Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bob Trip continued (January 17th-19th)

Monday January 17th SRC

Just another day at the office!! Strategy morning… planning our meeting with SIF… looking to get their ideas and hopefully (Hope is not a strategy but all strategists are full of Hope) get a read on their basic underlying desires and focus those towards our needs. If we pull this off then we will take our road show to the State Department or UN… depends on who has best T & S allowance… I’m going to hold out for business class as my absolute walk away position!!!

We had a couple of walk in tourists today… saw the sign and wandered in to see what we were… not a really common experience… these folks were either lost or real explorers! You never know… the second couple suggested a potential contact that raises funds for our kind of work… another follow-up opportunity… all are opportunities in the world of half full and soon to be filled and looks like it could be full soon!!

After lunch I finally get to watch Sok Heng do his thing in the lab… I kind of know what he does but it will be fun to watch… he was a real find!! Seur flew in on the water collection express with the morning samples and Sok Heng ran through the entire spectrum of tests for me. He runs that lab like a precision machine… no wasted steps; two hands engaged most of the time and often running simultaneous samples on two machines. This kid knows work place organization… where was he when I was trying to improve my production capacity and output??? Some of you loyal fans will appreciate my question… this guy is AGILE!!

Relaxing walk to bid SR adieu for another year then outa here to dateline Singapore.

Tuesday January 18 Singapore

Long flying morning but it was made easier by the presence of the International Trib… Saturday’s edition but when you haven’t read the prior Saturday’s news it’s all new news. It even has a decent crossword puzzle… in Singapore before I knew it. For those souls that have not been here it is really a splendidly attractive, modern and immaculate place. For those who have… the skyline has changed again!! The Marina Sands complex (with the ship structure on top is up, open and prospering… the casino reportedly charges a $100SD entrance charge for Singaporeans… free for foreigners… Our money is much valued!!

Got in late… rushed to hotel (Hotel Re… easy to spot… bright Pepto-Bismol Pink stripes!! Mieko selected because of free WiFi in the rooms)… dropped the luggage and bolted for SIF office… just time to wolf down a Mickey D’s burger… honestly… but we had to fight for our place in line with a hoard of neatly uniformed scrubbed clean students. Encouraging meeting with SIF… talked about their satisfaction, our plans, needs, strategy, Rotary continued involvement and where we would like to take the project going forward. They are aware of our budget needs, where they fit in as part of our concept of a sustainable program and expressed a sincere interest. They now need to work in the Singapore corporate world to find the support.

Met our friend Mr. Lai from Manjusuri School and he invited us to the beach club… remember that guys??? This year’s theme is Northern India… Nan with garlic, bbq’d squid, chicken with dipping sauce and cold beer… just like a summer night out!! The “floating city across the mythic river” was still winking at us… a bit smaller thanks to an ever improving economy but still pretty impressive.

Wednesday January 19th Singapore

Very nice soft bed with lots of big, soft pillows… nice move up the scale of comfort!!! Slept like a spoiled dog!! Walked through a very nice park behind the hotel… as we reached the top of the hill it encompassed we were struck with a warning shout from a worker at the entry walk to some facility surrounded by a barbed wire capped fence and sliding steel gates. He made it clear that we should proceed right and around his walled charge. We never learned what it was but the pictograph on the KEEP OUT sign showed a rifle man pointing his weapon at an intruder that looked suspiciously like me… we got it even though the words were in Chinese… some words are universal!! Very direct here in Singapore!! The path took us into China Town where the decorations for Chinese New Year are already in place… for the uninitiated… CNY is a big, big, big deal here.

Went on to the Raffles Place North Tower where Deutsche Bank’s offices are located and zipped to the 17th floor overlooking the harbor and half a dozen big construction sites (new skyline next year too). Nice digs… they occupy 9 floors and growing… business is actually booming here. After a really encouraging meeting Annie our host and supporter from DBank took us to a very fine new local restaurant the features Peking Duck roasted in brick ovens using apple wood imported from China… I guarantee, dear fellow gourmands, you have never had PD to equal this. She had pre ordered one as a starter and followed with a superb Chinese style lunch.

After business, Mieko and I did a walking tour of the Marina Bay area and sauntered through one of the world’s great shopping malls at the Marina Sands… not many shops missing but it does have a “navigable” river running through it a water fall entering from the water oculus above and a nice skating rink for those desiring a vicarious vacation in the northern world.

I will close today’s usually informative missive with a comment on two observations… first Singapore cabbies are the world’s nicest and most congenial and second Changi is the most efficient airport in my long experience.

Send with fondness from Starbucks deep in the tunnels of the D gate complex.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Bob's Trip (January 15th and 16th) continued...

Saturday January 15th SRC

It turns our the wedding is on Sunday… today became a lay day… lay about in the morning after Skyping, lay around the pool mid day, lay around and read when it gets hot. Of course this laying about was interrupted by eating and a bit of shopping and a walk by the river but we never put the sails up all day.

One of the BSU guys is feeling quite bad… a very sore throat… painful swallowing and a low-grade fever. Mieko (Cambodian Mother Teresa) came and checked him out and took him to the private clinic run by friends of hers and Jon’s, formerly at AHC. Not definitive but on ibuprofen, codeine and as much liquid as he can manage to swallow… follow up hotel corridor consultation later… same regimen but drinking fluids most important… hopefully he will feel better tomorrow so he can fly in reasonable comfort… honestly I’m glad I’m not sitting next to him but if it were me I’d move heaven and earth to get my sick body back to the US also.

Sunday January 16th SRC

Family outing day… beer, barbeque, cultural immersion and bad roads a real Sunday picnic in the country. We traveled Cambodian style six inside and six plus the big cooler outside. Destination Phnom Kulen (lichee mountain) the first seat of the ancient Khmer kings and the source of the Siem Reap River. It is about 40 or so km north of the city bit then it entails about a 15 to 20 km trip over some world class ripples, bumps, volcanic rock flats and very, very narrow wood plank bridges… worth every jounce. Fifteenth century worshipers carved a huge reclining Buddha surrounded by Apsaras on top of one ridge. Below it was an area dotted with shrines and faithful praying while accompanied by traditional musicians. The smell of burning incense sticks permeated the warm morning air. Buddha was visited by ascending a steep set of stairs… barefooted of course then observed by entering a protective shelter. This is no everyday figure… the good lord Buddha was at least 10 meters long and proportionally high and wide. The observable contrasting dark satin surface of his face and torso gave evidence of the many thousands of devoted visitors offering their respect and reverence.

Sathya then took us to a new, higher location traversing possibly the worst and narrowest road the truck could navigate. Passing another adventuring vehicle would require suspending several laws of matter and physics… but then few people feel the need to go here. At the end it was worth it as we emerged at the “High Place of the Gods”, a field of statues, carvings, stupas, floral basins and a small pagoda. It was as if we had mounted the final step before reaching the pagoda of the gods… all of them. The array of objects venerated both Buddha and the pantheon of Hinduism. Spirituality and peace exist here and the monks residing in the local pagoda are fortunate in their isolation.

Enough feeding the spirit… off to the riverside picnic pavilions for some serious indulging of the flesh!! Sathya’s wife Monica along with Sakhan’s able assistance had booked a pleasant riverside bamboo and thatch gazebo where they prepared a traditional feast. Chicken, beef and pork fan fried or spit roasted along with a couple of kinds of rice, fish paste and dipping sauces. This was followed by sticky rice and black bean bundles cooked inside palm leaves then unwrapped and dipped in palm sugar syrup… decadent!!

While lunch was being prepared I visited the falls and saw some of the figures and lingas carved in the river stones. As the water flowed across the hundreds of lingas (sacred representatives of Shiva) it becomes sacred waters and thus the Siem Reap becomes a river of holy water. What better place to spend an afternoon with such wonderful friends.

Heading back to the city we tarried for an hour or so at the Khmer night market which has grown up along a relatively new highway in the Apsara Authority Reserve… complete with a carnival, street vendors, hundreds of families picnicking, visiting and browsing the wares. Thee were at least a dozen enterprising vendors barbequing whole steers and selling really delicious and tender beef plates. Something new every time I come here!!!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Bob's Trip Continued (January 13th and 14th)

Thursday January 13th SRC

Cease fretting, no more hand wringing… your favorite adventurer has full vanquished the evil King and has enjoyed two meals already… not too challenging but back to Little India for lunch!!

Today was a very important day as it marked the real launch of Water for Cambodia as a functioning organization. We convened the first meeting of the Board of Directors. The first official action was electing the officers. Leading up to this; however, there was much discussion of the nature of different types of boards, the philosophy of paid employees vs. all volunteer or independent members and the number we should end up with, at least in the short run. It is clear that there has been considerable thought put into this. It has been important to consider the long awaited on maybe dreaded national NGO law. It has been imminent since about 2004 but like separation of powers in Rhode Island will likely take a seismic event to actually get it in-place then a good deal of wrestling to actually get the 3000or so NGOs to reregister and comply. After electing officers we covered the need for some basic policies, an agreed to organization chart, generally how accounting and budgeting will work and finally the time for the next meeting.  Before then they will consider identifying a third Khmer board member to meet the requirements of the maybe some day NGO law… just trying to stay ahead of the turtles!!

Another truckload of filters pulled out for Chi Kreng… this really looks like a factory!! It was a bit unsettling though to watch the truck loading crew heft 160 lb concrete filter bodies onto the truck barefooted!! OSHA where are you??

Off to Dan Run in the afternoon to see the product of the Singapore funded work. So far we have made about 500 families very happy. Sathya and I went on diarrhea patrol and found all was high and dry. Ea mother we interviewed had little children and reported a dramatic reduction in some previously crappy situations. They like the taste and each area was very squared away. We stopped at the local health center where we have one also… maybe Sathya should have avoided this one… he really took a beating from the grandmother dispenser of medicines and opinions. I didn’t need to understand the words to get the drift… she waned a filter and wasn’t taking any scheduling pretext or timing weasel wording as an explanation for having to wait until we build the next SIF build block. He almost got away by focusing on some other silly but related matter… clever ploy… total failure… I’m only marginally aware of his final promise but his wife may be scheduled to find her filter missing!!! Grandmothers are really tough here in the sunny jungles and rice fields… about like the water buffalos.

As the sun begins to set over Thailand you might wonder if I plan to let you in on the new organization… I think I will let you hang in suspense.

Until tomorrow then.

Friday January 14th SRC

Road trip!!

Left for Battambang this morning to check the December installations… good chance to get beyond SR for a day also. After getting beyond 8 or 19 km west on NR6 the world of Cambodia changed to prairie like vistas across thousands of acre of rice fields and many small rivers and low wetland that feed the fields. But once we entered the town of Banteay Meanchey and headed SE toward Battambang we time warped back to post war/pre tourist Cambodia and entered a land of few cars and hundreds of bicycles, old motos and mechanical oxcarts loaded with everything you can imagine.

It is the season of celebrating fertility… the lotus are in flower and today was the special wedding feast for no less than 20 brides whose dazzling gold and blue, green and saffron orange betasseled wedding tents lined the roadway. We heard the signature bell and cymbal like sounds long before we saw the color… but it was unmistakably a sign of Khmer fruitfulness. The rice has been harvested… rice to the left rice to the right, ahead and behind… a bag on a motos and 20 on a tow trailer or hundreds of 100kg bags stacked over the sides on brawny, blunt-nosed blue Hyundai work trucks all going to feed someone. Best of all were the golden carpets of fine gravel like spreads along the road drying in the near equatorial sun… people will eat this year.

Battambang is a moderately large city straddling a really nasty looking river… number two in the country and capitol of the rice basket and home to a whole heap of bananas. Busy, crowded, Cambodian style out of control traffic set amidst streets of retained French colonial architecture. The western and moneyed Asia tourists haven’t left Siem Reap yet. Also as we venture east towards our destination, I was taken by the many flowers gracing nearly every shop or home along the lush lanes and little pathways. This indeed this is the season of fecundity here.

Visited two homes, both relatives of Molly’s and one the home of Leaheng. Unfortunately her sister attended an infamous gathering and remembered my distress… why couldn’t she have remembered my elegant and stylish Khmer dancing and hand movements??? Oh well, better to be remembered for something than lost among the banana trees.

Our visit was timely as two of the filters were flowing too slowly and Sathya was able to instruct and demonstrate how to maintain them when this inevitably happen from silting… a quick easy and effective method. Last stop was the local pagoda were even the monks are drinking… pronouncing it good!!

We did learn something interesting about “Clean Water” the group that filters and provide returnable 20 liter bottles of drinking water (the local water version of Blue Rhino). Their water is mildly cloudy… pointed out to us by he women responsible for the orphans living at he pagoda. They definitely favor the product produced from the BSF.

Lunch and a beer and back on the road… I had the beer and barely stayed awake driving back… good to be able to trust the pilot!!

Now to the answer some of you loyal readers have been awaiting. Our Board chair is Mieko… deputy is Sahkem… and Sathya is the secretary. By the way thanks for voting with the majority Nicole… we saw you raise your hand to make it unanimous.

Tomorrow I get to enjoy one of the very cool Cambodian weddings first had… those Khmer dancing lessons will surely help me look really good!!!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Bob's Trip Continued (January 12th)

Wednesday January 12th SRC

Thin overcast, temps in the low to mid 20s… really pleasant on my walk to the H. de la Pax for lite breakfast before grabbing a tuk-tuk to the office.

We are meeting with Todd Brown a videographer working here in Cambodia. We are working with him to create a short high impact video for our website, facebook and to use at our presentations. We have a strawman script outline that he has reviewed and today we will review it, share ideas, agree on several details and develop a rough time line.

He is clearly Mr. Energy! I think he will be able to bring the story to life… look for us on the Red Carpet in 2012!!! Maybe we can enter with Brad and Angelina.

Today’s report will be briefer than normal due to the unforeseen appearance of the Grippe of the Vengeful Khmer King!! Yes faithful readers, I have once again been temporarily laid low by this dread appearance. Fear not caring friends, a dose of Jon’s nasty little magic black pills and some much needed privacy has me back on the road to recovery. But, rest assured that the H. de la Pax has lost me forever!!! I should know better but the prepared fruit did look appealing and the little “good nutrition angel” once again tempted me.

Bread and water tonight!!

Happy shoveling… sorry, I couldn’t help myself!!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bob's Trip (January 9 and 10) continued.....

Sunday January 9th SRC

An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer Nam 'crost the
Mekong! Heralding another blazing bright, blue and dry tropical morning. It was the tour guides ideal for visiting the Khmer royal temples. Despite an initial reluctance, I gave in to the temptation to yet again climb and admire the legacy of the Cambodian’s pride. Seen through the eyes of uninitiated American students and four Apsaras from PUC as guides it was truly a novel experience. Clearly there was a bond established very quickly between the male BSU visitors and the young ladies from PUC… much laughter, exchanging of customs and an impressive amount of Khmer to English and reverse studying afoot. Followed most naturally with facebook and e-mail connections.

We visited the Bayon first accompanied by the most numerous herd of my several trip. Much of Asia was present for muster at the South Gate. The monkeys had all fled for fear of becoming road surface, I suspect… they did appear in goodly number later at the rear entrance to Angkor Wat. There was much kissing of the king and nose to nose portraiture captured… Jayavarmen VII will be well remembered at BSU.

Ta Prom followed and as always impressed. It also conjured up memories of tropical epochs like Temple of Doom and Laura Croft Tomb Raider. Culture has a way of bridging the generations… Temple of Doom was released about half a dozen years before any of the group were delivered by the busy stork. From there onto the crown jewel!

We cleverly entered at the East Gate… the back door. The east galley was laid out for us will nary a soul in sight… a truly special moment. Most of the temple was open for visiting and the majority of the unsightly intrusion of scaffolding and green mesh netting had evaporated. We were able to climb to the third level and approach the base of Mount Meru the home of the Hindu Devas. The students expressed a collective awe at what the saw today.
Off to the Soup Dragon for dinner to end a fine day.

Monday January 10th SRC

Today Bob, Kevin and Beth led the 7 dwarfs to the mine for a hearty mornings work. There was training and filter building in their futures. Sathya prepared them with a very professional session on how to build a filter with great pictures and much detail based on the accumulated years of refining the methods… these guys really know what they are doing!! The BSU workers were then let loose to demold 10 units then clean and oil these molds for tomorrow’s production. Meanwhile the regular crew was setting up today’s molds. The highlight of the demolding experience was clearly the “POP”. For the poor uninitiated… the “POP” occurs when the core frees itself and permit itself to be extracted revealing the inside of the virgin filter. Then the strong backs got into the piles of sand, gravel and big bags of cement… simply add water and work hard in the tropical sun turning this all onto a really big pile of concrete. Then bucket by bucket each mold was topped and it was time to hydrate again… orders from Sergeant Mieko!! Seur then got on the video display and presented the details of installing a filter in preparation for the promised looong day in the field. We will be doing the first Rotary installation in Chi Kreng District.

The workers and leaders returned to Shadow for a desperately needed clean up and cool down before grabbing lunch and heading of to the National Museum. Mieko, Seur, Hok Seng and I met Jon at the little Indian restaurant in the market … curiously LITTLE INDIA…and enjoyed a great meal prepared by his friend… terrific tandoor chicken!!

After that we returned to reality and began planning for the Rotary Foundation audit in February… all play and no work just doesn’t cut it. Then we rendezvoused and returne4d to… LITTLE INDIA…  the more nan the better but I think I’m going to leave the Sub-continent and move geo-gastronomically. 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Bob's Trip to Cambodia (January 7 and 8th)

Thursday January 7th Siem Reap Cambodia…

Hello America and all my loyal readers!!

Arrived on-time Thursday evening at Siem Reap… I always forget how looong the flight is!!! Probably a good thing or no one would ever make the trip. Nice and warm… tropical evenings have a certain charm that is missing from January nights in New England.

Now if only my luggage catches up with me…  I do hate doing laundry every morning in the shower!!

Shadow of Angkor II is a small guesthouse across the river… very Cambodian… dusty street, locals hanging out. No door on the lobby… so no A/Con the ground floor. Rooms are clean and comfortably big but pretty spare… not the Soma Devi. I think I’m going to enjoy it though… after I get some shampoo and a bar of soap bigger than my toenail!! Like I said very Cambodian.

I woke to the preparations for a wedding gathering. On the street next to the guesthouse outside my window there were about 120 chairs lined up in 5 rows… three facing two. Each was covered in the traditional gold cloth and women dressed in their best festive outfits were placing elaborately packaged gifts on each chair. Guests, mostly women, again beautifully dressed began to show up and be ushered to their seats. The guests were like an elaborate floral bouquet of glittering blossoms. The men on the other hand were standard dark trousers and blah white short-sleeved shirts… could have stayed home!!

At about 0730 the cymbals clanged the tro played and the small musical group lead the wedding party away.  Seems early but it is still quite pleasant so probably a wise time to parade in finery while the mid day heat gathers itself for the daily human barbeque. After consulting my Khmer culture advisor I learned that they were processing to the brides home with gifts from the groom’s family and the wedding would likely be conducted tonight.

Your daily SR correspondent is starting his day at the streetscape window of the cafĂ© at Hotel de la Pax… best morning coffee and croissants in SR! Here on Sivath Blvd the town stirs and comes to life.

The day was spent engaging in critical discussions about the future of Water for Cambodia, the roles each is and may play in the future. Communications, how to improve communications and communications again as well as the roles of key staff dominated the morning’s time. In the afternoon we continued to explore the plans for the new organization that has risen from out of our new certification. We also set a basic agenda for next week… as usual it filled up pretty quickly… much field time planned!! I sure hope the cooler clothes get here!!

Saturday January 8th SRC

I was delighted to have a midnight visitor… no Santa has come and gone but this sprite was equally welcome for she brought my luggage!! Except for this brief but happy intrusion, I slept especially well… thanks to Dr. VH. Saturday dawned with a gently and comforting breeze heralding a very pleasant low humidity tropical day… this is what snowbirds dream of!! This Yankee is hoping for a long string of warm dry days.

Today I decided to forego another temple climb for exploring more of Siem Reap. Nearby I found the SR campus of PUC (Pannasastra), which seems to be pretty much devoted to teaching English. A prominent notice at the entrance welcomed the visiting contingent from BSU… Go Kevin!! Around the corner I spied a very long ceremonial canoe in a private yard… the owner was nearby and told me it was used for festivals… fun races and is usually manned by 22 paddlers.  This is reminiscent of pictures we’ve seen of ancient Khmer kings in their war canoes. I also explored the grounds of Wat Prak Va the site of a very serene temple grounds, really interesting and decorative stupas and a well regarded elementary school. A young Korean woman here volunteering with children told me is enrolls about 500 students and is recognized as a high quality alternative to other local education. Lots of happy students running about… it was dismissal time for the AM session. Wats like this and others I have visited are a real treat… serenity, beauty and a sense of connection with the history of Cambodia and Buddhism… not to be missed.

I have seen lots of neighborhoods that are new to me today… real untainted by the tourist invasion but unfortunately not advantaged either. It provides a good grounding and contrast to what continues to happen in the old market and along Sivath and National Road 6. Of course this clearly stamps me with the mark of a hypocrite as I interrupted my trek with a rest stop at the Blue Pumpkin for an air conditioned date with a vanilla and banana shake… probably unknown to the Khmer kings of past eras… my gain is their loss!!

Later in the afternoon I had the opportunity to see Riki play soccer and spend some time with Jon, Mieko and a part of their adopted family visiting from PP.  I am overwhelmed by the influence and heart of these two that I have the privilege of calling my friends. The soccer “stars” were still at the “swarm after the ball” stage but the “soul” was definitely in it… at the end Riki was tending goal and made a great save!! No one was keeping score so the kids decided it must have been a tie… I’m certain they were right!! We then went to another J&M favorite… Mr. Grill Restaurant for an excellent meal, good cold Anchor and lots of laughs. I had a chance to finally meet another adopted “son” the miracle working Reachsay. For the uninitiated he is the guy that gets customs done… here that takes miracles on a daily basis. We have been e-mail acquaintances for years so it was good to finally meet.

Kevin, Beth and their charges also arrived from PP today so we are now all in place at last.