Fourth of July in Cambodia and Changes at Work

Fourth of July

Independence Day is my second favorite holiday after Thanksgiving. This is in part because my birthday is the day after, but more so it is because it is one of two holidays for which I have a tradition. In recent years the tradition has started to fall apart, and now this year, I am 9,000 miles away in Cambodia.

So this year I went to the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh for the Fourth of July party. The party itself was massive, with hundreds of attendees both American and Khmer. In typical American style there was plenty of food (which was terrible and expensive) and beer (which thankfully was free). Cuisine choices ranged from generic Asian to a Philly cheese steak (wiz and all). Performers from Phare, a circus act from Siem Reap, provided entertainment with an array of stunts, including a woman who could shoot a bow and arrow using her feet while contorting herself in a C-shape and supporting herself on her hands.  

There aren’t many American expats in Cambodia; the majority comes from France or Australia. After spending most of my time with Cambodians in a quite work setting, it was uncomfortable being surrounded by so many Americans. We are, in general, a bit loud and obnoxious, especially when we feel patriotic, and the change in atmosphere was a bit jarring. Despite the food, beer and environment, it did not feel at all like the Fourth of July.

The next day I went for a drive on Koh Dach and Koh Ohkna Tei, two islands in the middle of the Mekong River where the primary occupation is silk production. The homes and landscape were nearly identical to Kandal province. During that exploration of Kandal province a few weeks ago I thought about the likelihood that investors would soon start to develop the land considering its proximity to Phnom Penh. Less than a week later, a floating village of Vietnamese immigrants near the ferry dock abandoned their homes; they were set to be evicted that same week. On the islands there is a surprising amount of land that is unused, and I hope that it will not become part of the urban sprawl too. It is only a short distance from the city, but it is a completely different world.

Change in Work Duties

As ODC prepares to launch its new website architecture I have been researching and writing content for its pages; so far I have written twenty-two. The majority center around land issues in Cambodia, which in turn tend to relate to land tenure insecurity. Though the legal framework surrounding land rights has been fairly well established since 2001, the implementation of that framework has not always been of quite the same quality. As a result there are frequent clashes over land rights. 

For the first six weeks of my internship, I spent every workday researching the land law in Cambodia and its impact on society, the economy, and the environment. The process has been fascinating, heart wrenching, endlessly frustrating, and at times monotonous. The second generation website will host an extensive quantity of content that did not exist on the old website, and as such a lot of new content needed to be created in a short amount of time. It did not leave much time for variety in my day-to-day work. Now that so much content has been created, it is time to start uploading it onto the new website. Time to familiarize myself with the architecture and processes is non-existent, as everything needs to be finalized by next Friday. Still I am grateful for the change of activities and look forward to teaching myself how to most efficiently function on a new platform.