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17 Sep 2012

Five minutes with...Sam Roberts

Clipboard Crew
These blog posts are a bit like buses - after only three in July and August combined it's three in less than a week this month. I promise a more fully blown exploration of what I do in my work soon but, in the meantime, you can gain some insight from this 'day in the life' piece. It was 'commissioned' by VSO to encourage others to volunteer with them. I hope it at least partially meets this objective.

PS. Gilly is a bit annoyed that I seem to be claiming more credit for preparing lunch and other domestic tasks than I deserve. To redress this I can confirm that she is currently busy making dinner while I am writing this blog...

15 Sep 2012

My birthday in Phnom Penh

Keep reading for videos of more diving board action...
 So I've now landed firmly in my mid-30s (34!) so it seemed fitting to celebrate in style. Here in Cambodia that means leaving our sleepy little town of Kratie and heading for the lights and smoke of Phnom Penh.

However, before we left I was given an amazing surprise birthday present by Gilly, a set of four original hand-painted signs from Kratie waiting for me on my return from a few days in the countryside. You can read a bit more about Gilly's exploits in acquiring these on the 'Hand-Painted Signs of Kratie' blog.

The first thing we did on arrival in Phnom Penh was to head to Jars of Clay for the first round of the weekend's cake intake. Here I am tucking into a rich chocolate number with some whipped cream.

Photo: Olivia Wynne
Round two came as a surprise after a lovely meal at a restaurant called the Boat House. As this was officially the day before my birthday I was forgiving of them adding the wrong date to the text on the cake. Note the dripping ectoplasm running down the side of this one which was enjoyed by all the friends we had gathered together to celebrate.

After dinner we decanted into the regular VSO drinking den and, at midnight, Wes (see above and below) treated me to shots of whisky. (Somehow Mean also slipped into the photo, cunningly hiding under our armpits.)

That one seemed to hurt me more than Wes.

It was literally "bottom's up" for the second round and, after the pain of the first one, it's all smiles again on my face.

As well as my hand-painted signs from Gilly I got a new t-shirt from John In New Zealand. It is for his Thai kick-boxing club in Wellington and it was taken on a tour of Phnom Penh for it's Cambodian debut. Here I am wearing it beside one of Phnom Penh's own hand-painted signs which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.

The guard dog sign was spotted by Gilly on the road to Blooms, a posh cake shop that hosted round three of the indulgence. I doubled up on chocolate, one with hazelnut that was particularly delicious.

Here are our cake colleagues for the morning, including Leandra (left) and Dorinda (middle) who also share my birthday week. Olivia (second from left) had selected the venue and it was smiles all round, followed by sustained silence as everyone savoured every mouthful.

Gilly convinced me that I wouldn't get sunburned if we walked from the cake shop to our lunch venue. She was right, although I did spend most of the time dashing from one piece of shade to another. Here we are posing outside one of the external walls of the Royal Palace.

A shandy in hand to take the edge of the previous night's whisky. Continuing the hand-painted signs theme of the weekend we had lunch in Bojangles. This place on the riverfront sells replica signs to support rural signpainters. You can see some examples of these here.

Perhaps the biggest treat of the day was the discovery, after two years in Cambodia, of Phnom Penh's Olympic Stadium and pool. It's a proper 50m pool and looked lovely in the bright sunshine that graced my birthday.

The real bonus for me was the diving pool which I'd learned about the night before. I was so excited to see it was for real and it brought back memories of my diving classes in 2006 and also my rock jumping escapades from many holidays in the Gorges d'Heric in France. So it was on with the trunks and in to the pool for some competitive jumping action with the locals, as captured in this short video...(View full screen on Youtube.)

Sadly the real scoreboard (below) was out of action so I had to rely on Gilly, Laura, Claire and Gordon to give unbiased opinions on my efforts.

Opposite the pool is the main stadium which, as the sun starts to set, becomes a heaving (and noisy) hotbed of activity. Lots of Phnom Penh residents congregate for their daily exercise which in many cases consists of a sort of synchronised aerobics. The only way to explain this properly is through the medium of film. Treat yourself...

As night falls here we are relaxing after an fantastic day with friends by the pool. Ken (right) wasn't content with just a swim and also did a few laps of the stadium running track. Gordon (left) was responsible for the BBC-esque commentary of my diving efforts from the first video.

After all the excitement of the day it was time to end it with a delicious steak. Here's Gilly brimming with anticipation at hers, covered in blue cheese sauce and accompanied by a glass of red wine.

All in all I must say one of, if not the, best birthdays ever. Thank you to everyone who made it so good from start to finish.

13 Sep 2012

Something I wrote for VSO's blog

I've had a piece published on the main VSO blog about a workshop I attended back in June. Keen readers will notice that I'm not in the photo attached. I had left an hour early to make the bus back to Kratie via Phnom Penh. Before I left I had helped with a session at the workshop talking about the experience of my work with CRDT on tourism. More to follow on this in a forthcoming blog post about what on earth I actually do all day here...

Read my piece on the VSO blog here.