Spring has crept upon us in Hong Kong while friends and colleagues back in old Toronto tell me it's been a freaky week of snow and sub zero cold in April.
Personally I prefer the 30C + tempts of SE Asia and as the past 3 weeks in Hong Kong had been pretty grey and hazy I took off to check up on our plans at work to build up the capacity of goods we are exporting from Cambodia. It didn't hurt that the sun was shining, weather was hot and the beer was cold and cheap!
The apparel and textile industry in Cambodia is pretty much dominated by the Singaporean and Malaysian Chinese with a few Hong Kong and Taiwanese groups and the odd Korean operation.
It is the single largest legal industry in Cambodia, aside from the NGO/international development assistance industries and yes , quite frankly, they have become just that, an industry unto themselves.
(In an indirect way IDA is how I also found my way to Asia and the work I do. Since I was a kid history and geography have always been keen interests and stuck with me through to university where I opted into an international relations/development focused degree.
The biggest benefit to Cambodia are the thousands of direct and additional thousands of indirect jobs the industry created. The wages are technically well above UN poverty levels of $US1.oo per day, but most of us from the West would be hard pressed to support ourselves and our families on the income of a sewing machine operator anywhere in Asia.
But things are all relative to their reality and a look back to Kampuchean times and the dark days of the Khmer Rouge would now see Cambodia as a vibrant, lively and intriguing culture.
You can take a look next door in Vietnam for some idea of the potential, future direction of the country. As the Vietnamese have found their own way to melt socialist ideals into a capitalist dominated world economy, they have climbed above the "lowest wage cost" scenario as high tech, automotive and engineering industries take hold. Not long ago apparel and footwear were key to the economy of Vietnam but are quickly loosing their place as the country modernizes and continues to open. Cambodia may be 10 years behind its neighbours but her potential is evident.
Key to its success are how corruption and a lack of political freedom will be dealt with as these provide the framework in which society and the economy must operate. The man in control of Cambodia today was a senior Khmer Rouge figure, later a leadership member handpicked by Vietnam during that country's occupation of Cambodia. No one truly believes the tiger has changed his stripes for democracy.
Having spent the past few years watching the growth and development of the country first hand I feel safe in placing my bets on the Cambodian people who are the ones day to day making the small changes and advances in their lives and society.