Inspiration for the book

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I want to be a writer. Of stories and poems. A famous Khmer writer. – Sothea


I first traveled to Cambodia in 1999, just as the country was opening up to travelers. Other than the temples of Angkor, which was my primary reason for traveling to Cambodia, my enduring memories of that initial trip include walking past Independence Monument and along Norodom Boulevard with not a car in sight, and a sleepy, forested Siem Reap with nothing much to do after sunset.

I returned in 2006 to a very different Cambodia. I had become involved with a small UK based education-NGO (or ‘charity’ as it insisted on calling itself – something that should have rung alarm bells). They built primary school classrooms in Siem Reap, as well as providing resources and stipends for teachers. ‘School Adoption’, they called it (even louder alarm bells). I helped fundraise among my wealthy banker friends to build five new classrooms at a school just outside of the town.

At the end of 2007, I applied for a Public Service Fellowship with the large US Investment Bank for whom I was working. The Fellowship was a wonderful opportunity to spend twelve months, sponsored by the Bank, working in some ‘meaningful’ civic role. I was one of five Fellows that year (and the only one from Europe), and it allowed me to work with the same education-NGO in the role of Strategic Advisor, based in Cambodia. Looking back, I realize how strange a proposition that was. I knew nothing about education, development, or Cambodia. I was a City bond trader. But there you go.

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