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Welcome to Nerd Night!

By: Michael Hahn Posted: March-29-2011 in
Nerd Night @ Brasserie Durga - Click for more photos
Michael Hahn

There is a lot I love about Phnom Penh. One of the most significant characteristics is the sense that you can do what ever you want here. Of course this means that you could probably burn down a building or rob a store without little consequence, but these types of unfortunate acts exist everywhere. In a more positive sense you can start things here, and people are. Everywhere you look you can see optimism in development and creative ventures. This optimistic feeling is noticeable almost everyday. It might by the fact that there are something like 3,000 NGOs in Phnom Penh, but I think it goes deeper than that. There is a young generation of Khmer doing things that put other couch-potato teenagers to shame. This got me thinking… I want to introduce Nerd Night to Phnom Penh.

Nerd Night is a bi-weekly event that myself and the fabulous Yi Wei founded with the help of social media expert Roswell Thomas. The goal is for people to gain exposure to knowledge far beyond what they are normally exposed to. We bring a random assortment of talented/creative individuals and leverage a fast and fun presentation format that titillates the brain in ways never thought possible before. Social circles collide and instead of meeting new people and going through the normal conversational progressions (hi, how are you, where are you from, cool do you know…?), Nerd Night catapults conversation forward straight into a random assortment of knowledge building and creative inspiration. At least that’s the goal.

The format is based on the tried and true Pecha Kucha (“Chit Chat”) presentations that descend from an architecture studio in Japan.
20 slides for 20 seconds a piece make the presentations short and sweet. Presentations are long enough to get an idea across and make the audience want to know more or they are short enough to not bore you to tears. It’s always a gamble with Nerd Night’s non discriminatory, and usually uninformed recruitment methods, but most presentations are beyond my expectations.

On a higher level Nerd Night aims to give strength to the creative culture in Phnom Penh. I’ll save the rant for another post, but to summarize: There is a general lack creative capacity among the average Cambodian. This is not a place where building blocks, crayons, and etch a sketches are easily found in the hands of children. Don’t get me wrong, they exist. But beyond not having the materials/tools the very idea of doing something against the grain, or speaking out about something, or creating something new is not promoted culturally. Given the country’s rocky past it is not hard to understand why this is.

So far we have had a Khmer presenter at every Nerd Night and sometimes two. Our Khmer attendance is continually rising with roughly 15% at the last event. We want these numbers to rise quickly. I would hope that we have 30% Khmer attendance and 40-50% Khmer presenters within the next 6 events. This will be hard. Not only are Khmers not generally used to public speaking (who is?), but the biggest hurdle is the language gap. A lot of Khmers speak English well enough to present, but it comes down to self confidence. It is my hope that with current and upcoming sponsorships that Nerd Night will have a Khmer interpreter that can keep up with the fast pace of the presentations and ultimately becomes part of the Nerd Night family.

If you want to keep up with Nerd Night or check out photos and stories from past events just “Like” us at the Facebook Page or email us at nerdnightphnompenh [at] gmail [dot] com to be added to our mailing list.


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