08 January 2011
[K'chea 1 ] Sok sbai, Siem Reap
As part of the DLab Schools class I took this past fall, I'm currently in Cambodia for almost 3 weeks, doing field research and trying not to get eaten alive by mosquitoes. It's been a while since I've talked about anything school related so as a refresher, this class looked at different approaches to improving schools in rural Cambodia (or Kampuchea, in Khmer). My group has been concentrating on developing sustainable building materials by incorporating readily-available waste materials (here, rice husk ash) into concrete and stabilized soil bricks, with the hope of making school construction cheaper and more locally sourced.
It's actually my 4th day in Siem Reap, the 6th largest city near the heart of the country. Some people refer to it as an NGO wonderland - there are about 140 here (as roughly estimated by one of our community partners) and it's obvious as you walk down the main drag and pass many an English sign for a health clinic or whatnot. The city is pretty equipped (parts of it actually remind me of developing towns in China's Pearl River Delta), so I'm spoiled by the fact that I have internet access in our guesthouse, although as of tomorrow that will no longer be true. My team will head out to one of the areas where Habitat for Humanity operates, est. 40 km away from the city and categorized as "roughin' it," although we'll be staying in a local guesthouse with beds and showers. Amenities!
With Saba as my partner in exploration (not crime - too early for that), we've conquered the city and its environs via tuk-tuk, boat, on foot, and most recently by bike. (Thankfully, we didn't become casualties of reckless student motorbikers.)
We visited a floating forest and village, gotten bitten by mosquitoes (~14 bites on my left foot and counting), haggled mightily in both day and night markets and managed to pay no more than 50% the asking price, compared fruit smoothies across venues, and generally gotten really dusty and dirty.
My greatest milestone thus far: bargaining in Khmer! The key phrase to use was "k'lai pon mai(n)" (although...romanization is pretty iffy in general, so this is based on what the vendors were saying), or "how much is this?" Somehow they didn't expect foreigners to know that, so I got responses in Khmer and managed to keep up the jest that I knew everything they were saying back to me until I got the price I wanted. Win! We felt like locals for maybe a couple minutes. But locals wouldn't shop in touristy markets. Oh well.
Photos to come, once I figure out uploading photos. [Update: photos added!]