terça-feira, 26 de junho de 2012


During my stay here I've tried to keep my blog updated and my thoughts flowing and even wrote a diary for a while. My greatest fear was that the "truth" found here would be lost in the future.

Now I will try to transport you in a flashback way about my feelings within these 10 months I lived in Southeast Asia - It's also an incredible opportunity for friends and relatives to read a summary about everything and get informed about what happened, hehe.

I landed in Phnom Penh in September, 1st 2011 in the monsoon season peak. The morning was hot but with blue skies. From the airplane what most caught my attention was the huge mirror made by the water over the rice fields.



My first impression of Phnom Penh, was, trully, a shock. I slept with the images of Singapore and Kuala Lumpur and woke up many decades in the past. I reached my room and the first thing I thought was about the musty smell. I didn't that I had just stepped in the best and biggest room I'd ever get in Cambodia.

Even though I found and made some friends, it didn't take maybe 1 week to start feeling very lonely. People spoke words that I could not understand. In the lunch time and company meetings English was rarely spoken and when people tried to their accent was impossible to understand. To make this scenario worse I saw a person having her bag being snatched right in front of me and that took me in a neurotic approach towards safety which could be felt until some months ago.

Still, at that time we were starting our first project. The revaluation of a state owned company that took care of Phnom Penh's water supply known as PPWSA. We had an interesting moment at this time because it would be the first report that has never been written before, the first spreadsheets that were never set up before and so, everything from scratch. One of the days which I can remember pretty clearly was when I presented the "magics" of Excel with pivot tables, logic formulas, etc. I also started my battle for efficiency, constantly challenged by our outsourced staff and a intertial decision taking process. Parallel to that I started looking for some alternative projects. Process mapping, trying to set up a competence model, drafting an English training, etc.

Still in the same month that I arrived I've done my first trip. In the company of Patro (Mexican) and Mariana (Brazilian) we went to Angkor Wat. We challenged one of the worse floods in years, literally crossing Cambodia's countryside sea with the road being the only thing which was not flooded. It was also one of the most tiring adventures I ever had, 52 km rode in gearless bicycles! :P

Back to my routine I was living in an extremely basic basis. US$ 1 for the breakfast, US$ 1 for lunch and US$ 1 for dinner. Total per month US$ 90. And it went like that until I had a salary increase in January, 2012. The result was that I lost around 8 kg very fast and without knowing my bio-resistance went very low - even taking vitamins supplements every day.


My initial months here were marked by a constant reflection about the genocide, Cambodia's tragic history and how things happened and come to what is Cambodia today. The blog's name Holiday in Cambodia' it's inspired on that. I've also started reading the book 'First They Killed My Father', and I simply couldn't stop. I could almost see the horror and pain scenes. I felt guilty, spoiled, ungrateful for the life I had.

Without noticing I started to limit myself, avoiding to hangout, to look for entertainment and I shut down. It's hard to believe how people laugh in the street, go to work, study, marry, etc., after going through all that suffering. But in the end I understood that, for all they've been through, living thinking about the past or being target of petty it's what they don't need. Forget the suffering and create mechanisms that could avoid these terrible days to come back is the solution. The best contribution I can give it's to help them to migrate to the world of the modern things and feelings they were locked out in the past 30-40 years. I'm sure I became a happier person from then on.

I had the opportunity to participate in a Khmer wedding, very traditional, and to get closer to the local cutlure. I started to get used to be seen as an exotic animal wherever I go and for some minutes I thought I'd be the major attraction rather than the bride and the groom. Even though I don't agree with it completely, as Zhengyu would say, "in Rome do like the Romans do", which in this case includes dancing and drinking beer with ice.


In November another big holiday came up and I decided to kick-off my first international adventure since I've arrived. I had been through only 2 months but when I stepped in the airport I had the "civilization" coming back feeling. My destionation as North Vietnam. When I arrived in Hanoi I immediately fell in love with the city. People walking around the park at 10 pm at night? That was new. Trees everywhere and temperatures ranging 18-25oC. I'd convinced myself I'd easily live there.

My experience in Vietnam was very meaningful because I met Hau, which in his and my inocence, made us very grood friends and gave me a very special experience there. I saw absolutely incredible landscapes in Halong Bay and Tam Coc which only increased my admiration for that country. In the eyes, in the talk, and in the history of Vietnam one can see the power of a warrior people that survived to China's ambition and US's influence. We're gonna hear a lot about this place.


Finally in December I could combine holidays and vacations beng able to meet my family and girlfriend. It's hard to describe how time is a relative thing. It wasn't 3 months I had said goodbye to them in São Paulo and I felt as I've been distant for years. Being able to meet again with the ones you love in a warm culture like ours it's a dream coming true. I revisted Singapore, which I could go around and we left our jaws down with so much modernity, efficiency and urbanistic beauty in a draconian rules system. It's possible to imagine that a less than 2-hour flight can take-off and land in so much contrast.

Following our cruise we also went to Bangkok, where the modernity emergency provide by globalization melts with a liberal culture, however next to history and Thai traditional habits. Thailand is today a regional power, at the level of business, technology, education, medical services, tourism and air traffic. Bangkok is the example of that. Skyscrapers of financial institutions challenge houses and river communities, and fancy temples. In demographic and territorial terms however, Thailand is in a much better position than Singapore, restricted to an island and small population.

Still in Thailand we found why so many people come there. Besides the cultural spots in Bangkok, wonderful nature can be seen in the country's Southern region, in the West or in the East. Precisely Ko Samui and Phuket reserve an amazing experience in terms of beaches and sea.

Finally we made our way to Malaysia, one of the countries that most caught my attention due to its highly heterogenous population. Local ethnic people (Muslims), live next to Chinese ethnic (Buddhists) and Indians (Hindu) within relative stability. However, it's becoming more and more tense the relationship between Muslims and the other groups that feel not represented politcally. Kuala Lumpur althout it's the largest Malaysian city you won't notice a significant mix in the population.

Langkawi it's a more natural place, and it really is, as we had an amazing boat tour around the mangroves and we could spot the eagles feeding themselves. Although I had dreamed about going up in the cable car when we arrived there it was closed due to the strong winds in the mountains and since we had just a short time in the town we could not wait for it until open.

Then we headed to Penang and Melaka which could be the cultural peak in terms of Malaysian tourism. Penang it's very interesting for its family preserved Buddhist temples that present an almost 'Asian-baroque' architecture with many details, ornaments, decorations, etc. It was pretty clear the power of the Chinese/Buddhist/Confucionist culture in these places. The culture of knowledge and achievement. In these temples was common to see each family's member name, their college degree, and the university name. Melaka follows quite the same style however with more colonial elements due to the Dutch presence some centuries ago.

Finished our trip I first had to say goodbye to Cá, which was actually very hard. And, finally, a  week later, to my family. These two 'events' left me in a hangover mood in the next week or so. Saying goodbye when you're abroad it's much harder. That's the kind of thing that makes you want to leave, forget the plans, and go back. This time we changed to a new office, to a new company and a new boss with some implications I'd understand only in the future.

Our company hired a bus, loaded it with food and drinks and gave us two celebration days in the end of the year for making the 'countdown' in Sihanoukville. While the party was actually great the whole day, the 'countdown' itself was quite frustrating and even a little bit sad. Instead of the hugs and the new year's messages, health, etc., nothing, some toast and we went to sleep. But in the next day everything was fine, don't worry! :)



After the new year's eve, in the same city I went to a meeting to represent our company. A new project was born, the revaluation of the Port of Sihanoukville, which the IPO must happen pretty soon. They made some nice presentations of freight costs according to the available ports in the region, future projects to be developed with the money raised from the IPO, etc.

The start of 2012 was not just the most stressful part of my work here in Cambodia, but professionally from my whole life.

We took some revaluation projects of the garment factories looking to performing an IPO here. The first shock was to get into a garment factory in Asia, which the work conditions are very questionable. An army of women, more than 3,000, seizing, ironing, etc., well-know brands, among them Adidas. I saw people being carried away because they had fainted due to the heat and chemical products smell, Chinese screaming to their employees, disgusting toilets, etc. In a factory, that didn't provide for Adidas, I think I may have seen child labor, which has some mistake margin since people here are really small.

I coodinated our inspection tteam many times when visiting the factory. However, a huge mistake of project planning made our customer's expectation totally incompatible with the level of complexity we've found in place. There were more than 6,000 equipment items, mostly being used, which changed location every day. My boss had negotiated 2 days to finish this inspection. It ended up taking 3 months. At the same time I felt guilty for making our staff to work over time and skipp their night classes in college.

This period I arrived at the office almost every day at 7 am and came back home at 10 pm. The amount of information that had to be processed from one day to the other after being consolidated was huge and we didn't have any process for that. Then our customer started to extremely rude with our staff - sometimes refusing to provide them lunch or water -, then to be rude with me and finally screaming in the telephone with my boss.

One of the days I was visiting the factory I started to have pains my back, that started to go down to my belly and legs. At one time it became impossible to walk and the only thing I did was moaning and sweating. I then was presented to my first kidney stones crisis and my happiness of having hired a good health insurance.

Before the month end I had to pay a second visit to the hospital for having symptoms of Malaria - high fever, body pains, etc. Thanks to God it wasn't Malaria or Dengue, just a bacterian infection which gave me an extra hospital overnight.


I just had recovered and left hospital without finishing the project before and our company took another garment factory assignment with this time being 8,000 items spread around 3 different locations. And then again random fictious schedules went around the negotation table. Just the inspection part took around 3 months when the previously scheduled time was 2 weeks.

Managing a Khmer team it wasn't easy. Our cultural differences are huge and that translates in the way of taking care of the work, tasks, deadlines, etc. When a deadline is given to me, it should be accomplished, but in the local understanding it's more like an attemptive. I tried to implement some competition among our workers according to the number of equipments inspected by day putting that information in a chart updated daily. The result was interesting and it really made their performance to grow. As a recognition one of them was granted with some free beers. During that time I've written some procedures and processes to make our workflow better standardized and make things easier more manageable.

In February we went to an 1-day trip to Mekong Island next to Phnom Penh where I could remember the simple life in the countryside of Cambodia - at that it has been a while that I hadn't gone to the countryside. We could see the handcrafted silk and also a small sand beach in the middle of the river. A completely different reality just 30 minutes outside of the capital.

Eventually in my mid mini-crisis came up about Cambodia's conditions. For many times I became very angry against the unhidden corruption, the lack of respect to the law, the public (and private) mismanagement, etc. The sensation that everything was very wrong was very wide and really sufocated me some times. I still frequently pre-judge that all people owning big cars are corrupt and money leeches. You don't need to tell me how wrong this mindset is.

This month I got sick again, with horrible pains in my stomach and diarrhea. This time I decided not to go to the hospital - it's really deppresive if you have to go to the hospital alone every time. I spent the weekend drinking lots of water and eating light stuff. On Sunday I was much better, must have had some food poisoning.

We also welcomed a new friend, Sahej, from India, who brought us very interesting conversations, food experiences  - Indian food is great! -, love for photography and trip plans.


Until April our two projects were opened and runing between leopard and turtle speed according to our customers mood and their willing to help us to located the equipment items that could not be found. Parallel to that we're going through the market research for each equipment category.

In the middle of March a great friend left, Eric, from China. And then soon arrived the new intern from another company from sister from mine, Bart, from the Netherlands. From this moment on I can say some things: I spent much less time lonely, we always've been hanging out, we've found new friends, new restaurants, I started to eat much better recovering my weight, stopped getting sick and spent much mroe money, haha. At the same time I've also met Zhengyu, also from China, who brought friendship and many deep reflections about culture, history and differences between China, Asia and the rest of the world.



In mid-April we had another big holiday here. I combined my last vacation days and then me and Cá planned a trip around Indonesia. However before going there she spent a week here in Cambodia so she could have glimpse of my life around here.

We started our trip with flight between Phnom Penh and Kuala Lumpur, a deadly slept night at airport's ground and then a fligh to Yogyakarta in Java, Indonesia. The monuments of Borobudur and Prambanan represent the Buddhist and Hindu influence in the country's history although today the majority are Muslims.

We hit the road for more than 12 hours within crazy traffic and roads in Java and finally made it to Mt Bromo area. The incredible scenery of a volcano in which we could watch the sunrise and then get closer to its crater by horse. Here was where I took the lowest temperatures within 1 year, around 4oC. Totally unexpected in a place so close to the Equator's line.

In our next stop we went to a more misterious place, Kawah Ijen, at Java's Eastern region. The park looked like closed or abandoned. We haven't seen anyone for hours and the step way was very cold. From far we could notice the sulfur smell and the white clouds would confirm that we were close. 

Between Java and Bali we had to go through Bayuwangi where we could take the ferry. And after 4h in a bus in Bali - which was in fact much bigger than I expected - we made it to Kuta. We rented a car and started our highly exciting adventure until our next stop of Tanah Lot and Ubud. While the first place it's close to the sea, the other one sits in the mountains in the middle of the forest and it's almost a retreat area for being so tranquil.

The mountaineous region of Bali offers many side trips, some interesting ones include Goa Gajah and Tegalalang. Goa Gajah has a very misterious cave called the Elephant Cave and even a ancient bathing area now full of fish. In Tegalalang we'd see on of the most impressive views in the whole trip, the rice terraces, a picture of the Balinese engineering skills facing the environemnt restrictions.

Our last stop in Bali were the locations of Bedugul and Bukit Peninsula and despite being described in the same post these locations are totally opposite and different. Bedugul locates in the island most mountaineous parts, almost under rain and clouds and more difficult to be reached. Bukit Peninsula is all the way South and has a very dry weather with cliff backed beaches.

Finally, our last Indonesian experience was visiting the Gilli Islands, three small round shaped islands located next to each other and between Bali and Lombok. A wonderful place to enjoy the world without cars or motorbikes, walk around the islands, go for snorkelling or diving. We also got impressed about the price of the things which were not that expensive.

Indonesia impressed us a lot, much more than we had expected. We've found lovely and helpful people and endless touristic options. Mountain, beach, volcano, forest, everything you can find there. Saying goodbye to Cá for the second time was horrible, it looked like a piece of me left that day and I still had to wait for another 15 hours for my flight. :(

Combing back to Cambodia I was sad for some days but then came back to normal and kept going on. Our customers inspections had finally finished and since the same happened to the market price research I put all the information together, programmed the spreadsheet and the equipment side was concluded! :)

We've found a 'travel window' on May and then asked our bosses, me and Bart, if we could take the big holiday and add extra days to it compensating those days by working in other small holidays. And that was what we've done and made our unexpected trip to Myanmar feasible.


This month went very easy, both at work and outside of it. Me, Bart, Sahej and Zhengyu, went to hangout many times. Have tremendous dinner experiences with Indian food and did some trips, a small one and close and a big one and far.

Our small trip was a half-weekend at Phearum's homeland, one of my staff member, an unique and remarkable experience. We could get very close to the Cambodians living outside of the cities. We're so well treated and served that we have a huge debt with his family. They made our favorite dishes and never ran out of food or beer.

And the question stands: how so simple people, living so basically, can smile so much and treat so well their guests? That's magic of the Khmer people, something I haven't seen anywhere else. I think that being close to hunger, with loss and suffering bring people a new perspective. Everything is minor and less important if you can eat, be close to the ones you love and not be afraid of being killed at any time. When and why we became so moody in the Western world? It has always been easy to explain why we are unhappy or unconfortable but it has been much more difficult to justify why being happy. Is that right? Well, the fact is that I've heard that before but it's the true. If there's anything that's exclusive of Cambodia and they may be poor, have lack of education, this and that, etc., but yes they are, happier. É estranho... 

Our second trip was to explore a quite unknown place in Southeast Asia, except for its recent polictical reforms, Myanmar. In the former capital of Yangon we got impressed by the country's most famous monument, Shwedagon Pagoda. Besides of course of helpful, friendly and extremely curious people we've met there. It's a fact that Yangon has a 'lost in time' appearance due its many years without proper investiment and enclosure. However, the city seems to be very busy with the streets packed with people until 9 pm. Moreover, one should not worry about safety, robbering and murders.

Our second stop was in the most famous touristic spot in Myanmar, the archeologic heritage of Bagan, in the country's central region. We're not talking about some Buddhist temples but more than 2,000 religious structures spread in a small area. That creates a movie looking like impression as if you were back some hundreds and hundreds of years. In fact the most breathtaking part of the trip was to climb the big temples and watch the scenery.

Finally, before coming back to Cambodia, we went to the Inle Lake area, Myanmar's Northeastern part. Again we were surprised to find the interesting ways life goes according to the surrounding environment. The people who live in this like learned how to row with the legs so they could have both arms free for fishing. So they could have some place to live they built houses over the water. And so they could had some agriculture practice in the swamp looking like areas they developed extensive tomato plantations.

Myanmar was an outlier experience and it was even more special because we were there just before the country starts to open. We probably have seen a picture that we'll look very different in the next 10-15 years.


And all this takes me to June. The exotic country that made scaried about walking in the streets? I don't know anymore. The broken social circle or the emptiness of referrences in Phnom Penh feeling as a foreigner? I don't feel either. Living abroad is something like that: you get into a roller-coaster, go up, down, warm and cold, and in some particular moment that you can't even notice, you get used to that. The place becomes your home and instead of aggresive it turns confortable. Phnom Penh it's a really good city to retire or to live with comparatively lower salaries for Western standards.

June came in a farewell mood, and so it's being. First, in the beginning of the month we said goodbye to Sahej, our Indian, partner of ups and downs. And soon I will go to. I alredy wished the clock to go faster while here but now I think it could go slower. That's life, at the same time I'm excited to visit China and get back to Brazil, there's the feeling that holds me here, that doesn't want to let the friends and the simples life I've found here to go.

Since we concluded all our work within the garment factories - delivering the final report and the money switching hands - the owners of our company decided to treat us with a full-paid weekend in Sihanoukville in the last holiday. We went there squeezed but it was a very funny experience and an official moment for all of us to celebrate. We did our trip to Bokkor Mountain, which surprised us for the high quality roads and the cold and wind in the top. The Cambodians got so excited about the fog and cold - fantastic according to them.

In the last saturday I had my farewell party, and for my happiness almost all of our staff attended to it and some other great friends I've met here in Cambodia. So I could summarize all the meaning of this experience and pay my respect to the people that contributed to that, I made this video that was shown in the party.

On 29th I take my flight, this time for the last time leaving from Phnom Pen in some years. Every day that grows in my mind and makes me wonder about my experience here, my learning, mistakes and correct decisions, etc.

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