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RADIO CONSULTANT: PHNOM
PENH, CAMBODIA

by
GRANT GODDARD

www.grantgoddard.co.uk
April 2004
I pull back the bedroom curtains and, from my window, see a huge elephant
ambling along the promenade above the Mekong Riv...
white blouse and navy skirt, rushes out of the school gates, runs across the
road and, without a hint of self-consciousnes...
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'Radio Consultant: Phnom Penh, Cambodia' by Grant Goddard

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Personal account of a radio consultant working for the BBC in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, written by Grant Goddard in April 2004 for Ariel magazine.

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'Radio Consultant: Phnom Penh, Cambodia' by Grant Goddard

  1. 1. RADIO CONSULTANT: PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA by GRANT GODDARD www.grantgoddard.co.uk April 2004
  2. 2. I pull back the bedroom curtains and, from my window, see a huge elephant ambling along the promenade above the Mekong River. I know it must be 6.30am. Every day at this time Sam Bo, the only elephant in Phnom Penh, walks to his day-job giving rides to children around the base of the city’s only hill. The street beside him is already filled with rush-hour traffic, since most shops and offices open daily at seven. Weaving in and out between huge chrome-clad and tinted windscreen 4-by-4’s driven by NGO staff and government officials are hundreds of motorbikes, which have totally replaced the humble bicycle as Cambodians’ preferred mode of transport. If there is a Highway Code, nobody seems to have read it. Confusingly, traffic travels in both directions on both sides of the road and often on the pavement too. You see young schoolchildren riding motorbikes to school, and parents carrying three or four children precariously on a single bike. I have seen a motorbike carrying a full-size palm tree, another loaded with an iron girder which could easily have decapitated someone, and a bike carrying three dogs, one of which had its paws on the handlebars. Few people wear crash helmets, but most wear surgical masks (available in various colours from market stalls) to keep the dust, pollution and bugs out of their mouth and nose. Phnom Penh is the L.A. of Asia – nobody walks. What were once pavements are now clogged with parked cars, row upon row of parked bikes, impromptu shops, and families sat on plastic patio chairs selling petrol in old soft drink bottles from the kerb. The few people who walk around this city – the very poor and foreigners – are forced to negotiate the gutter, where we risk being hit by bikes coming at us from all directions. In the morning, I work at the Women’s Media Centre of Cambodia where I am training four enthusiastic staff to produce a youth phone-in show that launches in May. They are very excited that the Centre has just been nominated for this year’s One World Broadcasting Trust Special Award for Development Media. The team share an office in the Centre which they have proudly designated the “BBC Office,” even though they are not BBC staff. The only drawback to working in this beautifully airy, purpose-built broadcast centre is that we are shadowed by a massive transmitter mast in the car park that broadcasts the Centre’s radio station “FM 102” to 60% of Cambodia’s population. Although the custom is to remove one’s shoes before entering the building, staff have to don flip-flops to use electrical equipment such as the photocopier, or risk electrocution from the mast’s 10kW electrical field (as I found out to my peril). At lunchtime, almost everyone goes home for a two-hour siesta that offers slight relief from the constant 35-degree daytime heat. I take lunch at the real BBC office – a villa whose walled garden includes luscious banana and mango trees – with the handful of the 30 local staff who live too far away to return home. Malene, one of two BBC housekeepers, purchases our food from the plethora of nearby pavement snack stalls, according to our culinary preferences, at a cost of less than a dollar each. Dishes are always accompanied by boiled rice or noodles, though Malene once glowed with pride when she presented me with a plate of chips procured from who knows where. After a productive afternoon working at the Women’s Media Centre, I walk home past a school when a girl, aged about eleven and dressed in regulation Radio Consultant: Phnom Penh, Cambodia ©2004 Grant Goddard page 2
  3. 3. white blouse and navy skirt, rushes out of the school gates, runs across the road and, without a hint of self-consciousness, starts a conversation with me in perfect English. After a minute, she sees a motorbike taxi stop outside her school gates, bids me farewell, jumps on the back (side-saddle, as is customary for girls) and waves goodbye as she disappears down the street. She inspires confidence that the future of this country will be bright in her generation’s hands. [First published in 'Ariel', 11 May 2004, p.3] Grant Goddard is a media analyst / radio specialist / radio consultant with thirty years of experience in the broadcasting industry, having held senior management and consultancy roles within the commercial media sector in the United Kingdom, Europe and Asia. Details at http://www.grantgoddard.co.uk Radio Consultant: Phnom Penh, Cambodia ©2004 Grant Goddard page 3

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