Days 1 and 2 in Cambodia–February 27 and 28

Greetings! We have been so crazy busy and had no time to compose a post. But we are having a blast. I write now to give you an update on the awesome experiences we’ve had so far…

Day 1 (2/27)–After a 30-hour trek from JFK to Phnom Penh, arriving at 10:30 AM on Thursday (2/26), we went immediately to our hotel. Turns out our arrival coincided with a visit from neighboring Laos’ Prime Minister and his wife, so we had a bit of traffic and consequently had a 15 minute check-in at our hotel before heading off to our first Cambodian meal at a local restaurant near the Independence Monument. After a brief tour of Independence Monument and the nearby statue memorial to Cambodia’s late King Norodom Sihanouk, we had a brief orientation to our itinerary at a lovely pagoda, then headed to the Olympic Stadium, which will take part in Cambodia’s hosting of the Southeast Asian Games in 2023. We were fortunate to be there near sunset, when many locals—and some visitors including members of our own group not too exhausted—participated in the daily aerobics activities that take place there. Then, again a very brief visit to our hotel for a quick freshen-up, and another fantastic Cambodian meal before returning exhausted our beds, most sound asleep by 9 pm.

Day 2 (2/28)  began with a brief language lesson, Cambodian breakfast at a vegetarian restaurant, and much needed coffee/latte/espresso at Jomo Bakery Café. The café sits right underneath the fabulous Social Enterprise Cambodia, where students spent three hours engaging in a fast-paced social enterprise “bootcamp,” normally conducted by the wonderful staff over 48 hours, part of their incubation programming for Cambodia’s emerging social entrepreneurs. Teams of students conceptualized their own social enterprises and even did a “pitch” to a panel of judges: their teacher chaperones. Those on the winning team received a coveted SEC t-shirt. After lunch, we split into two groups to alternately visit Cambodian Living Arts, and another social business. CLA is a social enterprise focusing on restoration of Cambodia’s traditional arts by providing training and livelihood for dancers, vocalists, actors, musicians and more. Ninety percent of Cambodia’s artists were lost to the tragedies of the 1970s, and this important organization has had phenomenal success since its birth 15 years ago. Dancers, actors and musicians demonstrated their crafts, and even taught us a few basic ones such as gestures and musical instruments. Half of our students also learned about (and participated in!) the excellent work of Coco Khmer, a “triple bottom line” business making coconut oil and coconut oil products in the Boeung Kak region of Phom Penh, an area devastated by the draining of (one of?) the world’s largest urban lakes for a controversial development project. The other half visited Khmer Creations and Cambodia Knits, jewelry and knitting enterprises helping marginalized and vulnerable Cambodians by providing work and skills training. After a half hour of “downtime” at our hotel, off we went again for dinner and then a truly awe-inspiring Cambodian Living Arts performance, “The Story of Mak Therng.” Truly amazing. Finally, exhausted, everyone fell into bed by 9 pm. Though our pace has been breakneck, we expect it to slow down a bit tomorrow for a sobering visit to Cambodia’s Killing Fields and S21 museums. In fact, I am exhausted right now so off I go to sleep. Please follow us on Instagram at rosscambodia2015 (link embedded at the top of this page). Hugs to all, and we LOVE comments.

 

Below: at Social Enterprise Cambodia, Brian, Zoe and Liza each try to make a compelling case for a bad idea: