While I have just arrived in Cambodia, my transition has been a pleasant experience and I already feel at home in the capital city. I arrived in Phnom Penh on Saturday after two days of travel and four flights from Richmond, Virginia. My plane touched down at midnight, but as I walked across the jetway, I was immediately greeted by the intense heat and humidity of Southeast Asia. Everything that I had heard about Southeast Asia was true - from the hyperactive cacophony of the city to the flooding of the streets with tuk tuks, motorbikes, and bicycles. I find myself worlds away from sleepy Williamsburg, Virginia.
Before starting work on Monday, I ventured out of my apartment and explored my new home for the summer. I am staying in the southern part of Phnom Penh and my first adventure was a brisk stroll to the Russian market. The Russian market received its name in the 1980s when the majority of the visitors to the market were Russian. Today, the market is a confusing collection of stalls piled high with goods of all kinds. I quickly lost all sense of direction in the maze of vendors. The official currency of Cambodia is the Riel but the dollar reigns supreme among the local people. However, to my surprise, if you use dollars, be prepared to get back change in Riel! The accepted exchange rate on the streets is 4000 riel to one U.S. dollar. My wallet has quickly become bloated with the colorful Riel bills. My second foray into the city was a visit to the National Museum and the Royal Palace. The National Museum is Cambodia’s largest museum of cultural history and includes a large collection of sculptures, ceramics, and art. The Royal Palace is a stunning complex of buildings and it serves as the royal residence of the King of Cambodia. From the Throne Hall to the Moonlight Pavilion, one quickly becomes mesmerized by the beautiful Asian architecture. However, sitting in juxtaposition to the wealth of the palace, is the immense poverty that lives in the city. Cambodia remains a country in transition.
Monday was my first day of work as a legal research intern at Open Development Cambodia (“ODC”). The office is located in the northern section of the city so I flagged down a tuk tuk and joined the great migration of people in their morning commutes. Traffic jams are a common phenomenon in Phnom Penh as most intersections are not accompanied by red lights or stop signs so everyone conveniently has the right of way - organized chaos. Upon arriving at ODC, I had the opportunity to meet the proud and hardworking staff of ODC. After a quick orientation, I began familiarizing myself with ODC’s mission, the platform, and Cambodia’s legal system. ODC is one of the leaders of the open data movement in Southeast Asia and it has a complex and delicate mission of publishing information and promoting transparency in the face of external pressures. During my second day, I had several meetings with ODC team members to discuss ODC research priorities and explore the scope of my research for this summer. My research has been focused thus far on two topics: (1) Cambodia’s Environmental and Natural Resources Code and its Strategic Environmental Assessment and (2) The Copyright Scheme in Cambodia.
Right now I am developing outlines for potential research on these topics and I will have meetings later this week to finalize the scope of my work this summer. My main points of contact this summer will be Thy Try who serves as executive director of ODC and Khun Chandara who is the senior editor-researcher. The staff has been so welcoming and the team has already been immensely helpful in providing guidance and feedback for my research. I am excited to be a member of the ODC team this summer and I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to such important work.