I first met Thomas Wanhoff, a German science podcaster, nearly 10 years ago when he relocated to Cambodia from Germany. A few years later, Thomas began traveling around East Asia. It wasn’t until mid-year that he returned to Siem Reap. As always, I enjoy hearing stories from people like Thomas, so last week I met him for a coffee chat at one of his favorite places, Brown Coffee on Sisowath Quay.
In the interview, I asked him about his early involvement with the BarCamp communities and about his experiences during the past decade traveling through Phnom Penh, Ho Chi Minh City, Vientiane, and Bangkok.
Question: Please introduce yourself in one tweet.
Answer: German writer, dog lover and Barcamp enthusiast who moves around in South-East Asia
Q: When did you first land in Phnom Penh?
A: In August 2007, just a few days before the Clogger Summit. I heard from someone about this event and emailed Viirak, asking if I can join, and I was overwhelmed by hospitality I experienced. Also, there I made my first ever presentation in English.
Q: What was Phnom Penh like back then: technology, infrastructure, community?
A: Internet at home was only affordable with a 256k Modem, but restricted from 7pm-7am. So even back then I preferred coffee shops and some restaurants with free wifi. At this time the KhmerOS was developed, and the community started to form and expand. And blog.
Q: You’re a BarCamp nomad? Tell me what is it like? What’s your most favorite session to date?
A: I co-organized Barcamps in Phnom Penh, HCMC, Vientiane (Laos) and Bangkok, and it was always an amazing experience. Mainly because we could prove that such a concept works in those countries. People are able to create things on their own if they are allowed to. One favorite session was in Bangkok about how to run a company by Karsten Aichholz, and I learned a lot from Phnom Penh-based Christopher Brown. And of course my How To Make Pizza in Pan session was a lot of fun.
Q: What are the 3 things you like most about Cambodia? (please explain why?)
A: People, because those I know are incredible kind and friendly, but also smart. The desire to learn here is impressive.
Living standard: I actually like the imperfection here. Yes, the garbage in the streets is annoying, and so are some dirt roads. But those aren’t important things. And Khmer make the best out of it.
Culture and history: Coming from a continent where we were taught that the roman empire and the empire of Charlemagne were the biggest thing on earth, it is good to know that Cambodia had this at basically the same time in a different part of the world. Gives you a different perspective.
Q: You’ve just started learning Khmer language. What’s the experience (challenges)?
A: I am at early stage. What I think is important is to know how to read, because you get a better understanding of the pronunciation, and you get a lot of motivation. You start recognizing letters. I was able to read “Wing” and “Mini-Mart” in Khmer, that was a huge. Challenge is that it is not getting easier when you are older, but hey, that’s why we moved to Asia, because we like challenges.
Q: As you’ve been living in Vietnam, Laos, Thailand the past decade, how do you describe the common things among these cities? And what are the most awkward things to you?
A: The most interesting experience having lived in Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand is that people are less different as they may think. They have a lot of things in common. In particular Laos, Thailand and Cambodia. Food, Language and culture are not that much different. It would be good if those countries (and people) start to discover more what they have in common rather than pointing out differences. Awkward: It took me some time to understand that connections are the most vital thing in Asia, and that time is not so much important as in Germany. But: I still believe in punctuality.
Thomas currently lives with wife and 5 cute dogs in Siem Reap. Read his blog: Thomas Wanhoff in Cambodia