Monday, June 27, 2011

fun facts

Things people hold in their hands while driving a moto or riding a bike:
-knives (yes, more than one)
-a saw
-a small hand axe
-a baby
-the hand of someone on a parallel moto, bike, and/or tuk tuk
-their moto helmet

Today, a drunk school director (from another school) attended my English class. He was recently in a moto accident and his wife wanted him to stop drinking to prevent future accidents. You draw your own conclusions.He said he is too busy to study English normally because of work. I think he's too busy because of all the stitches he's getting at the health center.

I had a dream that I had hair on my legs. I know unreal, right?

I have a mosquito racket, it's shaped like a tennis raquet, and it electrocutes mosquitoes. I kill at least 5 mosquitoes a day. And yet there are still more every time I come back.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


I'm teaching myself about economics through some textbooks I finagled from Asia Foundation. Don't worry, if I figure this stuff out maybe some Cambodian students can eventually benefit. But, I've gone through chapter 1 and so far it just seems like a bunch of jargon used to talk about a bunch of theoretical graphs that use fake data that doesn't seem to really explain much about the world that I didn't already know, but maybe the "how to get actual useful data" part is coming soon. Of course, I decided to start with macro so maybe its my fault and really i just want to understand what people are talking about. I don't think these tools will particularly change how I analyze the world but it'll go far in helping me understand all the talking going on by people that make policy decisions.

I have noticed the amount of redundancy between fields and the subtle differences in definitions or practice. For example, there's something called the "Other-things-equal" assumption which most scientists just call holding things constant...I don't really understand the name either since the other factors are not equal. They are just constant. Do we really need to name this assumption a misleading name? Really I don't think it needs a name at all.

I think syntax and wording is the most frustrating aspect of any science because we insist on using an inexact system to explain things in exact terms. I think the field of learning and memory in neuroscience is a prime example of how syntax and wording holds the field back. Depending on the researcher, the definition of working memory changes. Depending on the researcher, the term working memory may never even be used, but instead is replaced by a number of other terms. This is a result of scientists trying to use words to define, what is currently, an abstract concept. The problem with this is that you then have to use an inexact term to conduct stringent experiments and assign specific cause and effects and exact facts to this term.The intrinsic vagueness in the term then creates debate when trying to explain the results. And then if you crossover fields you get the same concepts with different terms and slightly different interpretations. Even the "scientific method" was different in the Economics book. Typically, in a science class you learn that you ask a question first. That is usually step one in the scientific method. Apparently in economics you make observations and you jump straight to the hypothesis. Sort of skips the whole scientific curiosity/inquiry part of things.

I've noticed that lately I think about things much more critically than before. And yet I think I'm also much more of an idealist/optimist than before. I'm not sure how this paradox came about, but I definitely believe in an ideal and I believe the ideal can happen. At the same time, I think it's important to constantly assess and change in order to reach this ideal. A realistic optimist. Hopefully, someone that gets things done.


So, the UNICEF well that was outside my Health Center, which I'm pretty sure is less than a decade old, broke. It was a nice handpump well, meaning that it broke your back everytime you wanted any water.Now, a health center with no water is sort of a problem. Things are not very clean when you have no water. So today I show up at work and the whole pump part of the structure has been removed. Instead, they built one of those bucket/pulley systems out of a few logs. It looked like it came out of a movie. I actually haven't seen that in Cambodia yet. But, the actual well wasn't built yet. Instead they brought in about 6 giant meter high concrete rings that would presumably be put under ground for the well. Except, they had 4 extra rings and the well was already well above ground. Plus, there's a large broken PCV pipe in the middle of it that used to be attached to the pump. I looked into the well this morning and there was a practically naked guy standing in about a meter deep and handing buckets of dirt to a guy above him. I didn't realize this was how people dug wells...I don't think it's how people are supposed to dig wells. They hit water pretty soon, mostly cause its the middle of rainy season and water is everywhere. I'm pretty sure that in a few months this well is gonna dry up. Really, all they needed to do was fix the pump since UNICEF had built a deep well that regularly got water during dry season.

My town has a chronic water problem since none of our wells are dry season wells. Most people, including me, get all their bathing and cooking water from the pond. I drink filtered rain water, but other people drink straight from the pond. For some reason people keep building shallow wells when it clearly doesn't work and sometimes they build deep wells but during rainy season so they have no idea if they'll get water during dry season. Usually they don't. Plus, just building deep wells could lead to arsenic poisoning which is typically a problem nearer rivers. So much time and money could be saved if they just hired an expert one time to do an assessment. Just once, get someone that actually knows what they're doing to do the job they've been trained to do.

On a lighter note, crabs keep their crab babies near their gills. I found that out today.Though I'm not entirely convinced they were crab babies and not just crab parasites.Also, crabs come in purple!
I live with this really cute 3 year old and she's really getting good at talking.I think living with kids has really made me interested in Child Development. I only studied it a bit in college. Compared to how long behavior change and knowledge learning takes in adults, children are geniuses. Every one of them is a genius. I've compared coming to Cambodia to being a kid again, but everytime I see a baby trying to figure out the world I am just amazed. They have to figure out our spoken language, our physical gestures, our arbitrary societal
rules, and they do it with such speed and cuteness. I think I would go into pediatrics just for the chance to see this in action all the time, though maybe pediatric neurology. I just hate saying that because it seems so elite and specialist and I know general practice is where the need is. I'm sure a small population of well-off Americans desperately need pediatric neurologists and those that are not well-off probably have
bigger concerns like malnutrition, which may eventually lead to a need for a neurologist they will never be able to afford.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Two funny things and one sad thing.

1. A few days ago I was running (for exercise) and I saw a water buffalo make a break for freedom. Water buffaloes are pretty massive. This farmer was leading two waterbuffalo down a slight incline and one of the water buffalo used its massive inertia to break free. Up until then I don't think I've ever seen a grown water buffalo do more than walk slowly. But this guy sprinted across the field. He made it about 500 meters before he stopped. Either he thought he had gone far enough or he got tired. I think the latter is likely since they don't move much on a regular basis. A sedentary lifestyle will not get you very far.

2. Today, this child was the last patient of the day. The kid was clearly malnourished and the entire time he was passed out, being held by his mom. He was sleeping, but the kind of sleep where you can tell he's tired cause he probably hasn't eaten much in a while. On his head was a large rash that ranged from his ear lobe to the top of his shaved head. There was scabbing where he had scratched and also some kind of crust that the mom may have applied as a traditional cure. I saw her waiting to get meds so I try to chit chat a litte. Always awkward. Typical conversation questions here are things that you would never ask in America, sometimes it's actually illegal. So I asked, what village are you from, what's wrong with your kid? I still remember how awkward it was the first time I had to ask those questions. It just seems sort of wrong to make chit chat when there's a starving child in front of you and no one seems to be doing anything about it. The midwife comes out and asks her how she got here. She rode on the back of a vehicle. By vehicle I mean an engine attached to a metal cart, literally. She begged them for a free ride and they let her off at the Wat. Then she walked to the HC carrying her kid. To get back she has to beg someone else for a ride. The midwife gave her 1000 riel, the equivalent of 25 cents. It costs maybe 5000 Riel, about 1.25 to get back. Plus, she didn't have the health insurance so she paid 1500R for the meds already. I was on my way out so I walked with her back to town, we were going the same way. Along the way I asked her about her family. She was pregnant with her 3rd child. From what I could understand she begs for a living, at least right now she does because one of the temples is having a festival that attracts a lot of people. On the walk, I gave her 5000R. I gave it to her because I knew she needed it. Because in the end the only thing that will solve her problems is more money. Education, health insurance, other schemes will not do anything if she doesn't have more money. It sort of just seems so futile to try to fix things when no one can even really touch the biggest issue. When we parted she reached out for my hand and wished me good fortune and to meet again. I don't know if she held my hand because I gave her money or if it was because I walked with her. I always hope for the latter but I don't blame her for the former. It's a bit ironic that her trip to the HC made her almost as much money as she would make working in the rice fields all day.

3. So, I've been teaching in the villages these past few weeks and as an icebreaker I have everyone go around and tell me their names, favorite vegetable, and whether they prefer cats or dogs. I was in a village last week when halfway through the activity a woman replied that she doesn't know if she likes cats or dogs cause she's never eaten a cat before. The villagers had thought I was asking if they preferred dog meat or cat meat since the previous question was about vegetables. I had to clarify that the question was whether you loved dogs more or cats more. I could see that everyone thought this was a much more appropriate question.