snag a copy physically if not electronically.

On Tuesday, I'm making an official faculty visit to C.'s internship site, Sovann Komar (Golden Children Orphanage). While C. attends another university in the state system, I have a student who will intern there this summer, so I'm especially interested to meet the director and learn more about the organization. I'll ride out with C., perhaps spend the morning birdwatching nearby, eat lunch with the volunteers at the director's house, then spend some time with C. and meet with the director.

On Wednesday I'm being joined by someone from SADP who will help me shop for some specific crafts requested by Friendship's craft person. In the evening, I'll give a book talk on Responsible Travel in Cambodia at Monument Books. I have an outline but want to have options for pitching the talk more toward tourists and NGO staff with more or less familiarity with the concept and the country.

Somewhere in here I have some of my own shopping to do! Possibly in the interstices I'll conduct some research interviews, and thus I never go out without the tiniest little digital recorder you ever did see and a sheaf of informed consent documents. If I could do 4 interviews I'd be happy as a clam, and not nearly as unhappy as the little sun-roasted bivalves sold on the street on a cart with a flat metal top. I've heard them called “lady mussels,” which may mean they're considered an aphrodisiac, but it just looks like a good way to get Hepatitis A to me, because as I mentioned above, I'm not very adventurous.

Thursday is probably down time for me do I can go for a walk and pack for my trip home. Since my flight doesn't leave until late, I'm leaning toward reserving my hotel room for another night so I can leave everything locked up and shower and rest before I fly again.

Friday is the day that doesn't end. I get to South Korea early in the morning. From the airport I'm planning to take a tour, both because I want to get out and see something of the country, and because I don't get to stick a map pin in it until my feet are on the ground outside an airport, which is why though I have fascinating airport stories from Vienna, Romania, and Hong Kong and Taipei, China, I don't have map pins in them. I have almost 12 hours between flights, so I can't imagine that I won't explore the airport and eat Korean lunch as well.

Bird notes: Hard to say, but “some kind of cormorant flying very far away,” “some little birdie in a eucalypt, I'm thinking perhaps a prinia,” and “maybe a flycatcher?”


19th February 2011

Those are beautiful looking spring rolls. And, even being a huge mollusk fan, I have to agree, eating a "sun roasted" shellfish seems like a bad idea. It must not be totally lethal, or they wouldn't do it, but ....

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