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7 Feb 2011


So I eventually made it to Phnom Penh and last weekend's TEDx event.  Here I'll attempt to provide a digest of a great day featuring equal doses of inspiration, reflection, entertainment and interaction under the umbrella theme of 'Building the Future'...

Here's me and my fellow TED-sters setting out in style.  From left to right: Laura; me; Kath; Ingran; Alex (happy birthday smile from him!)

The journey passed the first large-scale piece of painted advertising that I've seen in Phnom Penh.  Not quite a Ghostsign yet but a step up in size from these. Hello!

The venue for the event was Northbridge International School which, for just over $140,000 at current prices, allows you to send one child from Kindergarten to Grade 12 (that's the end of A-levels equivalent).  This includes access to the playground above and the swimming pool below.

Pretty luxurious, it's been a while since I've seen water as clear as this!

We were ushered into the main event room to the sound of Kung Nai, a master in the Chapei tradition.  He's apparently referred to by some as "the Ray Charles of Cambodia" and he was playing what sounded like a ballad on this chapei dang weng, a long-necked lute.  He was getting a few laughs but my Khmer listening skills meant I didn't get the jokes.  I hadn't though of making a video at this point so here's a Youtube clip of him in action.

I was so engrossed in watching him play that I almost completely missed the work of Keeda Oikawa in action.  She's a Japanese artist and was free-styling with a canvass and some paint to produce something inspired by the performance and the venue.

Here they are both on stage together.

And the finished artwork which remained on stage for the whole day.  A better photo here.

Next up were a couple of presentations, one about the concept of Self Education and another from former advertising executive, Mike Rios, on giving ourselves a 'Dong Chim' every now and then to avoid quarter- and mid-life crises.

He had something of a personal revelation when he realised his work in advertising was not helping people gain success and happiness, contrary to what the advertisements might suggest.

His mentor at the time advised him to "go be crazy" so he quit and now focuses on advertising with a social purpose.  His new motto is "make meaning, not money" and he reminded us of how everything we do can have a positive impact, whether that is directly or indirectly.

Next up was a brief introduction to Tiny Toones, an organisation working with young people to help them "dance their lives around".  There was then a performance choreographed by the dancers telling the story of how Tiny Toones has helped them overcome problems such as addiction, sex work and domestic violence.  Here are a couple of videos of them in action...



The story ends with the Tiny Toones dancers reaching out their hands to invite a new member into the safety, support and fun provided by the dancing.

After every few performances/presentations there was an opportunity to share ideas with those near to you.  Here are Kath and Ingran deep in conversation.

One of the sessions we got to discuss was a film from the producer (Rob Lemkin) of Enemies of the People followed by an interview with the director (Sambath Thet).  The film hasn't made it to Kratie yet but there is already a follow up in the making.  Sambath Thet discussed the need for films like this to be part of the process of Cambodia coming to terms with the horrific recent history in the country.

Throughout the day we also watched some videos from TED events around the world.  This one was especially inspiring.  (Many more videos are available on the main TED site and a small collection of my favourites here.)

We heard Kounila Keo's passionate arguments for the benefits of blogging for personal and social development.  She writes the popular Blue Lady Blog and is a trail-blazer for Cambodia's tech-savvy youth, while also advocating greater freedom of expression here and abroad.

(And LUNCH.  I put a bit too much chilli on my soup and ended up in tears and a runny nose.  The chilli-training continues despite this minor setback.)

The afternoon sessions opened with Chris Brown who talked about IT and software start-ups and gave some good advice on how to ensure that failure is cheap and also some neat ways of testing the market with only small initial investments.  Some useful thoughts that I will no doubt use in the future.

Channe Suy of InSTEDD shared her experiences with innovating in rural development and how text messaging is assisting with the early warning systems for contagious diseases such as Cholera.

A brief energiser required those who can't count to 20 in Khmer to get on stage and learn to do so in 60 seconds.  Luckily my language skills meant that I wasn't among those pictured on stage.

This was followed by talks from Colin Wright who moves country every four months based on votes from his blog readers (see Exile Lifestyle for more) and Chris Noble who runs the Footprints Network which helps travellers donate money to the communities they visit.

We also heard from Theary Seng, author of Daughter of the Killing Fields.  She gave a clear account of the current extraordinary court proceedings against the former Khmer Rouge leaders and how this needs to be complemented by other activities such as community-based truth and reconciliation work in order to truly have peace and justice in Cambodia.

The day ended with Phloeun Prim from the Cambodian Living Arts organisation who works to promote and preserve Cambodia's rich and diverse arts heritage.

It is estimated that 90% of Cambodia's artists were killed during the 1975-79 period.  Many of those that have survived are now teaching new students through Phloeun's organisation in order to keep the knowledge and skill alive.  These include visual artists, musicians, dancers and artisans and Kung Nai (see above) is among the 'Masters' passing on their skills.

It was an inspiring and optimistic talk including the observation that not many countries have a symbol of their architectural history on their national flag.  This serves as a constant reminder that Cambodia is a nation with a proud artistic history, "the arts are in the DNA of our culture", and that this should now be carried forward to help define the future of the country.

But it wasn't quite over.  Phloeun Prim introduced another master, this time of the Smot tradition, and her student to give a performance.  Here are a couple of video clips to give a brief taste of what they did.

The Master

The Student

The lyrics (of the last song)

Speakers and organisers gather for a team photo.

And for those more visually inclined, here is an illustration/mind-map from  Keeda Oikawa of all the speakers, their topics and the day in general.  She was 'doodling' away at this all day after her opening performance.

 My one slightly critical observation on the day was that the audience were clearly a mixture of educated Cambodians and ex-patriots (as evidenced with the large number of hands shown when asked who has a first degree).  I would also guess that most came from Phnom Penh.  I believe that the energy and optimism felt by the audience, and more widely in Phnom Penh, isn't matched by similar feeling in the countryside (as touched on in my essay submission).   This was perhaps one question that wasn't explicitly dealt with in any of the talks and I think it is impossible to talk of building Cambodia's future without reference to what that means for Cambodia's majority, the rural poor.

In summary it was a great day full of inspiration and optimism.  The organisation was excellent and the event ran in a very slick fashion.  I'll definitely go again if it's happening next year.

(The whole event was being filmed so I'll also update here as and when I hear of any of the talks being posted online.)

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