Tuesday, June 19, 2007

End of the Road...

Whew, finally returned from Cambodia this morning. This entire holiday has been insane. Finland, then Cambodia. Both trips had their own tough requirements, and luckily everything turned out fine. At least everybody got back to Singapore in one piece. Well, except for Jerry, who got a bad laceration on his left knee on the very first day of the OCIP while we were transporting the hut materials to the island. It's gotten worse since then, despite the bandages and the antiseptic, probably due to the weather and the water we're drinking. It should get better now that we're in Singapore.

Other than the fact that they both drive on the right side of the road, Finland and Cambodia are extreme opposites. In the span of a few days, I went from an rich European nation to a poverty -stricken developing country ravaged by civil war. The experience of the two trips, juxtaposed against each other, gave me a fresh perspective on things. It's one thing to know about all these; it's another thing to experience the places firsthand.

Just a few interesting things:

1. It costs about S$1-2 to enter a toilet in Finland. In Cambodia, the average daily pay of a primary school(Grade 1 to 6) teacher in the Takeo province village we went to was less than S$1.50. Is the education of 30-40 Cambodian children worth less than the comfort of a single Finnish/European for just a leak? Till now, I'm still too flabbergasted to think on this.

2. Finnish construction workers do not seem to use the loud and annoying jackhammer we see so often in Singapore. They use the hammer and chisel. Really!

3. European choirs are not very adventurous. I did not, for example, see any of them performing non-Western choral music. And while they generally have very good technique for their choral tradition, it does get a bit monotonous.

4. Singaporeans love to complain. About the hotels, about accommodations, about the transport, about the program, about the cost. Students and teachers alike, we are perennial complainers. The students seemed quite disappointed with the hostel in Harmala for the Finland trip. Can't be helped, since it was done on the cheap. Want better? Pay more then. Personally, I quite liked the rooms and their lack of amenities. No distractions to keep me from doing the things I needed to do, which included studying and planning.

In Cambodia, a number of participants found our village stay in Takeo to be quite jialat, and even the hotel in Phnom Penh wasn't exactly the best. Sleeping on straw mats in 30 degrees heat and about 80-90% humidity is nobody's idea of a good time, not even mine. Still, it was interesting, and I did sleep quite soundly. Probably because I was too tired to care.

5. Finnish water is quite clean. I drank off the tap without any problems. As for Cambodia... well, let's just say the tap water in the hotel didn't taste quite right. Oh, and before I forget, most poor Cambodian families use an interesting filtration system for their water. It's a permeable pot that filters out the larger soil particles and kills some(not all!) of the micro-organisms present in well/river water. Each pot with bucket and tap costs about US$9. We bought 9 of these for the school, to be placed in the classrooms so the kids can have access to clean(relatively) water when they need it.

6. The cheapest meal in Cambodia, some noodles with a few spare strips of meat and a bit of sauce, costs about 700 riels, which is roughly equivalent to 25 Singapore cents. In Finland, a cheap meal can be gotten for about 3 singapore dollars, in their markets.

7. While it's cheaper to go public and do your own planning, it's also very, very difficult. Locations need to be found, bus routes interpreted, and the local maps assessed carefully for landmarks. It made me realize why a tour guide and a dedicated tour bus are highly recommended for school trips. I'm not going to lead students on such trips ever again without a proper guide and a bus!

8. The Tuol Sleng museum just makes me mad. One of the buildings had a second floor with photographs and interview excerpts of former Khmer Rouge members who worked at the concentration camp. They all professed guilt and horror at what they were forced to do, but one thing that I kept thinking about was that if there really was so many of them that opposed the regime, why didn't anybody, especially one of the higher ranked officers who was interviewed and claimed to be forced into this position, organize a revolt from the ranks of the disaffected? I suppose it is a real life example of the prisoners' dilemma: who can you trust?

There're still quite a number of observations I've yet to mention. Pretty tired now. Gotta sleep, I have a H3 chemistry course tomorrow!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Notes on the Run at Finland

In Finland now. Tired. Quite. Running all over doing recce and settling places to go, places to eat.

Eating and sleeping well tho. The concerts are all eye openers. Great experience so far!

Leaving Finland in 3 days time. Next up, Cambodia!