Orientation Week: Getting Acquainted with IBJ & Cambodia's Capital
by Erika Larsen
May 29, 2014
This week, Rosemary (another W&M 1L interning with IBJ, see her blog here) and I were at IBJ Cambodia's headquarters in Phnom Penh for orientation. On our first day, we were able to meet the entire staff (around ten or so people), and the two other American interns who will be working in the IT department. We spent the morning getting acquainted with each other and the organization, followed by lunch at an Indonesian restaurant with our boss Jeanne, and some shopping at the Russian Market. (One big plus about the Cambodian workday is the two-hour lunch from 12 pm to 2 pm). Our boss assigned us each some readings to do to get a sense of the work will be doing in our respective provinces, so I spent the afternoon working on those before closing out the workday at 5 pm.
The rest of the week consisted of finishing up my background readings and research, a few meetings with my boss regarding my work plan, an all-staff meeting, and the working out of a few kinks relating to internet and visas. In our spare time, Rosemary, Brian, and I were able to visit the Royal Palace complex, which is home to some of the most beautiful structures I have ever seen. Our first hour there was spent with a tour guide, who brought us around the complex, through the gardens, into the Silver Pagoda (which has a floor made entirely of silver), and up to the entrance of a ballroom which houses the king's throne (while you are not allowed into the room, you can admire the decor through the open windows and doorways). After the initial hour, we wandered around the complex for a few more hours admiring the gardens, artwork, stupas, and a mini-sculpture of Angor Wat (the temples which I visit in my next blog post). Here's a quick video to try and give you a glimpse into my visit to the Royal Palace:
While I was completely in awe of the beauty I was surrounded by, I could not help but note that directly across from such lavish, ornate structures, were families with young, clothesless children living in self-constructed shacks. The wealth disparity is something you can see very clearly in Cambodia, and particularly in Phnom Penh. So while I would recommend visiting the Royal Palace to anyone who comes to Phnom Penh, it was slightly tarnished for me as I thought about the very stark differences between those housed within the Palace and many of those outside of it without any houses at all.
Aside from visiting the Royal Palace, we were able to eat at a ton of local restaurants, at one of which we had dinner with Ross and Liz, two other W&M 1L's interning for the East West Management Institute (see Ross' blog here, and Liz's blog here). After spending about two dollars each on dinner at a chinese noodle restaurant, we continued to catch up at one of the many rooftop bistros in Phnom Penh's BKK1 district (where many Western travelers live and spend time). Our night took a turn after we witnessed the immediate aftermath of a fatal hit-and-run moto accident, which I will discuss more in a later post. Needless to say, it was absolutely terrible and following the arrival of the ambulance and the clearing of the crowd, we were all feeling very terrible for the driver and his family, and ready to head home.
While the week had its ups and downs, the more I explore Phnom Penh the more I fall in love with Cambodia.