I feel a lot of pressure to make this an excellent post, because I talked so much about the importance of strong writing at Barcamp Phnom Phen on Saturday. Now I look back and I want to recast my presentation a bit: the most important thing, make no mistake, for bloggers in Cambodia is the content they produce.
And that’s something they don’t need a presentation to understand.
Wikitravel today says this about Phom Penh:
For western visitors, even those who have visited other Asian cities, Phnom Penh can be a bit of a shock. It can be very hot and (in the dry season) dusty, its infrastructure is lacking, and it is very poor – much poorer than, for example, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Visitors who cannot adjust to rubbish filled streets, constant harassment from tuk tuk drivers and touts, and large numbers of beggars, may not enjoy the city (though by no means will you experience all of these things.)
My experience there was completely different. We saw live music, ate great food along the Mekong, and bargained with tuk tuk drivers, who were generally good natured. I did not feel harassed in the least. The streets of Phnom Penh (which are relatively clean, I might add) are peppered with Internet cafes advertising email, VOIP and hi5 social networking access. There are computer shops and small web design and tech businesses. It’s a youthful, friendly city where people are interested in learning and curious about the world.
It was important to me that I put what I was seeing into context. I visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, otherwise known as S-21, where 17,000 passed through the high school-turned-jail on their way to the Killing Fields from 1975-1979. Only seven survived. It was a sobering explanation for Phnom Penh’s youthful feeling; a generation of educated people was eliminated by the Khmer Rouge.
So I appreciated greatly the bloggers and journalists and techies who I met at Barcamp Phnom Penh. I see them as a very important generation who work very hard to revive a professional and literate culture not just for themselves but for people all over the world who want to understand Cambodia. (In English, try the comprehensive writing of Tharum Bun on Global Voices, news tidbits from Soponrith, nice vignettes on vrkhmer.com, or Seanheng’s sweet photoblog with occasional essays.)
The organizers nudged everyone to suggest topics or lead sessions. I couldn’t hope to repay our gracious hosts – I certainly learned more at Barcamp than any of the campers learned from me – but I talked a bit about the importance of good writing. The campers estimated that there are between 500 and 1,000 English-language blogs in Cambodies – not very many in the grand scheme of things. So I wanted to help those bloggers (or “cloggers” for Cambodian bloggers) reflect on their own writing, since they are helping people all over the world to learn about their country.
(See Dengue Fever for some ambiance music.)