Days 3-4: 22nd – 23rd February 2018: UCPE Conference at Sunrise.
To be clear, the conference is at Sunrise Cambodia, the charitable school foundation (http://newhopecambodia.com/), not Sunrise as in time!
UCPE (the University Circle of Professional Educators) is mounting a conference for educators here as a combined educational and fundraising event. I am to deliver two keynote speeches here on consecutive days, before we move on to a larger and more sophisticated version of the same event in Bangkok. But here in Siem Reap, the infrastructure is inevitably more basic, with repeated power breakdowns and more constrained physical resources for conference delivery. It matters not one iota to me. I will offer the message I have bring to whoever wants to listen, wherever that takes me.
But whilst the physical limitations are no issue, the English language capability is much harder to deal with. We try working with an interpreter, but give up part way through the presentation. My talk, entitled ‘Do Androids Dream,’ explores the challenges of skill transfer in a world that makes knowledge redundant almost as fast as it is learned. But this is not an easy concept to convey in translation, and I have pitched the level of the speech based on my experiences in the Philippines last year. Bad mistake. The talk misses the mark. Other speakers, whose focus is much more on practical teaching resources and how to access them, have an offering that is much more obviously relevant to teachers in the Siem Reap of 2018.
Come the night, sleep eludes me for reason of jet lag. I manage about two hours, adding to the effect of sleepless on the journey from the UK itself. At this stage all I can do is hope I can sustain, for I seek to make up by energetic delivery what is lacking in comprehension of content.
By day two I am concerned that the second speech will go the same way. ‘The Machine Stops’ (the title, of course, having been borrowed from E M Forster’s short story of 1909), is actually a metaphorical exploration of what happens when a society obsesses with technology. The key phrase in the speech ‘To Learn, To Love and To Grow,’ is immediately latched onto as a key focus for the educational process in which these folk are involved. At coffee break much appreciation is expressed, many books are bought and signed (intriguingly, mostly ‘A Home For Other Gods’) and many photos taken. I am relieved that this time I have it right. What accounts for the difference is impossible to say. “We does what we cans,” as the BFG so eloquently put it.
The conference is brought to an early close at 2.00pm, as we have a flight to catch to Bangkok; but not before a major exercise in certificate presentation to much applause and more picture-taking has been navigated. I have learned to hold a smile, unbroken for a full fifteen minutes now. Is this, I wonder, an authorship skill?
More tuk-tuks are summoned and we depart for the flight. As the wind flows past me, I observe the enormous numbers of hotels that line the main highway out to the airport, completed, under construction, or announced on billboard. On the road, though cars are well in evidence, the motorbikes and tuk-tuks comprise maybe 80% of the traffic. With the immense pace of economic growth in evidence, I am wondering how long it will be before four-wheeled vehicles are in the majority, and before private drivers outnumber tut-tuks. By that time these folk will no doubt have increased their income, both nationally and individually. But if care is not taken, Siem Reap will go the traffic-jam-infested, fumed-choked way of so many other Asian cities. Yet I observe that virtually all road users are respectful of the 40kph speed limit. This bodes well for a sensible approach to road use. The future actually looks quite promising for Cambodia. I very much hope that I will be able to return for a longer visit. There is something soft, something warm and inviting in the spirit of this people. I would like to know more of them and their national journey.
At check-in, I realise with a jolt that I have left my coat at the hotel. Worse still, the coat contains my spare batteries for my cochlear implant without which I will be close to profound deafness. I’ve told myself before, I must never forget I am deaf – the implications, particularly in a foreign country, can be devastating when the technology cuts out for lack of power. I’ve told myself a dozen times, a hundred times, but I obviously do not listen. I look sheepishly at my companions, Dr Pascual and Gerry Motsinger, who make phone calls and send Messenger messages. Soon the problem is resolved. Others in the party following on a later flight will bring the coat and its content to Bangkok. Through in the departure lounge I find Costa Coffee. In a John Wesley moment, my heart is strangely warmed at this sight from home. Naturally, I avail myself of its offering. Despite my one-man attempts at self-sabotage, the tour is going well.