Trip Notes to Cambodia

I thought it would be a good idea to add some of my previous trip notes to the blog.

I will begin with Cambodia, which has definitely been my best trip so far.

For those of you who are not familiar with the area, Cambodia is a Southeast Asian country with a population of over 15 million. Between 1975 and 1979, the ruler of Cambodia, Pol Pot, committed genocide against his own people. Cambodia’s nominal GDP per head was barely over USD 1,000 in 2014.

It all started when my wife kept insisting that she wanted to go to Cambodia. I thought it would be a nice surprise to book the tickets without informing her, and I did.

As I was busy dealing with so much stuff, I hadn’t done any research and I did not have any idea that Siem Reap is the place to visit, so I booked return flights to Phnom Penh.

When I revealed my surprise, she did not seem very happy and said that she wanted to go to Siem Reap.

And this is where the story begins…

This “small” mistake of my mine made our trip to Cambodia unforgettable. We had only three full days in Cambodia and we were landing at Phnom Penh, so we had to be really fast and efficient.

I booked Le Meriden Siem Reap and arranged a car from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. I had been told that it would be only 3.5 hours, but it took us six hours to reach our destination.

I have no problem with long car trips, but the problem was there was no asphalt as soon as we were out of the capital, Phnom Penh.

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The road was bumpy, dusty but, more importantly, really dangerous. There was no real distinction of separation of the lanes and everybody was just going their own way.

Our driver was a good driver and he seemed quite experienced on Cambodian roads, but I could not keep myself from looking at the road for more than a second. After a two hour drive, our driver kindly offered us a break to visit a local market.

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That was an experience! Tarantulas, cockroaches and different type of insects were being sold in the market.

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When we were back in the car, I asked if he ate cockroaches and he proudly said: “Yes, sir, with beer especially. Very good!”

After much overtaking and danger of accidents, we reached our hotel in Siem Reap. Le Meriden is a good hotel and it is located close to the Siem Reap National Park.

We had a good dinner at Cafe Abacus on our first night. Cafe Abacus is situated in a pleasant villa which is a combination of French and Khmer architecture with a nice garden. As Cambodia used to be a French colony, there are quite a number of French people living in the country and you can’t really avoid French food.

On our second day in Cambodia, our hotel kindly arranged a tour guide and car for us to visit the necessary places. For a reasonable fee, we had a good tour guide and a driver for the whole day.

Siem Reap is a magical city. The combination of temples with banyan trees and its history makes it a very attractive tourist destination. I will leave you to discover Siem Reap, and I believe each experience will be unique.

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As there are so many temples to visit, it is important to be quite selective if you have a time constraint. We visited the famous Angor Watt, Angor Thom and couple more temples on our second day in Cambodia.

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One dollar bills are life savers in Cambodia. You need them for everything, especially for tuk-tuks. You can exchange your larger denomination bills into one dollars in your hotel. Tuk-tuks are a must try and are very common in Asia.

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On our second night, we ate at the FCC restaurant. It is a restaurant inside the hotel with a nice view and good food. It used to be former French governor’s residence which is now converted into a hotel and restaurant.

On our last day, we arranged a car back to the capital very early in the morning. To be honest, I tried to avoid this trip by checking direct flights from Siem Reap to Singapore but they were fully booked so we had no choice to go back to the capital.

And I am glad that we did!

We visited Killing Fields, a prison under the Khmer Rouge regime and a Royal Palace.  It was a really very touching experience. When you think that the Khmer Rouge were in power 30 years ago, it is really scary what happened in Cambodia.

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One particular scene that I had saw during my visit to the Killing Fields I will never forget—a room full of skulls, and cracks in every single skull. Apparently, as bullets were expensive, Pol Pot had ordered that people be killed with hammers and some types of farming implement.

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On our way back to the airport, we were really stuck in the traffic. Our driver (the same driver who took us to Siem Reap) performed several magical movements and got us out of the jam.

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At the airport, I bought some books on Cambodian history to learn more about these lovely people and their sad recent history.

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Irony: A luxury car dealer in one of the most poor country…

If you haven’t visited Cambodia, you definitely should. I have visited 51 countries, and many countries more than once; but this short trip to Cambodia was my favourite.

All the best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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Education, Social Entrepreneurs and Condolences

When I woke up on Saturday morning (November 14th) in Singapore, I had so many notifications on my phone from BBC, CNN, Le Point, France 24, Strait Times, etc.

While I was trying to open up my eyes, I managed to read one of these notifications and I was shocked.

Unfortunately, all the notifications that morning were related to the attacks in Paris on Friday night.

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First I tried to think which of my friends were in Paris and then, thanks to the Facebook safety check-in option, I figured out who was in Paris and luckily they were all safe—but not the poor 129 people who were killed so cowardly that night.

After absorbing the initial shock, I, like many of you, I am sure, started thinking of what could lead these people to act like this.

Most people came up with the answer of radical beliefs, but the answer is much deeper than that.

From my experience, when people genuinely get richer, that does not turn them into intellectual human beings, but they have an option to buy some level of comfort. Over time, the ability to buy comfort gradually makes them open to further adaptation and modernization, if they are not already.

With the right education in place, they can even be leading intellectuals in their community, too.

So I think the key here is how we can get these people in the very low pillars of society to higher pillars.

Education is key here; but education costs a lot—and for people who cannot meet their basic needs such as security and food especially, education is something of a luxury.

The government may provide education services up to a certain level, but this will always be limited and the kid from the poor family will still lack if he is not supported.

Social philanthropists can play a crucial role here.

For instance, I had a chance this week to meet a social entrepreneur, Alexandre Mars, in Singapore. People like him are quite important, because it is impossible and naive to believe that the state will reach every corner of the world to find disadvantaged people. On top of that, ageing and a broken insurance system in the developed world makes it even harder for governments to bring about solutions.

Alexandre Mars is one of the top twenty philanthropists under 40 in New York. His foundation is called the Epic Foundation and it was initially funded by his personal funds. His foundation currently funds 20 new NGOs every single year to help youths in five different continents. You can find more information on Epic Foundation here.

But of course, we need more Alexandre Mars, and it is easier said than done.

Alexandre mentioned that it was his dream to help the youth and it took 15 years to create enough wealth to pursue his real dream.

Thomas Piketty, a reputable French economist and author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, argues that the income inequality will continue to rise in the future as the return rate of capital is higher than the rate of economic growth. More importantly, he believes that the inequality level is now around the pre-war era.

I do not believe the utopic idea that everyone should be equal—on the contrary, I believe it is important that people are recognized for their achievement; but the redistribution of wealth is key to funding necessary education for the masses.

G20 in Antalya, Turkey, had been a good chance for leaders to discuss these issues. Since politicians are not entrepreneurs and they move much more slowly than entrepreneurs, I still believe entrepreneurs are the key to the solution.

The world is becoming a very polarized place to live and this is contrary to globalization and trade. We must eliminate illiteracy and poverty to secure a liveable world for ourselves and for our kids.

Expecting my first child next month, these events are very discouraging and lead me to wonder what kind of world we are really leaving for them. I sincerely worry about a world war within my life span.

By taking this opportunity, I would to like to offer my most sincere condolences to the families who lost their loved ones in the Paris, Beirut and Ankara attacks.

All the best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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What is success to you?

When you are a fresh graduate from a university, you are young and ambitious.

You definitely want to be successful, but many of new graduates do not have an idea of what their passions are and this fact makes it harder for them to be successful.

In my own and plain explanation, success is an ability to achieve your dreams and it starts with setting your own objectives.

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An article published on Harvard Business Review by Boris Groysberg and Robin Abrahams explains it perfectly with a great example.

“A corporate lawyer may work for a highly respected firm and have a lavish compensation package, but if her career falls short of her dream to become a Supreme Court justice, for instance, or if practicing law seems merely a good way to make a living and doesn’t provide an intellectual buzz, she won’t feel successful.”

Success has different meanings to all of us. Success is a continuous journey which includes failure. Richard St. John from Canada explains success as a process of passion, work, focus, push, ideas, improve, serve and persist.

Many people defines success as a bank account with many zeros. Whilst it may be a conclusion of a success, it is not really a mean and it should not be.

From my own experience, people with an ultimate target to have a bank account with many zeros do fail. In other words, they become unsuccessful as passion is not in place in the first instance.

Remember Richard St. John’s ladder of success?

It does start with passion and money is not involved in any part of the process.

And these are the last words of Steve Jobs…

“I reached the pinnacle of success in the business world.
In others’ eyes, my life is an epitome of success.

However, aside from work, I have little joy. In the end, wealth is only a fact of life that I am accustomed to.

At this moment, lying on the sick bed and recalling my whole life, I realize that all the recognition and wealth that I took so much pride in, have paled and become meaningless in the face of impending death.

In the darkness, I look at the green lights from the life supporting machines and hear the humming mechanical sounds, I can feel the breath of god of death drawing closer…

Now I know, when we have accumulated sufficient wealth to last our lifetime, we should pursue other matters that are unrelated to wealth…
Should be something that is more important:

Perhaps relationships, perhaps art, perhaps a dream from younger days…
Non-stop pursuing of wealth will only turn a person into a twisted being, just like me.”

Who could argue that Steve Jobs was an unsuccessful person? I think he is successful and innovative but does it really matter what i think?

What matters most is what your self perception is…

My own humble explanation of success is to be a purposeful creature during our life span with adding value to many people’s lives.

Moreover, generating innovative ideas and helping to improve living standards of many cannot be more satisfactory than anything else.

All the best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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Next Five Books to Read

My friends well know that I love to read and discuss what I read. Even though one may read on any subject, I am quite selective.

The reading rule that has stuck with me since I was a kid is that I don’t read any novels or science fiction. All I read is history, finance, economics, biography, self-development, psychology and philosophy.

This week, I would like to share with you the next five books waiting for me to read.

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1-A Short History of England by Simon Jenkins

I started reading this book almost a  month and a half ago and, since I have been busy reading some international affairs and financial papers, I have only read about the first 100 pages.

England is a great country with a long history and this book is a quick introduction to full English history from British tribes to the modern day. I always advocate that if you want to understand a set of people and a country, you have to master their history first.

It is a great book to enlighten you as to why modern England exists in its present form. The book is about 300 pages, and please don’t expect to get detailed information on each era.

Caution: You may get lost due to the speed of change of the kings, queens, barons and conflicts, but it’s worth a try!

2- Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Harari

This book has been recommended to me by two precious people. One of them is the Vice Chancellor of Bahcesehir University and my economics professor back in Turkey, Elif Cepni, and that’s why it jumped all the books in the queue to be read after A Short History of England.

It mainly talks about different human species that inhabited earth 100,000 years ago compared to only one today, homo sapiens. The book takes you through human history from A to Z and talks about why we have created kingdoms, countries and the current systems such as using money as a medium of payment. It also refers to how and why we have come to believe in gods.

Since everything has a reason and a history, I hope that this book will enlighten me as to why we are so cruel to each other and to the rest of the species in the world, as well.

3-A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle for the Mastery of the Middle East by James Barr

The Middle East has been the land of politics for centuries and, unfortunately, the Middle East is known by many for its wars and conflicts. Actually, the Middle East has much more to offer such as its grand culture and history, rather than only its wars and natural resources.

Middle East history goes to back to many centuries ago, but this book focuses on the times of British and French rule in the region.

James Barr is an important modern author on the Middle East and I look forward to reading this book.

This book is also a recommendation from an honourable gentleman in my native land. He is currently in his 80s and I respect his intellectual knowledge very much.

4- Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia’s Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane by Frederick Starr

Central Asia brought wealth, trade and science to the rest of the world, especially between 800 and 1200. Nowadays, this is forgotten, but it is the reality.

The sophistication of its cities and people, along with achievements in different types of field such as medicine, astronomy and mathematics, have established today’s modern world. The people of Persian, Arab and Turkish descent were behind this achievement during the medieval enlightenment.

With the New Silk Road project in China, it is very likely that this notable role will be revitalized, but hard to say if it will again be that influential a region in the world arena.

I believe this book is a good reminder that change is inevitable and you need to keep updated to keep running for the lead.

5-2014: The Election that Changed India by Rajdeep Sardesai

I bought this book in India when I was traveling in Delhi in December 2014. Unfortunately, due to regular queue jumping by different books, it is still standing unread on my shelves.

India is becoming more and more important and 2015 marks the first year that India has surpassed China in terms of growth. There are a lot of expectations from Narendra Modi and his mandate is not easy to deliver in the world largest democracy. I expect to get more insights on India from this book.

Given that it is written by an Indian news anchor, it makes the book more compelling and sincere.

I would like to finish this week’s article with a good website recommendation to keep track of your online bookshelves. If you are still not aware of Goodreads.com, I strongly suggest that you have a look. Nowadays everything is going digital and it is a great platform to establish your reading list and book reviews online.

For bookworms, I also recommend a visit to Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street, London. It is a very different book store from the usual ones and you can get lost for many hours inside.

Having strongly advocated the digitization of everything, I shall admit that I still could not give away my paperback books. I have a Kindle and I have read many books on it, but it has never given me the same feeling as when touching paperback books.

All the best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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