“It’s Phnom-enal”

Greetings from the hot and humid riverside city of Phnom Penh, Cambodia! Myself, Blake Holland, Jon Poei, and Patrick Schneider have been working with the D.K. Kim Foundation on a feasibility and implementation plan for a new technical school in the seaside resort town of Sihanoukville. We’ve been traveling throughout the country, from the ancient temples of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap to the bustling markets of the capital city, and have been truly overwhelmed by our surroundings.

Phnom Penh continues to be a city of public squalor for the masses and private luxury for a select superclass, but we have been surprised by the friendliness and genuine interest that almost everyone we’ve reached out to has shown us. This has allowed our team to set up nearly 40 meetings with organizations, businesses, and government officials working in Cambodia and we’ve been able to gather extensive information related to employment opportunities and vocational training models.

In the process, we’ve gotten lost in smog-choked traffic desperately trying to find an address that didn’t exist, left noticeable sweat stains on the sofa of the Director General of the Ministry of Labor, and have been touched by the educational work currently being undertaken by a multitude of NGO’s and charitable foundations. No one seems to actually follow the rules of the road or pay attention to traffic lights, so each tuktuk ride feels like a dangerous Mario Kart race, as we dodge the packs of aggressive moto-bikes and Range Rovers, which seem to be around every corner.

Despite our busy schedule, we’ve made sure to have some down-time (per our client’s recommendation), and have enjoyed sampling new beverages from our hotel pool, which has become a necessity in the afternoon to combat the oppressive heat. We’ve also ridden elephants around the Bayon Temple, eaten fried tarantulas, and visited the floating villages on the large Tonle Sap Lake.

One of the most memorable events was our visit to the Pyongyang Restaurant, which is run by the North Korean government, where we took in dinner and a “culture show.” From the Thomas Kincaid-style landscape paintings on the wall, to the French Chateau ceilings with blinding halogen light fixtures, and the 1970’s vintage curtains and window coverings, this place was weird. All of the hostesses were attractive Korean women who apparently lived at the North Korean Embassy in Phnom Penh when they weren’t working at the restaurant. They’re dressed in long-sleeve, sea-foam green MuMu’s with empire waists and sparkled white cotton balls attached. They also sing, dance, and play instruments as part of a culture show that can only be described as a tour-de-force. Quite possibly the best drum solo I’ve ever seen. Not much English is spoken, so I will thank FIFO Jimmy’s Café at Haas for one thing – I could correctly pronounce “bibimbap (a signature Korean dish),” which was met with much surprise from our waitress. No cameras were allowed inside, but we were able to snap some pictures on our way out – definitely a place worth visiting if you’re ever in Phnom Penh.

 

Back to our assignment – we met with our client who officially signed an agreement with the Cambodian government for the new school site and it was great to share our preliminary findings with him. Our team is eager to visit the school site on the coast next week and we are truly appreciative of IBD and the D.K. Kim Foundation for this Phnomenal experience in Cambodia.

—Josh Mogabgab

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