am I a gentrifier?

I somehow always seem to end up in the best places. In the need to have accommodation booked in advance to apply for my visa to Portugal, I booked a short term rental on Airbnb, with plans to take a month to search for a location suitable to myself. I arrived in Martim Moniz, a small area named after the famous noble knight of Portugal, and immediately saw the contrast between a large renovated square with fountains and lounge chairs and somewhat pricey restaurants to the many ethnic wholesale shops and multiple ethnic-owned convenience shops/mini-markets/”Bangladesheries” dotted amongst the residences.

I soon learned from talking to anyone in Portugal that this area – the neighbouring bairro called Intendente more particularly was once a main hub for drug dealing and prostitution and despite recent municipal and local development interventions to requalify the urban space, many Lisboners still hold on to its reputation as an unsafe area. Continue reading “am I a gentrifier?”

itineraries, or not? (travelling northwest Cambodia)

My travel philosophy is that the choices we make unexpectedly  will lead us to the best, most memorable adventures. Combined with the interest of being slightly off the beaten track, this plan can really suck, especially when you are by yourself. But, with determination and openness, the unexpected never fails to bring us wonders that go beyond our imagination; and it rarely leaves behind regret.

*****

Warning! The length of this post may feel like an essay, but I hope I’ve kept it intriguing enough to read it through to the end, or at least in parts. I’ve tried my best to keep it short without sacrificing descriptive accounts of only some of the wonderful things I saw and felt. The writing still doesn’t do it justice.

Continue reading “itineraries, or not? (travelling northwest Cambodia)”

fields of green

As a traveler, and as an expat, it’s very difficult to actually know what is going on around you. I believe I’ve come to know Cambodia as much as I probably ever will, but I recognize that there are entire dimensions of language, thought, reasoning and other cultural norms that I won’t be able to understand. It’s simply not possible to fathom the life of the farmer who walks his cows each day among deserted landscapes or growing up as a little kid playing hide-and-seek around the great temples of Angkor without actually experiencing it. This reality prevents me from fully understanding the people and their country.

But sometimes we know more than we think we do. Continue reading “fields of green”

off the coast of Kep

I still remember so vividly that boat trip back from Rabbit Island off the coast of Kep. In the early morning hue, the awakening sea that stretched itself to the horizon and the guzzling motor that drowned out all other sound, silenced us. I sat beside Emily, Joel behind us and the boat driver at the very back. We had only one other guest: an aged Khmer woman, loose pajamas and a traditional krama wrapped around her head. Everything about her was typical, except for an aura that made me as attentive to her as to the lazy beauty of the sea.

She perched on the tip of the boat, facing towards me, but not acknowledging my presence. Her eyes allured me, for they held wisdom that only comes from experience and a sort of rationality that I had not noticed in most Khmer people.  Continue reading “off the coast of Kep”

Malaysia: beauty and hypocrisies

With dirty feet and dry heat, I’m back home in Phnom Penh. I missed it here. Everything that is so familiar, yet so distinct from where I’ve been in the past month, has reinforced what I understand Cambodia to be. Poverty, corruption and lack of social services sits in large contrast with Singapore and Malaysia. (I never made it to Indonesia, after the conscious decision to further explore Borneo island).

From the bus ride past the Malaysian border into Melacca to the final few days in culturally-rich Miri, I was constantly reminded of Canada. Continue reading “Malaysia: beauty and hypocrisies”

one international internship: check.

Three months have passed and a lot of work has been done, however, I’m left with both a feeling of accomplishment and of unfinished business. I was fortunate to be able to work in a developing country and see the result of change within three months. By bringing more opportunities to students, such as an English speaking club, a language lab, and increasing the accountability of their teachers, I’ve changed (if not improved) what the university can provide to students. I may have introduced the initial phases of these projects but I continue to think of what more there is to do. I contemplate the larger context and think of how, perhaps, nothing had really changed at all. Although I did my best, managing this negative thoughts is a challenge.

Continue reading “one international internship: check.”

the concept of being rich

This concept has been a struggle to deal with while in Cambodia, but I didn’t really realize just how present the dilemma is until somebody else brought it up.  I’m quoting a statement Emily provided on the Virtual Campus forum in her contemplations  about these Cambodian-Canadian relationships.

It started when I went to get my Visa extended and it cost 72$, I commented on how expensive it was. My co – worker replied with, “it doesn’t matter though because you are rich, everyone who comes to Cambodia from countries like Canada, US and France are rich”.

Continue reading “the concept of being rich”

subtle realities

The other day I was sitting with Mony as he read news updates online in Khmer. We talked about the stories and how their aspects further related to Cambodian culture.

Our perspectives from our own culture really are biased, and as much as we think we are right about them, these beliefs can only be founded within culture, so it makes sense if others logically challenge them. It’s that question again: is morality subjective because there are different mores in different cultures? The government (and even the university) restricts the rights of black persons because they have a reputation of crime (including drug and sex trafficking) in Cambodia. Sure, this is racist. But then don’t some Westerners believe that Muslims should be profiled because statistics show they are more likely to be “terrorists”? Is racial discrimination merely a mechanism to avoid potential problems, sacrificing the dignity of some individuals for the sake of the group? When I hear the reasoning from personal stories, it makes sense, but in my own culture it would be completely immoral. What happened to having an objective standard of morality for morality to actually be possible? Can they both be acceptable because of the different contexts? How similar do such contexts have to be for the same moral standards to apply?

Continue reading “subtle realities”

30min moto to work

Today it took me 30 minutes to get to work, three times as long as usual. When we reached the Norodom bridge (less than half way) I noticed all the traffic because I the bridge rises to form a semi-circle. It seemed strange to me, but I didn’t think much of it until we were squished between two trucks for a while and the driver decided to cut around them into even more traffic.

I knew something was different this morning. All I could hope for was that it wasn’t another accident. We approached a big crowd and my stomach dropped, but turns out it was just police redirecting the motobikes to go through some side streets because of a protest. It was at (I believe) the same garment factory I had been reading about a few days prior. The factory had gone bankrupt and put maybe hundreds of Cambodians out of work without giving them any compensation.
Continue reading “30min moto to work”

The complicated and never-fulfilled life of the development practitioner

The internship placement is now over half way completed. It took about three weeks to really get my head around what I was expected to do, to become comfortable with my colleagues and students and to understand how I could work in this setting. With the help of others, I was able to understand how the university was organized and what was preventing it from being a stronger institution and offering higher quality education to its students. From here, I managed what my supervisor wanted me to work on and other projects that I believed would make a significant difference in the short term and that I could successfully implement. This resulted in having multiple projects related to capacity building that I would work on throughout the term.

Education in Cambodia is not standardized very well. It is difficult to assess the quality of education of any institution, especially the private institutions, because of a lack of standard measurements and administrative capacities as well as the ability to buy (bribe for) grades. Private universities are a popular choice when creating a new business because of the ease of defining one’s own rules in such an institution along with the freedom of bureaucratic regulations. There are large returns in this business with a culture so keen on becoming educated and so easy to exploit, especially when they pay from their shallow pockets even for the risk of a below average education.

Continue reading “The complicated and never-fulfilled life of the development practitioner”