Just me and my mustache

It’s mid-October. Baseball and midterms season. Welcome to grad-school: Take 2!

So here I am, in the library on a Thurs. night, hungry, unsure how it is already mid-October, feeling the gruel of being in the midst the ~2 weeks of midterms, wishing for warmer weather, and anxious for this weekend. This Saturday we have a double header in the Fletcher School community with the first cultural night of the year, Africana Night, followed by the school’s “official unofficial” band, Los Fletcheros’ first gig of the year!!!

But what’s really gotten me (distracted and) excited this evening is an email from the folks over at MOVEMBER. What is Movember you ask? Mustache growing + Month of November = Raising money towards and awareness of Men’s Health! Every year students at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy organize a group to grow mustaches (at school) and raise money (online) for this sweet cause. The results are filled with fun and “making fun” while addressing this important issue.

Check out the Movember site here, and consider participating in the mustache-growing extravaganza next month, or donating to a fellow chap/friend/Fletcher student who does!

Stay tuned for profiles of some of Fletcher’s Movember participants!

Hey everybody!

It’s been more than a month since…

I’ve gotten back from Cambodia.

I was basking in fun under the sun at Burning Man 2010.

I started my 2nd year at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

I’ve posted a blog on Asi es la vida.

It’s time to start writing again.

Yup. So here I am;

Ready….. begin!

In addition to irregular posts at Asi es la vida, I will now also begin irregularly blogging forThe Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Fletcher has several blogs. This summer I posted a few on “Fletcher Reflections” and I’ve since joined the “Year in the Life of….” [insert name of Fletcher student] crew of bloggers.

Here’s the first post of the (school) year…

View from a room with a view

So. Why? You might ask, did I decide I wanted to blog for The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy?

I like to think, try out, and process things out loud and with other people

I want to “work on my writing” (lifelong process people)

I wanted another (fun) form of procrastination

I have so many interesting things to tell you! (Uhhhm, you be the judge)

I really and truly love The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and the experiences that it brings

I thought I might learn something new in the process

On the other hand, I didn’t start blogging for Fletcher because…

I get paid to do it and needed (another) job

I actually think you’re going to read my posts all the way through

I wanted to become famous or have future employers judge me by my blogging

I think I have spare time to read, write, rewrite, edit and perfect my posts

Now that we are clear, I’ve said it once and will say it again: If you have to come back to anywhere from an awesome, fun-filled summer, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy is a fantastic place to land! It’s been wonderful being back. Everybody talks about the community at Fletcher and they are not exaggerating. The people, the places, the comeraderie, and most of all, the fun (!) that can be had while pursuing a degree in the field of international affairs, law, and diplomacy. Now that I’m settled and nestling back in, I’ll be bringing you up-to-speed on the pulse of a(nother) year in the life of… Me.

Talk to you soon ya’ll.

Drinking my laast mango-pomegranate-orange tango shake and sipping a long black before heading state-side later this morning! Here’s the last Cambodge news round-up for the summer!

‘Bold plan’ for Mekong area rail link approved

By: Ian Timberlake in AFP, August 21, 2010

A “bold” plan for a railway system connecting more than 300 million people who live around one of the world’s great rivers, the Mekong, was approved Friday, officials said. Ministers from Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam adopted the plan which they called “a significant first step toward the development of an integrated… railway system”.

"Sea of Trees" in Mondulkiri

Stronger wildlife laws needed, officials say

By: Chhay Channyda in Phnom Penh Post, August 19, 2010

NEW laws and harsher penalties are needed to prosecute people who trade in illegal wildlife, government officials said yesterday. Speaking at the opening of a two-day regional anti-wildlife trafficking workshop in Phnom Penh, Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana said that a lack of concrete wildlife management legislation combined with weak penalties for illegal traders meant there was little to deter would-be perpetrators.

Cellphones help Cambodian students — to cheat

By: Dara Saoyuth, AFP, August 19, 2010

Standing in front of a school in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, Than Vichea read out answers over his mobile telephone to his sister who was taking national exams inside. He was not alone. Even the police deployed outside schools to stop relatives providing answers to the more than 100,000 students who sat the tests last month could not prevent cheating in many of the exam centres.

Commodities Pork sales decline over blue-ear fear

By: Jimmy Ellingham and Veng Rachana in Phnom Penh Post, August 16, 2010

PHNOM Penh pork vendors are selling up to two-thirds less meat than usual, as consumers continue to stay home due to concerns about blue-ear disease in pigs. Government officials have warned there is a risk people could suffer severe diarrhoea if they eat infected meat that has not been cooked properly, although a United Nations official has said the disease could not be contracted by humans.

Cambodian Woman Faces Prison in Land Grabbing Case

By: Mu Sochua, August 16, 2010

Mu Sochua took part today, Monday 16th August, in a Press Conference organized in the context of a recent land dispute case (in Kompong Thom Province – see full case description in previous post). Local representative, Lem Nath, has been physically abused and thrown into prison for stepping up in the case of local land grabbing.


The beat goes on … and on

By: Phnom Penh Post, August 13, 2010

The musical aspect, the cello playing, is minimal. It simply intersperses an emotive, and at times slightly paranoid, spiel by the good doctor, mainly to raise funds, but also to pay out on all those he has deemed as attempting to stand in his troubled way, trapped as he is by his own unappreciated philanthropy.

Littering law cleans up

By: Chhay Channyda, August 13, 2010

CITY Hall has collected more than 9 million riels (US$2,148) in fines since a crackdown on littering began in May, an official said yesterday. Chiek Ang, director of the municipal Environment Department, said most of the fees, collected between May 1 and July 31, had been paid by people caught littering in marketplaces.

Rice Fields in Central Cambodia

Climate yields rice concerns

By: Jerermy Mullins and Sun Mesa in Phnom Penh Post, August 11, 2010

TROPICAL Asia’s rice yields are at risk because of climate change, as evidence suggests higher temperatures have already cut growth rates as much as 20 percent in some areas, according the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organisation.

Facing history in Cambodia

By Akshan deAlwis in Boston Globe, August 10, 2010

Akshan deAlwis will be a freshman at Noble and Greenough School in the fall.

I was nine when I read “First They Killed my Father.” It had a profound impact on me and I wanted to learn more about both the glory that was the Khmer civilization and its more recent history of conflict.

Photo by: Heng Chivoan

Battambang demonstrators get bussed out of town

By: May Titthara in Phnom Penh Post, August 9, 2010

UNICIPAL and Daun Penh district police yesterday forcibly broke up a demonstration near Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Phnom Penh home by villagers from Battambang province, loading them onto a bus out of town in a move that drew swift condemnation from rights workers.

Cambodia marches away from its troubled past

By: The National News Paper, August 7, 2010

This year the Cambodian economy is expected to grow by just 5 per cent, but for most of the past decade the economy has registered an annual growth rate of about 10 per cent – an almost China-style growth story that the world press has largely ignored. Given this economic background, outsiders should not regard the Cambodia Stock Exchange as some sort of vanity project. If it opens and succeeds it can serve as another avenue for attracting foreign capital to a country desperately in need of development funds.

Government Can Help in Tribunal Reconciliation

By: Sok Khemara in VOA Khmer, August 6, 2010

Compensation for victims of the Khmer Rouge is in part a responsibility of the government, a tribunal monitor said Thursday. “Because the state has an obligation to take responsibility for all kinds of people’s suffering,” said Lat Ky, a court monitor for the rights group Adhoc, as a guest on “Hello VOA.”

"Sea of Trees" Mondulkiri, Cambodia

Traveling through Mondulkiri province in the northern highlands of Cambodia earlier this month, I found myself on the top of a hillside, taking in deep breaths of crisp fresh air, and enjoying the peaceful view onto the “sea of trees”. But somewhere in the back of my head I was thinking about the terrible stories I’ve heard about deforestation in Cambodia and couldn’t help wondering if this was an anomaly, or how long these trees would be there?

Cambodia is ranked the 3rd worst country for deforestation rates in the world.  I’ve heard people in Phnom Penh say, where you would once find vast forests in the northern regions of the country, there are now long stretches of green plains, hills, and farmland.

Cropland in Mondulkiri

The causes of deforestation have evolved with the changing political and economic climate in Cambodia, with timber sales funding the Khmer Rouge regime and subsequent wars, in addition to local needs for additional cropland and daily supplies of firewood for cooking.  According to the World Wildlife Organization, “the Lower Mekong Dry Forests once blanketed north-eastern Thailand, southern Laos, Cambodia and parts of Vietnam but a majority has been cleared for farming.”

More than 80 percent of Cambodia’s population lives in the countryside and depends on subsistence farming. “[Today] the main cause of the loss of forest is the increase in the population” said Deputy Governor Leng Vuth in a 2010 UNDP report, “we now have 70,000 residents compared to 10,000 – a seven-fold increase in a 10-year period.”

Our tourist guide's home

While visiting Mondulkiri, I asked a tour guide familiar with the region whether he kew if the forests were being protected or not.  He said there are now vast stretches of land where it is prohibited for people to cut down certain species of trees. He pointed to a checkpoint as we passed one alongside the road and said, “that’s where police stop cars and trucks to make sure they do not have any of the illegal [kinds of] lumber in their cargo.” “And if they do?” I asked. “If they do find that expensive kind of [prohibited] tree, you will have to pay,” he said, uttering expletives about government corruption, he continued, “so you still can cut down the illegal kinds [of lumber] but you will have to pay [the police].”

According to a recent article in the Phnom Penh Post, illegal logging continues despite Prime Minister Hun Sen’s efforts to make clear he would no longer tolerate military involvement in the facilitation of illegal logging. His announcement of a crackdown on all illegal logging has been largely ignored as a lack of enforcement, local official’s involvement in it, their implicit impunity, and a back-log of legal cases that would hold individuals accountable for illegal logging, all seem to contribute to a continuation of the status quo. It is clear that the current laws alone are not enough to halt natural resource destruction in the Cambodia’s forests.

International organizations including the WWF are working in the Mondulkiri and neighboring northeastern provinces where most of the wildlife crimes take place to help enforce the environmental protection in the region.  One of the guides  told us that teams from these international organizations spend weeks camped out in protected areas sleeping in hammocks deep in the forest in order to investigate suspected violations of the regulations.  As is often the case with enforcing national laws at the local level, the central government lacks presence and sometimes access to the region, and so international organizations work to fill the gap. When I asked what role the local government plays in protecting the forests he said, “the local government… we do not know. We do not know their plan.”

Destination...?

As many of my peers at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy conclude their summer jobs and internships by spending a few days traveling around, in the US and abroad, I found “ The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Travelers” a timely read with useful suggestions on how to get the most out of your travel time while approaching “difference” with respect and reverence.

I know many Fletcher students already consider themselves to be “seasoned travelers”, wanderlusts, or “world citizens”. Many were born and/or raised in countries these bloggers refer to as being traveled to. But regardless of which direction we are traveling, or the international status we profess to have, I’m sure we could each tell many stories of time traveling where we found ourselves wishing we had let go of certain standards and expectations, communicated more effectively despite the lack of common language, or gone with the flow rather than rowing an upstream battle.  And chances are we have all come across a traveler or two we wished we could hand over a copy of these tips to.

First student of Ajan Malee's Int'l Cooking School!

If I were to add or emphasize one of the habits listed below it would be to challenge yourself to do things outside of your comfort zone and engage with the local environment and people. Some might say this is inevitable when you are traveling, but I find that so many destinations cater to the international traveling scene that these days it can be difficult to step outside the tourist track, go beyond your comfort, and to truly interact with the surroundings!

What advice would you give travelers as they embark upon new adventures and voyages? Which travel experiences are you reminded of when reading these seven habits?

Ajan Malee making sure I try *all* of the food!

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Travelers

When people hear that we’ve been traveling around the world, they often imagine the two of us relaxing on a beach, drinking mai tais and reclining under flaming tiki torches.

Sure.

In reality, it’s no wonder that the word “travel” is derived from the French word travail meaning “to work hard, to toil.” While we may occasionally indulge in beachside cocktails here and there, our days are typically filled with on-the-fly problem solving in ever-changing contexts: finding decent places to sleep, negotiating safe transport, and keeping ourselves well and well-fed so that we may focus on understanding the places we visit and the people we meet.

But this makes independent travel sound like something of an exercise in endurance. Much more than that, it facilitates the development and sharpening of a rather specific set of life skills that not only come in handy on the road but also translate in the real world (you know, the place where tiki torches are replaced by fluorescent track lights).

In no particular order:

1. Seek First to Adapt, Then to Complain (a.k.a., Adaptability) – Living outside your comfort zone becomes the norm on the road. New environments provide different challenges; what worked in the last country may not work in the next. All that stuff you became accustomed to just last week? Forget about it. Independent travel forces you to continually size up each situation and adapt accordingly. Your resulting experience depends on it. Sometimes your life may, too.

We’re reminded of: When we (two American non-Muslims) were presented with a steaming bowl of goat bits at a feast to break the Ramadan fast in Kyrgyzstan, we joined in by reluctantly chewing on a jaw bone.

2. Plan With Multiple Outcomes in Mind (a.k.a, Planning) – Determine which variables are most important to you (e.g., comfort, cost, risk, time), do your planning, and optimize accordingly. In doing so, you create not only Plans A and B, but also Plans C and D, too. In the end, circumstances force you to a hastily crafted Plan E, which you later realize may have been the best plan all along.

We’re reminded of: When a Chinese train station attendant informs us that the train no longer runs to our next destination, we don’t force it. We find another one…and stumble upon a Tibetan opera festival.

3. Work a way in. Leave a way out. (a.k.a., Problem Solving) – Independent travel presents myriad problems to solve, from the mundane (how to find your way to the bus station) to the critical (whether taking that bus will present personal danger). Strikes close transport routes, hotels fill up, and conflicting information confounds. The constant challenge: work your way into the circumstances you want, while continuously leaving room for an exit strategy should the ground shift under your feet.

We’re reminded of: When the land border crossing from Uzbekistan into Kazakhstan engulfed us in a sea of humanity. We used not only our physical strength but also our wit to find a way out, barely.

4. Find the Common Ground (a.k.a., Negotiation and Compromise) – As in life, fruitful travel experiences depend often on seeking an outcome where all involved are reasonably satisfied and feel that they have been respected in the process. And we are not just talking about agreeing on the right price for your hotel room or compromising with your travel buddies about which bar to go to. Win-win relates to the larger issues of negotiating common space where prevailing cultural norms and standards may be at odds with your own.

We’re reminded of: In the hills of Svaneti, Georgia, our host family shares their emotions, we share their sorrow. Then we find a graceful exit.

5. Tune In, Filter Often (a.k.a., Observation and Perception) – Seek out the signal while filtering out the noise, particularly in order to fully appreciate what it is that you’ve come to see: the culture, the people, the country. And while you keep your eyes wide open to all that is new around you, also keep in mind that wide-eyed perception is well-served when paired with a finely-tuned bullshit detector.

We’re reminded of: In the middle of the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan, two Tajik soldiers train their Kalashnikov rifles on us and ask for our documents. We formulate an excuse to return to the view of our driver and jeep.

6. Have Less, Do More (a.k.a., Resourcefulness) – Develop an ability to very quickly uncover relevant sources, glean meaningful data and assimilate it. Information can be found everywhere – from local people on the street to other travelers to quick searches on the internet. But the trick to finding the golden nuggets: remain open to the right people while sifting out the shills and the under-informed.

We’re reminded of: Our goal: hiking in Nepal’s Himalayas without breaking the bank. We were astounded by the prices we were quoted initially (in the $1000s of dollars) for this trip-of-a-lifetime trek for which we eventually paid about $500. How? We performed some online and on-the-ground research, talked to everyone we met who completed the trek, and triangulated our data. The result: we took the same trek as supermodel Gemma Ward.

7. Find a Common Language, Create One if You Must (a.k.a., Communication) – Interacting with people is arguably the most rewarding part of travel. It can also be the most exhausting. Having to frequently adjust to different cultures and languages takes both skill and energy. Leverage your non-verbal and verbal communication skills in order to build bridges of trust and worthwhile relationships.

Source: http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/2009/09/7-habits-of-highly-effective-travelers

The Phnom Penh Post reported last week that courts have announced a resolution in the defamation case against Cambodian Parliament Member Mu Sochua brought about by Prime Minister Hun Sen. The fine Ms. Sochua has refused to pay will be deducted from her monthly salary. The decision brings to a close the long political battle between the Prime Minister and Mu Sochua who has called the legal process “unclear” throughout.  In reaction to the announcement by the courts last week she replied, “this injustice makes me want to continue my politics.”

Sochua fine to be docked from pay

By: Meas Sokchea in Phnom Penh Post, August 12, 2010

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Photo by: Pha Lina

SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua speaks to reporters at the Supreme Court after her defamation conviction was upheld in June.

PHNOM Penh Municipal Court has authorised the National Assembly to withhold Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua’s salary to pay an 8.5 million-riel (US$2,023) fine levied against her for defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen.

In a citation dated Tuesday and signed by Judge Chea Sok Heang, the court said the parliament’s financial department would withhold her monthly salary of 4,204,899 riels until the full amount was recovered. It said the docking of her pay did not require her consent.

“Mu Sochua must not block or prohibit an official in charge of salaries at the financial department of the parliament from seizing the debt. The president of the financial department of the parliament must carry out the above decision,” the citation read.

In July last year, Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Mu Sochua of defaming Hun Sen after she filed her own defamation lawsuit against him. The conviction has been upheld on two appeals since.

Last month, the court authorised parliament to withhold an additional 8 million riels in compensation that she owed the premier.

When contacted yesterday, Mu Sochua said she had never agreed to pay the fine, and that docking it from her salary was a violation of her rights.
“This court system is an unclear system and it is a political tool,” she said.

She described the docking of her pay as a form of “force” and “intimidation”, but said she would live to fight another day.

“My political life will be alive until the end of my life. This injustice makes me want to continue my politics,” she said.

Cheam Yeap, a senior lawmaker for the Cambodian People’s Party, said he had not seen the court citation, but that Mu Sochua’s pay would be docked once the parliament’s Permanent Committee met to approve the decision.

I stumbled across this short video from Global Tolerance and wanted to share.  A reminder to show-up, live life to the fullest, and be kind.