Wednesday, October 24, 2012

So I attended Barcamp PhnomPenh 2012

Barcamp Phnom Penh 2012 was organized in September. The blog post wasn't published until now because its owner was busy cranking the code and .. lazy for the rest of the time.

So I attended BarcampPhnomPenh 2012. The main purpose was simple because many dudes in my company made it last year but I didn't and it sounded like they had real fun there. The other purpose was to employ an Cambodian geek, because we are having a project with a major ISP of Cambodia and it is nice to have someone on-site. And in general, I always welcome diversity in my team.

A Vietnamese at Cambodia

My friends described their experience at the previous Barcamp as "just like celebrities". Cambodian loved to take photos with them and treated them really nice. From what we were taught about the Cambodian-Vietnamese war, starting from 25 December 1978, the communism government of Vietnam erased Khmer Rogue's Democratic Kampuchea. And as Khmer Rogue is described as such a rotten government, responsible for death of million Khmer citizens and the trials to judge its leaders occurred till a few years ago; the act of Vietnamese government seems to be a pretty good thing, doesn't it? Given that piece of historical knowledge, I found the nice treatment my friends received understandable. 

However the same treatment didn't happen to me :) It wasn't not nice, not at all, the Cambodian we met were friendly to us as to any random foreigners. Just that I was curious about the difference in my friends' description and my experience. After reading this article, I was glad that we were treated well as any other foreigners. Vietnam and Cambodia have a long lasting political relationship, and no matter how do I look at it, it is completely a  ugly mess. Under certain aspects, the relationship is similar to that between Vietnam and China. The idea of celebrity Vietnamese was erased from my mind shortly.

Meet local people, for real

The Facebook stream of the BarcampPP page was very lively. I took it as a reflection of a healthy community. Turned out, I was not really impressed by the quality of the people I met there, technically. I had two talks, one about advanced JavaScript, the other about entrepreneurship. Despite some tiny incidents such as the organizers misinterpreted the word "entrepreneur" and tried helping by changing it to "enterprise" or I had to load my slides using a 3G dongle, I think I did some good speeches and made the message clean. However, the developers attending the JS talk didn't know JavaScript. They seemed to be familiar with C/C++, pretty old-school and low level stuff. And they barely spoke, so no discussion was generated. The entrepreneurs in the second talk were a bit more talkative, but they were not really into sharing their thinking, ideas and resources. Somehow I had a feeling that few people there actually were carrying out their plan. Anyway, as there was a big language barrier, any judgment is hardly justified.

Another mismatch, not only at Barcamp PP but also Barcamp Saigon, is the expectation of the organizers and mine. I want to meet brilliant people and listen to astonishing speeches, learn from them and share the knowledge. The size doesn't matter, as long as good discussion can be found. But the organizers aimed at a large event, with thousands of people (it must be 1k+ attendants in the first day). Most were students, who didn't know many things nor know one thing well. And the sharing spirit was definitely lacking. It was more like lecturing (I'd not even call it educating because there were limited communication from the two sides).

A glare at Cambodia-Vietnam economy

Despite of its rapid growth in recent years, Cambodian economy is still relatively weak compared with most neighbouring countries. The shadow of uncontrolled inflation in the past is still haunting the country. Although Cambodia official currency is the Reil, the sign of dollarization is strong here. USD is used widely for all kind of transactions. Outside of Phnom Penh, VND and Baht are used at areas close to the border crossings.

A prospective and well-paid career in another country has always been interesting to me. At the very least, it is a great travelling experience. I had high hope that many other young Cambodian share the same idea. We placed our posters at the job board, and I had already had two talks (about technology and economy) but that didn't make a clean hit. Thinking that we could explicitly raise the interest of the attendants about a career in one of the most dynamic city in South East Asia, my colleagues presented the last talk of us in the event, "Job opportunities in Vietnam". Any nothing has ever surprised me like what happened there. Before any talk was made, few people showed up in the room, and 70% of them are expats living in both Cambodia and Vietnam. It wasn't because of the bad speech, nor useless information, the people just actually had little interest in working in Vietnam. And at that point, perhaps you might also have realized, all my expectations at the beginning of this trip failed desperately. 


There is no conclusion. I am glad that I came to Cambodia. That gave me a chance to feel the country by my own senses rather than having my mind stuffed up with pre-judges and stereo-type thinking. I'm glad that once again I am reminded about how big the world is and how much left out there to learn.