Archive for December, 2015

Cambodia

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

Victory Gate at Angkor Thom

I’m sure there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that a key motivation for our Cambodia/Laos trek (see posting below) was to visit Angkor Wat – one of the truly extraordinary locations on the planet. And we were extremely fortunate to have some very knowledgeable (& dedicated) Cambodia experts put together a program for us.

About Asia Travel is a travel company founded more than a decade ago by Andy Booth, an Oxford-trained physicist & former (15-year) investment banker, who moved to Siem Reap after visiting Cambodia on a family vacation. Perhaps not surprisingly, Andy used ‘footfall counts’ & similar analytical data to help develop crowd-avoidance scheduling, and now has a crew of nearly sixty people working in three countries. A key focus of his company is local re-investment…. & 100% of the firm’s profit is targeted at schools.

Upon arriving in Cambodia, we were handed a copy of Andy’s new book, The Angkor Guidebook, a beautifully-produced photo guidebook showing how the sites looked when they came to European attention in the mid & late 19th century; how they look today; and visualizations about how they would have appeared in their (typically 12th Century) heyday, in addition to descriptive text.

Subsequent tour highlights made it a very, very special visit: Angkor Wat at dawn; Ta Prohm, often called the Tomb Raider temple, because notable scenes from that movie were filmed there; Angkor Thom (which means ‘Great City’), a walled city that was capital of the Khmer empire in the 12th Century; the Victory Gate at Angkor Thom (shown in the nearby photo); and an extended mix of rural Cambodian experiences, including tuk-tuk & ox-cart rides; boating excursions and picnics; and a delightful culinary experience at Villa Chandara (at a table adjacent to the British Ambassador), serving five courses (with eleven dishes) of “celebratory Khmer cuisine.”

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

While the Siem Reap part of our trip highlighted the remarkable and truly great achievements of Cambodian history/culture, the Phnom Penh portion gave indications of a much darker side. We visited the infamous Tuol Sleng prison, a high school turned into the notorious S-21 (Security Prison 21) by the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s; and the nearby Choueng Ek “killing fields,” where thousands & thousands of S-21 prisoners lost their lives.

I picked up a copy of Joel Brinkley’s book Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land during our Phnom Penh visit, and it makes for troubling reading. Brinkley won the Pulitzer Prize in 1980 for his reporting covering Cambodian refugees, and his return almost thirty years later suggests that the country still has far to go in recovering from that trauma. Hopefully, efforts such as Andy Booth’s provide both a productive & positive way forward.

Laos

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

We have an annual Fall Break around Thanksgiving time at HNC, & this year we decided to get away & do something very special – and visit both Laos & Cambodia. We were accompanied by Prof. Jacob Kurien & his wife Mary, who helped us plan the trip…. & were delightful traveling companions throughout the trek (even as Mary’s luggage somehow ended up in Urumqi!)

Luang Prabang monks collecting breakfast alms

The Laos portion of the visit included stops in Vientiane & Luang Prabang (the present and former capitals of the country) – with the latter stop a particularly scenic & beautiful location. We watched monks there collect their early morning breakfast alms directly across the street from our hotel; checked out the early morning ‘fresh market’ offering certain types of foods not readily available in New Jersey (or in Nanjing either, for that matter!); and visited the Royal Palace museum and other key tourist sites. Temples were an obvious attraction as well – including a sunset view from the temple atop Mount Phousi.

UNESCO has declared the whole downtown a World Heritage Site, noting it is “an outstanding example of the fusion of traditional architecture and Lao urban structures with those built by the European colonial authorities in the 19th and 20th centuries.” We could certainly see why!

Sunset from the temple on Mount Phousi

Hong Kong & Shenzhen

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

I hadn’t been to Hong Kong in a number of years, so I was very pleased to receive an invitation to participate in UBS’ Asia Energy, Chemicals and Utilities Conference 2015 in the city. It gave me a chance to catch up with some long-time friends like Christine Loh (now the Undersecretary of Environment in the city); Jessica Robinson (who recently became Director of the UN Principles of Responsible Investment [UN PRI] for Asia [ex Japan]); and, of course, Simon Powell, who is Executive Director of UBS Investment Research, & Head of Asian Utilities Research at the company (and who extended the invitation). My UBS presentation was entitled ‘Emissions Trading in China.’

The conference was held up on the 52nd floor of IFC2…. pleasantly reminding me of my former office on the 37th floor of that same building some years ago. I stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel at IFC, in a room with a – distinctly different! – view than the Florentine one noted below. But unfortunately not all interim changes in the city have been positive. I used to routinely visit the Dymocks bookstore in the IFC Mall – now long gone, and replaced by a high-end fashion boutique. Even worse, the favorite Page One bookstore mentioned in my December 2009 posting has suffered a similar fate…. although the Starbucks is still there (& now expanded). Everyone in that coffee shop seemed to be immersed in their mobile phones, however, rather than reading hard copy…. an observation clearly indicative of wistful nostalgia on the part of an inveterate book-reader. [But then again, wistful nostalgia seems to be an all-too-common theme in my HK postings; note, for example, the Jan Morris discussion in my August 2007 posting].

A room with a – very different! – view

I also used the HK visit to catch up with Jeff Hou & Jason Zhou, my energy management colleagues across the border in Shenzhen. I last saw them about a year ago, when we visited an energy information company in Hefei (in Anhui Province)….. & they treated me to yet another sumptuous culinary feast! Given Jason’s frequent U.S. visits in the interim period, his English has improved considerably – & is certainly much, much better than my [essentially non-existent] Chinese!

Green & Clean Forum

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

In recent years, the European Chamber of Commerce in China has held an annual environmental Forum here in Nanjing, & this year’s session not surprisingly focused on air pollution – and was entitled ‘The Air We Breathe: Air Quality Management, Monitoring and Advanced Solutions.’ The Chamber has been very gracious in allowing our HNC students to participate, and I made it a special point to have students enrolled in my ‘Air Pollution and Its Control’ course attend.

I was asked by the Chamber to be a speaker at the Forum, and gave a presentation entitled The Role of MRV (Monitoring, Reporting and Verification) in China’s Emissions Trading. This is obviously a key issue in ensuring that China actually achieves the commitments it has made at the UN’s COP 21 conference in Paris – and so there was considerable interest regarding the topic, both in the meeting itself and subsequent discussions.