Happy International Women Day. Let’s celebrate it every day, not just the 8th of March.
Like many women, I grew up thinking I would never be a perfect Cambodian woman. I laughed too loudly and walked too fast. Even in university, I was occasionally taunted by classmates, who told me to walk slowly and laugh quietly.
It seems that wherever one is, there are still expectations placed on women.
Look at the flawless Apsara dancers lining the walls of Angkor Wat, all embodying the pure and virtuous archetype of Srey Krup Leakenak, the “perfect woman”. In many ways, they represent the expectations that have long limited Cambodian women.
Women my mother’s age, 55, were born in the time when girls were still taught the Chbab Srey, either by their mothers or in elementary school. The Chbab Srey is a code of conduct composed of poetic verses outlining the behavior Cambodian women must follow to be deemed pure and virtuous.
The Chbab Srey lays out a set of rules and principles for girls as well as married women, and encourages deference to husbands’ desires. You will go with your husband to the dragon world, it says. You must remember to serve your husband. Don’t make him unhappy. Never touch his head.
A woman, it further stipulates, must be polite and shy.
While there is also the Chbab Proh, a code of conduct for men, its rules are far less stringent.
In 2007, after urging from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the Chbab Srey was pulled from schools’ curriculums. Yet, for many women, its admonitions still run deep in Cambodian culture.
For Cambodian women today, gender discrimination is generally the result of cultural norms, not legislative mandates. In many rural areas, the Chbab Srey is still followed to the letter, and women’s subservience to men contributes to the country’s widespread domestic violence.
When I travelled to rural provinces asking women about their experiences, I asked what kind of husband they would pick. Many said simply, “One who drinks less and beats me less.”
At the same time, conditions for women in Cambodia are generally improving. Women are often the primary breadwinners for their families, and growing numbers of parents, like my own, encourage their daughters to follow their dreams.
For now, Cambodian must continue to challenge the cultural norms embodies in the saying “Boys are gems, but girls are white cotton.” Today, everyone can be a gem. Many Cambodian women have already broken gender barriers at all levels of society. Let’s leave Srey Krup Leakenak and just keep looking ahead.
Original link: Phnom Penh Post, http://www.phnompenhpost.com/7days/3287-a-final-note-on-trying-to-be-the-perfect-woman
King Mother, King Norodm Sihamouni, late King Father Source: unknown
I was woken up today at around 6am in the morning by calls from two editors at Agence France Presse and the Associated Presse. A moment later, I noticed that I received two text messages very early this morning from two of my former classmates, Sorthy and Ritthy who ended their messages in the same way “True?”. “What’s true?” I wondered. Then, I reread the messages.
I don’t know how to put into words, but all my senses were awake as soon as I reread. King Father passed away at the age of 89 at a hospital in Beijing early this morning. Just another 16 days would be his 90th birthday.
Whereas, Facebook and Twitter in Cambodia have been loaded with many messages and old and young pictures of him. Cambodian Facebookers expressed condolences and grief over his passing away. Words ranging from “Cambodia’s hero, patriot, influential figure, most revered king, beloved king” were seen from one message to another.
However, some have mixed or ambivalent views and feelings over the news shown in their FB status updates, but what I can certainly find in common among all those messages is that they all love the late king who had lived in and experienced the turbulent history of Cambodia. Born on Oct 31, 1922, the king had lived through the rule of the French, the Sangkum Reastre Niyum regime, Lon Nol regime (when he was ousted), Khmer Rouge regime (when he worked along a bit with them at the beginning but was later put under house arrest), and the post-Khmer Rouge periods including the Vietnamese-installed regime, the UNTAC-assisted regime, another political standoff resolved by having “two prime ministers” and later a one-premier country.
Some of the messages are:
My view about him is, he was a flawed man and a very selfish man at time, but for all he had done, in his mind, he thought he was helping his country, I believe he was a true patriot who has to face the challenge of overcoming the cold war between world powers and overcoming the resentment of the Western power after being ruled by one for 90 years.
Cambodian living in the US , Facebook
I have ambivalent feelings for him generally, but on this occasion, may His Majesty Former King Norodom Sihanouk – supposedly the last of the reigning Angkorean God-Kings, rest in peace. My condolences to the Khmer Royal Family and the Khmer nation.
Cambodian journalist in DC, Facebook
It is with tears and deep sorrow that I mourn for Our King Father HIS Royal Highness NORODOM SIHANOUK. I am deeply affected by the loss and sad for not being in Cambodia to be closer to The King who has written Cambodia’s history, but also the music I have sung throughout all my childhood. HE was Our Grandfather, a role model and a leader, loving and caring for his subjects. I will be mourning in HIS loving memory.
Bosba Panh, a young Soprano singer, Facebook
There are also very few of those who called themselves “very lucky” to have touched and shaken hands with late King Father in the past. Pictures of themselves taken with late King Father were also released on their Facebook pages, too.
Very young late King Father Source: unknown
Nate Thayer, the journalist who interviewed Pol Pot, summarized his thoughts about the late king on his Facebook:
King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia October 31, 1922-October 14, 2012
The most constant name in politics in Southeast Asia for more than half a century has been King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia. He has played the roles of divine king, politician, communist front man and constitutional monarch. No other figure has matched him in longevity, popularity, political acumen on the international stage, and sheer ability to play the dirty game of politics and survive. Throughout his life he has survived numerous wars, he has been overthrown, he has been sentenced to death, he has been a nominal guerilla, Prince, King, dictator, a prisoner in his own country and has symbolized an ancient, traditional, Cambodia, a bloody communist slave state, monarchy, and democracy. He holds the world record for politicians with the most numerous positions in government and father figure to the only southeast Asian monarchy to have been restored after falling in the communist takeover after World War II and deposed again by his erstwhile allies, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. The life story of Norodom Sihanouk is one of being admired, condemned, unique and always controversial. It is arguable that Cambodia would not exist as a nation without his contribution.
It was announced that Prime Minister Hun Sen and current King Norodom Sihamouni are travelling to Biejing today to bring back the body of late King Father to Cambodia.
Besides all the condolence messages, Cambodian Facebookers complained that the Cambodian government reacted slowly to the shocking news, and that the people of Cambodia have the rights to know how the royal funeral will be hosted or organized. The slow reaction, I guess, has caused Cambodians to take to the Internet especially Facebook to express their mourning for King Norodom Sihanouk.
The reaction might be very slow because perhaps it is very unexpected. Also, today is the festival of the dead “Pchum Ben” when the ghosts of the ancestors walk the earth and wait for offerings from their children and grandchildren, so many people including some government officials have to return to their hometown.
A few local television stations like TVK started to broadcast some video footage of the previous times and asked TV hosts and hostesses to adorn themselves with white shirts and shawls, and if male, a black suit over the white shirt. The president of TVK wrote on Facebook that the body of late King Father sent from Beijing will be accompanied and broadcast by journalists from many big countries. A Facebooker also mentioned that it might be very difficult for the Ministry of Cults and Religion to prepare for something very unexpected and high profile like the royal passing away of one of the most influential figures.
Towards this evening, all the entertainment outlets, concerts, or performance will be banned from TV and in public or private places.
My personal note about late King Father is that he was a very influential but also extremely controversial figure and leader Cambodians have ever had of all times. There are so many stories to be discovered and many learned about him. What made him decide to do what he had done? Called “political chameleon”with a long life and twisting role in Cambodian politics for years in an article by the Sydney Morning Herald, he sometimes admitted during interviews with journalists that human beings make mistakes, and so did he.
Will the passing away of King Sihanouk impact the politics in Cambodia? What would Cambodia be like after his presence was gone? When he was still in the country, he opened doors to all political members, either from the ruling party or any opposition party to come and discuss Cambodian politics with him. He also helped free some political dissidents, but on another note, he also imprisoned and even executed some opponents when he ruled Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge regime.
“I am Sihanouk,” he once said, “and all Cambodians are my children.”
“Their great misfortune is that they always have terrible leaders who make them suffer. I am not sure that I was much better myself, but perhaps I was the least bad.”
King Norodom Sihanouk
”I have always been dedicated to my homeland. I try to give happiness, some prosperity, and education to my people. I want my country to be independent, always independent. I have to defend my convictions as a patriot and as a national leader. I have done my best, but as a human being I cannot be perfect, nobody is perfect.”
- King Norodom Sihanouk (An interview with David Ablin and Marlowe Hood- The Lesser Evil)
I am feeling strangely sad after I’ve watched this video “Goodbye Cambodia” (posted below) sung by late King Father, especially thinking of how my grandparents whom I believed were stauch believers of King Sihanouk, would react if they had heard of this. He had written pretty much of the modern history of Cambodia, and as a Cambodian, I hope to see it end with clarity with all due respect.
Rough translation of the song:
Goodbye Cambodia. I’d like to bid Goodbye to you with sadness. Every day, my “heart” longs to be connected with you. In the past, we have lived together, and shared good and bad times together. Now, whatever will happen, I promise that I’ll always be with and loyal to you. Though far from you, I’m never tired of you. I have undying love for you because you are my motherland/homeland. I want to serve and defend you till I die, and serve you with all my heart, and live with you till death.
(Note: This is a very personal blog, so please bear with me, as I am trying hard to tone down the excitement.)
When my friends asked me what could be fun, I said nothing beats blogging. I believe that if things aren’t fun, they’re not worth doing. Since early 2007, blogging has been my favourite pastime. Journalism is merely something I do for a living. I kicked off my first blog journey by writing about what happens around me, and I still do this till today. With this absolutely fun and knowledge-enriching tool, as a self-publisher or blogger, I put down my thoughts into words. Have I told you that it feels incredible to be able to see how much you’ve grown up? I still spend time reading my old blog posts sometimes!
It’s even more amazing and rewarding to find out that my blog is read and talked about by people and the media in Cambodia as well as other countries. As of early 2012, I have been blogging for 5 good years. There’s hardly anything else in the world that can replace blogging in my life. Aside from my offline or real life, blogging has been a big part of my online life. I might sound as if I were exaggerating, but if you want to find out whether you’d ever feel the same way, I dare you to blog. <3
They say learning by doing is the best of all, and I concur that by keeping blogging despite busyness and negative feelings that sometimes exist, I certainly acquire a whole new feeling about myself and the know-how of writing and living alike. A few words to sum up my blogging experiences would be: I’ve gained friends but never enemies, love but never hate.
2011 flies away so fast. I know you feel the same, but I am not ready for it yet! Politically and socially, 2011 is a year of transition and the year of omnipotence of social media worldwide. I have heard a lot about the Arab Spring in the middle east that has attracted tremendous attention from people and the media. I have met a person who protested at Tahrir square to help oust Mubarak from his long-standing grip on power. Why should we ignore the good things that social media bring to individuals, companies, organizations and countries?
Personally, 2011 means so much to do providing that the most memorable persons, things, experiences and memories came into existence. I have promised myself to post things I have and have not achieved at the age of 23, one day before 2012.
Best thing I’ve done
I incessantly and excessively applied for many programs, fellowships, conferences and courses online. And, I really meant it. You would find me with my laptop typing away my answers together with detailed information about myself and sending my applications off immediately while waiting for a reply in anticipation. [I was suggested to write about how to successfully apply for a fellowship or program abroad. Will do soon.] As a result, within 2011, I have flown 10 times out of Cambodia to 11 countries and have been to about 40 cities ( USA, Germany, Czech Republic, Italy, France Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Qatar, Indonesia.) I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, which is fine.You don’t have to be a millionaire to travel, do you? Because I couldn’t afford to go to those places with the income my writing job earns, I chose to rely on applying for grants to study, travel and work for them.
Best speaking event I’ve been to
If you’d like to see the video in which I spoke at TedxPhnomPenh, please go to this link.
at TEDXPhnomPenh on Feb 5th, 2011
Best teacher I’ve ever had
My friends and I tried to continue our late teacher’s legacy by working hard, savoring every moment with family and creating fun for all. He passed away in May this year due to a major stroke, and has been much missed since. Read this wikpedia article my classmates and I tried to write up in the memory of him.
My late teacher loved fun and was a source of inspiration for all of the students including me. He taught me news writing and the love for fun.
Best moment: International exposure
I was selected as one of the 10 youth bloggers out of 1000 applications from all around the world. We interviewed people, took photos, created podcasts and videos of the 7th UNESCO Youth Forum, not to mention the fact that we met nearly 400 youth from nearly 93 countries within 5 days at the UNESCO headquarter in Paris (October). In the picture, we were asking questions to the UNESCO director general, Mrs. Bokova.
Please find me in this pic: at 7th UNESCO Youth Forum (October-2011)
Best shot by the Person of the Year
This photo can replace a few thousand words about me and the life I lead. It also represents friendship between people from one country to another despite physical appearances, political belief or religion. I reckon that 2012 will perhaps be one of the most interesting years for Cambodia not because it will chair ASEAN or because of this cute photo of me and my friends:-) Yet, it’s because we will see young people everywhere travel more to various countries for BarCamp, TEDXevents, similar tech events, or share online through social media.
Photo: Ollie (Indonesia), Minh & Hue (Vietnam) me (Cambodia)
Craziest moment of the year
It was crazy. I was very sick. I decided to climb the rock hill with no equipment such as a harness or a helmet. There was no walking trail or anything but I just followed the local kids who knew how to get the top like the back of their hands. Rocks weren’t small, and their body wasn’t strong enough either, so they kinda put their life at risk. I felt bad about getting them to show me the way.The bottom of my jeans were torn due to climbing , and I had a limp after I got down from the hill. No big deal. If you want to know how hilly and high the rock hill can be, just look at the one behind my back or look here. Why did I do that? I don’t know. It was steep and rocky. There were barely strong plants or anything else for me to hold onto. I wore saddles up there but their bottom parts were too slippery to step on the rock. I wouldn’t have any chance to survive, I thought for a moment. My heart raced, and I could hear it throbbing. But what I chose to do next was taking off my shoes and stepping on the sharp rocks barefoot. Painful. There were a few moments of fear of death if I didn’t keep holding on to small plants growing out of big rocks. I for one wanted to do it on a whim or whimsically.
I managed to smile on a rock hill though two other young men following me were shaking with fear. Was I?
They say if you want to experience wealthiness, go to North America, as most of the people there have plenty of food to eat and share. It is also said that if you want to appreciate your life even more, just go to Africa. I second that. Life there is a constant struggle for both men and women. It’s not backward but it’s not going forward either. I learnt to appreciate my life a lot here, I don’t wanna whine..
Fische, Ethiopia, is a few thousands metre above sea level and one of the oldest places on Earth. I meant it.
Best moment of fame
I heard about them, but I didn’t happen to see their faces often either. I was lucky to present Kramas (shawls) from Cambodia to both of them. How funny! I talked them into wearing Krama. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahathir_Mohamad
Mahathir Mohamad, his wife and moi
(Another note: I really miss all my friends from school, university, work and anywhere else. I must admit that I have not spent ample time with or rarely met them this year. I still vividly remember the moments, stories, fun, sadness, trouble and the list goes on. My memory isn’t like a sieve, and I swear that I can remember each and every one of you like I remember my name!)