Insight partners Online Logo Insight partners Online Logo

Cambodia-Last Days!

WRITTEN BY

24 January 2007:

I went for a morning run for the first time since arriving in Phnom Penh.  I’m surprised I hadn’t gone before; exercising early in the day is perfect when living in a city that generally begins to wake around 4 or 5am.  In fact, the paths around Independence Monument and along the riverfront were already crowded with people walking and jogging by the time I got there around 5.30.  There were a few Tai Chi classes, as well as a dance class along the river.  The weather was cool like I haven’t known it to be except during our week of winter in December, and the sun was barely beginning to peek over the horizon. 

The run was a good way to clear my thoughts in a way that just doesn’t seem to work when I try meditation or other relaxation techniques.  I’ve found it difficult to get restful sleep lately.  Mialy and I must move out of our apartment in a week, but I still haven’t found a place to live for the month of February.  That issue has been consuming my thoughts lately, as have concerns related to maximizing the rest of my experience here, planning post-Cambodia traveling, and finishing up some remaining research/writing from my placement in Cyprus.  None of these concerns on their own amount to anything too overwhelmingly stressful, but lately (particularly with this impending move) they’ve added up to a collection of thoughts that keep me from sleeping well at night.

I’ve also reached a place where the “time away from the familiar” is really starting to wear on me, again.  The feeling is accentuated, I think, by the heightened communication I’ve had via email and phone with my mother, with whom I’m trying to plan post-Cambodia trips to Ha Noi and Hong Kong.  The approaching visit reminds me of how long it’s been since I’ve seen her, and the communication issues we face (poor internet and mobile phone connections) when trying to connect seem to highlight my distance from her and everyone else while I’m here.

26 January 2007:

My prosecution team at the ECCC is drawing near to a close with the project on which we’ve been working.  This development has made for a great week, since the fruits of our hard work are becoming increasingly perceptible, and since the completion of this project promises the opportunity to begin another.  Since I joined this team in the middle of the project, I’m excited about the opportunity to begin something with them.

Activity in general is really beginning to pick up at the Tribunal.  A few new people have been brought on board, which makes the whole place livelier.  The judges have been in meetings all week, hashing out remaining differences before an anticipated plenary session in March.  It seems odd that something like the ECCC, which constitutes the current livelihood of so many people, hangs in such a precarious balance between getting started and coming to an end.  If the judges can’t reach agreement, then it seems like the future of the Tribunal will be very short-lived.  I’m optimistic, though.  I just can’t believe that all the resources poured into this place (knowledge, time, money from donors, political negotiations) won’t produce trials.  I also think that the pressure for the ECCC, an example of perhaps the future of international law in the form of hybrid tribunals, to be successful is too great to allow for failure.

27 January 2007:

I decided to get my haircut today for the first time since leaving the States, an occasion that would not have been momentous at all save that I had been sufficiently intimidated by the combination of atrocious Cambodian haircuts I’ve seen on the street and the fact that most haircuts run at about $1-5.  In any case, I decided to forego the Khmer hair salons for a Chinese hairdresser frequented by a few of my friends here. 

This was not necessarily the best decision, considering that for as much as I have not mastered the Khmer language, I cannot speak Chinese at all.  I walked into the salon and was seated by two Khmer women, who proceeded not only to work shampoo and water through my hair, but also to massage my scalp, face, neck, back, and arms.  Just as I had reached a fantastic state of relaxation and was about to fall asleep, the women shuffled me off to rinse my hair.  They vigorously towel-dried it, and then proceeded to dry my ears with Q-tips, despite my protests at having someone else poking around in my ears.  They then set me down in a chair before my hairdresser, a young Chinese man with bleached, dyed, and seriously gelled hair. 

I was in that chair for about an hour, as my hairdresser meticulously assessed each cut before he made it and then straightened my hair with a flatiron until it was so hot that it began to burn my shoulders.  I was growing bit scared about what was happening on top of my head when he whirled my chair around to face the mirror.  What I saw was an almost perfect representation of a trendy little Khmer girl—my hair was flatter and straighter than it’s ever been before, and cut in the same style I see throughout the streets of Phnom Penh. 

I felt a bit ridiculous that a simple haircut had turned into, for me, a whole ordeal (for that’s what it was, no question).  But the experience also reminded me that some very simple things I take for granted at home might, while here, become intimidating, 2 ½-hour ordeals.   

30 January 2007:

Working at the court, among other things, has showcased for me many obstacles of operating a hybrid tribunal.  On both the higher and lower levels, the ECCC is experiencing the challenges of integrating Cambodian and international staff.  After a series of long, long meetings, the judges have failed to reach a strong consensus on many of the internal rules.  Though a plenary is planned for the coming weeks to iron out these differences, should no agreement be reached the judges will likely walk, bringing the Tribunal (or at least the international aspect of the Tribunal) to an end.   

Though everyone is trying to remain optimistic, I can’t help but notice a slight change in energy, at least in the Office of the Co-Prosecutors (OCP).  The excitement that characterized the beginning of the Tribunal, from what I’ve been told, has begun to wane, as many ECCC staff can’t be sure that they will be able to continue to work in the months to come.  Much of the progress, too, made in facilitating the relationship between the national and international staff, runs the risk of being offset by these delays.  As we continue to work intently on our cases, we’re equally intently following the negotiations that determine the future of the Tribunal.

3 February 2007:

I woke up early this morning to catch a flight to Bangkok.  I was excited for my first time traveling out of Cambodia since coming here, and even more excited to be going to Bangkok.  After just a month of living in Phnom Penh, Bangkok has come to seem like the epitome of economic development.  Up to this point, I had only heard stories of the city’s multi-lane highways, shopping malls, and movie theaters.  Indeed, at the top of my “to do” list for this weekend were two things: do some shopping at the malls and see a movie in the cinema.  Moreover, I was simply looking forward to escaping Phnom Penh with two friends and briefly getting out of a city that can at many times feel oppressively small and insular.

I stepped off an early but short flight to Thailand.  This is my second visit to Bangkok, the first being an extremely brief (5-hour) layover on my way to Phnom Penh back in December.  My impressions however, even just of the airport, were entirely different this time around.  On the way to Phnom Penh from Cairo, the Bangkok airport had seemed almost like any other; my time in Egypt had been short, and I thus arrived in Thailand still accustomed to the conveniences of living in Cyprus.  This time, though, the airport and later the city itself were almost too much to take.  I’m glad to be here with friends; otherwise, I think the pace of life, the sheer number of people, and the overwhelming traffic in Bangkok would have been too much for me, too great a contrast to the slow pace of living in Cambodia.

5 February 2007:

I arrived back in Phnom Penh this morning, after two hours of sleep and a 7am flight out of Bangkok.  As much as I wish I could have had longer in the city, the whirlwind pace of this weekend was quite fun.  Less than 48 hours in Thailand were packed with massive amounts of shopping, the Thai Grand Palace, numerous Buddhist temples, and exploration of Bangkok’s nightlife.  The contrast between the ornately decorated temples, the modern, streamlined shopping malls, and the bustling, dirty markets was something I’ve only seen in Bangkok.

Before coming to Southeast Asia, others had told me that Bangkok was a maddening, dirty city, with a multitude of prostitutes, ladyboys, and beggars walking the streets.  All this, to a certain degree, is true.  And had I come to Bangkok directly from the states, or even from Cyprus, I might have left with an equally negative impression.  But, in contrast to Phnom Penh, Bangkok’s streets are miraculously clean, beggars are hardly noticeable, and the prostitutes nothing new.  These pitfalls were nothing compared to Bangkok’s expansive shopping malls, impressive (and relatively hygienic-looking) street stalls, and massive movie theaters.  Phnom Penh’s predominantly moto and bicycle traffic is replaced by cars, by neon-colored pink, orange, green, and blue taxis, and by the occasional tuk-tuk.  My vision perhaps clouded by two months in Cambodia, I saw almost nothing of the developing world in Thailand’s capitol city.

Phnom Penh was almost unfamiliar after these two short days in Bangkok.  The dust hitting my face on my moto ride home was an unwelcome change from the air-conditioned rear seat of a taxi.  But, after a few hours, I began to remember why I enjoy living here.

8 February 2007:

I had a much-needed “touch base” conversation with David Seibel at Insight Collaborative this evening.  Much-needed because I’d been feeling a bit out of touch in terms of sharing information about what I’m doing here in Cambodia and in terms of my knowledge of what people at Insight have been busy with lately.  I also feel like I’ve been so busy lately, working at both the ECCC and at YFP, that I’ve had very little time for the type of self-reflective, “digging deeper” that characterized my time at the Insight offices to such a great degree.  Though our conversation was more information-sharing than coaching session, it did bring me closer to a mindset in which I haven’t been for quite awhile. 

It also highlighted for me how different my life is here than it had been this summer in Boston, or even the past autumn in Cyprus.  With the Tribunal, I’m getting to work on issues of great interest to me, and in a field that I want to go into now more than ever.  But (and this was highlighted by various comments in my conversation with David) my internship with the ECCC does not allow me the type of creativity (in terms of tasks and projects) that I would ideally hope for from a placement.  David and I were able to discuss briefly some ways to minimize this disparity, ideas that I will hopefully able to realize or begin to realize before my time at the Tribunal expires.

10 February 2007:

I’m in Kep today, or rather I’m on Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island).  My friend Damien and I took a shared taxi down yesterday afternoon for a weekend on the southern coast of Cambodia.  The taxi trip down here was an event in and of itself.  We piled into a 10-person minivan with 20+ other people, guiltily grabbing the front seats for ourselves while Cambodians sat one practically on top of the other in the rows behind.  I’m still unsure which location was better, though, because as we drove away it became clear that the open window beside me would not detract much from the heat of the sun bearing down from the front windshield.  The van felt like it would fall apart nearly every time we hit a bump in the road, and the driver used the horn very liberally—two facts which made the 3-hour ride seem much longer. 

The bus took us to Kampot, one of the larger towns in the province, which left us with the task to getting to the town of Kep by the seaside.  Unable to find multiple drivers willing to take us to Kep at the price we asked, Damien and I piled onto the back of one moto for the half-hour night ride.  When we reached Kep and found the bungalow, I couldn’t have been happier to find electricity and running (hot) water in our room with which to wash the dirt from my face, hands, hair, everything.  The bungalow itself was also quite amazing—the entire hotel was set on a series of raised wooden platforms and walkways, giving the place a fantastic, secluded tropical feel. 

This morning we took the trip to Rabbit Island, about ½ an hour away by motor boat.  I thought Kep was a small place, but it was nothing compared to this island, which literally housed two guesthouses and two restaurants along one main beach.  It was beautiful, though—coconut trees lined the sandy beaches and the weather was perfectly sunny.  The air, even, was such a nice changed from the polluted mess of Phnom Penh.  We spent the entire day just lounging and being lazy as is called for during a beach vacation, eating delicious seafood and swimming in what was perhaps the warmest water I’ve ever felt in an ocean.

11 February 2007:

Damien and I got up early this morning—our last on Rabbit Island and in Kampot Province before returning to Phnom Penh—to do some snorkeling.  While perhaps not the most exciting place to snorkel, we did see a great deal of fish as well as eels, crab, and turtles.  We spent a good hour just swimming through and over the coral around the island, taking our time to explore and to enjoy our last morning of the weekend trip.  It was really nice to spend the morning in the water after waking up in our (decidedly less nice) bungalow and opening the door to reveal a beautiful beach scene.  Wrapping up a late breakfast saw us back on the boat to Kep, which was then followed by the trip to Kampot, a stop at the fish market, and back in a shared taxi to Phnom Penh.

Though the taxi ride, this time, seemed likely to promise a smooth, enjoyable ride (there were hardly any other passengers when we boarded in Kampot), in reality it was almost anything but.  Determined to fill his van and thus make the most money possible (or at least cover the cost of gas), our driver made his way very slowly down the highway, honking his horn while passing through every village—and every cluster of houses approximating a village—on our way.  Sadly enough, the van didn’t fill up until about an hour outside of Phnom Penh, at which point we took on about 15 more people and were forced to squeeze ourselves against the very hot glass of the window.  By the time we reached Phnom Penh, I was both numb and exhausted from sitting still, underneath the weight of my backpack and the legs of my fellow passengers, for that last hour.  However, the uncomfortable experience of the van ride back didn’t detract from what was otherwise a fantastic and relaxing weekend out of the city