First Days

I’ve had time to find an apartment, settle in, figure out where to eat, drink and otherwise sustain myself, how to get to work, what work requires…life is shaping up nicely and is good.

Phnom Penh is surprisingly multicultural, refined (in parts) and full of kind people, even the tuk-tuk (motorcycle-based towed taxi) drivers.  All of the normal things you’d need are here and easy: tasty food, clean water (not from the tap!), comfortable shelter, KTV (Cambodian karaoke), transportation.  It rains every day at 3:17pm (I’m almost not kidding); welcome to the tropics!  And this is some serious rain.  It’d also be best to stay away from Shit River, running alongside Street 105 (~200 ft from my apartment) and containing most of the blackwater from all of Phnom Penh.  Phnom Penh does seem much improved from when I was here 11 years ago; construction is happening everywhere and reminds me of Shanghai and Beijing: cranes over skyscrapers everywhere!

The Russian Market is the local one-stop shop for everything from veggies and socks to electronics and stumps of wood used as home decor.  Although, bring your bargaining skills, unless the vendor’s $45/kg is what shrimp actually cost here, right next to the Mekong River!  Want to see inside of the Russian Market?  You can walk through it virtually on Google Streets here.

Work with iDE is going very well.  I spent my first week reading everything iDE has ever done on fecal sludge management in Cambodia.  (Yes, you read that correctly: someone has to deal with everyone’s shit, and it might as well be me; otherwise, it ends up on your dinner table.  Yeah.  :-\  And yes, you can call me a poo engineer.)  Ten studies over the past 7 years: not too bad, but that’s pretty much everything that’s been done on FSM in Cambodia to date by anyone!  I compiled everything they’d written into a compendium document, which is now the one-stop shop in the world for what’s known about FSM in Cambodia right now.  I feel privileged to be working with an innovative company on the frontier of what’s happening in sanitation.

Today, I took the reigns as a co-project manager (I was as surprised as you are!) for one of their pilot programs coming up, which is going to look at how to stimulate demand for installing latrines using frequent visual reminders of how full a latrine’s pit is getting (sorry for being vague: intellectual property and all).  I’ll be creating surveys that get information from consumers about why they didn’t chose to purchase a latrine for their family, writing up guides for iDE’s latrine sales agents that walk them through how best to convince consumers to purchase a latrine, and analyzing how best to deploy iDE’s sales force to gather the required metrics for our pilot program.  Overall, typical development engineering work, which I love, but focused on market-based processes, which are new to me and really interesting!  iDE has been quite successful at bringing 250,000+ latrines to Cambodia, and their business models fit nicely into what I want to do with my PhD research; synergies in action!

In my free time, which I haven’t had much of, I’ve enjoyed rooftop bars, tasty Khmer food (additional post to come soon!) and a lot of local attractions (some pictures above).  A true highlight was my trip down to the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Park, where I got to feed elephants and monkeys, hold hands with a precious orphaned baby gibbon, share lunch time with a band of river otters, and get roared at by a hybrid Indochinese-Sumatran tiger when I looked her in the eye.  It was an amazing place, filled only with rescued animals, primarily from the pet trade and snare traps in the wildernesses of Cambodia.  The pictures below will tell the story.

Well, another week of work awaits!  Have a good week all.

UPDATE  Here are a few videos from my visit to Phnom Tamao.  I still have a few more to edit, including monkeys jumping 20 feet into a pool, playing and to escape the heat.  So, check back later.

Binturong, Clouded Leopard, River Otters

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