Week 6: Infrastructure Profile and the Angkor Temples

While my climate-change-related drafts await the editing process, I’ve been tasked with a new assignment this week. ODM is working on a Profile documenting infrastructure projects in the 5 Mekong countries: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. Profiles aggregate a tabular data set and create a map visual that are interactive and filterable. For an example, see this Profile on Chinese Financial Aid Projects.  

Another research intern has been working of this assignment for quite some time. He has drafted a topic page to complement the profile and built sample templates of creating the tabular data set. My job has been to start getting a feel for the projects that are out there, in an effort to define the scope of what will be included in the data set. This is much easier said than done. We’ve identified about 7 major financiers whose projects we’re interested in including in the profile, one of which is the World Bank. This is where I come in…I started on the World Bank’s website sifting through projects in each country. The five countries have anywhere from 55 to 261 projects each on the World Bank’s website alone. I’ve been skimming the project summaries to filter for any infrastructure-related projects and tracking them in a spreadsheet which I’ve built to act as scratch paper before building the data set.  

My efforts to help define the scope have raised several questions. For example, an easy one is time. Some projects date back to the 1960s, we need to determine our temporal scope. Another example is project funding and cost. Vietnam, has several projects that cost upwards of $300 million, while Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand don’t even have one project between them that scratches the $100 million threshold. This would be a great category to use to narrow the data set, but we don’t want to have a lopsided sample that doesn’t incorporate projects throughout the whole region. (I had an a-hah moment while typing this paragraph, which may help define our scope – we’ll see if that idea can present a solution!)

It is also difficult to categorize some of the projects. For example, some that are relevant to infrastructure sectors (like energy, roads, or wastewater systems) are more focused on management, policy, capacity building, and human resources, rather than building new or repairing and maintaining current infrastructure. Some projects blend the two foci. Again, it comes down to definition and scope as we shape and determine the parameters of this profile.

Last weekend, James and I traveled to Siem Reap to see the Angkor Temples. WOW. They’re stunning. It is truly awe-inspiring to see the grandeur of the temples. Even when you’re standing among them, it’s hard to grasp their size until you see a person dwarfed by their walls. The wonder of their size is compounded by the realization of how prolific the Angkor empire was when they built all of them. AND not only are the enormous and numerous, but they are all intricately detailed. Each temple has its own personality, providing visitors with a slightly different experience than the last. While the temples are a remarkable feat, displaying human vision and accomplishment (created with the help of 10,000 elephants), they’re also a humbling reminder that mother nature is a powerful force, as she reclaims the structures.

Rather than hiring a tuk tuk to take us to the various temples, as most visitors do, we rented mountain bikes. We loved the freedom and reward that pedaling offered. We rode over 14 miles on Saturday and over 18 miles on Sunday, and of course we tallied up the steps and stairs as we walked around and climbed to the top of the various temples. Of the major sights, we saw Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bayon, Preah Palilay, Sra Srang, Ta Prohm, Ta Keo, and Preah Kahn. After long days of exploring the temples, we jumped in the pool at the hotel and enjoyed the food and live music that Siem Reap’s Pub Street had to offer. It was a great weekend witnessing Cambodia’s rich cultural history!