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Nerd is the word

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Uber Nerdster Clementina Velasco. Photograph: Claire Byrne/Phnom Penh Post

Geeks, dweebs and squares are all enjoying a moment right now, as Nerd Nite Siem Reap gains momentum. The global initiative, in which informal groups gather to hear speakers wax lyrical on their favourite topic, is celebrating its first birthday in Siem Reap.

Since then the monthly gathering has become on firm favourite on the Temple Town social calendar, sparking debates on anything from the number zero – and whether it is in fact a number – to the various merits of trash TV (of which there are many.)

And the next Nerd Night, Numero 11, this Monday evening, June 25, promises to be a cracker. It’s billed as A Nite at the Movies and will be held at the Siem Reap Film Society, above AboutAsia Travel in Charming City.

One highlight will be Paul Soldner talking on film, with a short history of frame rate and 3D in cinema.

The good folk from Siem Reap Hostel will provide cold drinks, beer and popcorn. Nerders are also welcome to their own food and drinks and have a first… a picnic at the cinema. Which is about as nerdy as it gets.

As NNSR’s founders Chris Lewis and Stephanie Boegeman skip town after 12 months at the helm, the valiant Clementina Velasco has stepped in to keep the show running.

Her first Nerd Nite in charge was held in a packed-to-the-rafters Upstairs Café last month. “With so many people working in the same industries whether it’s the NGO sector or in tourism, I think often you get asked the same questions about what you do, where you work and how long you’ve been here,” explains Clementina on the popularity of the occasion.

“Nerd Night gives people a really good opportunity to find out some different things about the people who live and work with them and have conversations that they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

The Nerd Nite format also lends itself to accessibility both for speakers and the audience. Following the Japanese PechaKucha format, speakers have 20 slides for 20 seconds each to display their passion for their chosen subject.

“People are often really daunted at public speaking but having such a structured format really gives you something to go on,” explains Clementina, “It’s only six minutes and forty seconds which can sound like a lot when you’re sitting down to write it, but once you start writing you realise it’s absolutely nothing at all.”

As for the audience, Clementina says it’s a chance for Reapers to learn something new, even when it’s a topic that might not garner their attention. Case in point was Dutchman Patrick Elsof who last month had the crowd chuckling with an animated six-minute-and-forty-second rave on how he had statistically proven Holland would win Euro 2012.

“There were probably lot of people there who were not into sport or soccer and if they read the title of his presentation, they probably couldn’t care less about it,” says Clementina, “But the way he presented it and the passion and energy he brought to it really made the entire room laugh and really get into it.”

Clementina says Nerd Night has become a great way to meet people in town. “I think it’s a really good way to feel connected and to expand some of your social circles and that can only be a good thing,” she says.

“You get quite a diasporic group of people that don’t actually know each other so that’s really cool. One of the best things is seeing people that have lived here for a long time walking into a room at Nerd Night and going ‘Wow, there are so many people I don’t know here’.”

Nerd nights have been held in many venues around town, from the inaugural NNSR in the Siem Reap Hostel last June to pit stops at Madame Beargarden, Art Deli and The Warehouse among others, along the way.

To host the night, venues need to fit about 40 people, preferably have a projector and sound system and a white wall or space for screening.

“Just generally a willingness to open up their business to something a little bit different to what they usually do,” says Clementina, “I think the benefits for them far outweigh. It’s a really good way to get exposure and often it will bring in a crowd that don’t necessarily go there.”

For Clementina, it’s important to have an evening that’s fresh every time, but with six speakers who are fervent about their subjects, the hard work tends to be done for her. “There is a lot happening here but a lot of it is the same stuff week in week out because it is designed for the tourist crowd and a lot of it revolves around drinking and bars, so it’s just something really different for Siem Reap.

“A really cool way of finding out what other people in town might also share your passions.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Claire Byrne at newsroom@phnompenhpost.com

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