Map from the New World Encyclopedia
Bordered to the west by the sea, to the north by Thailand and Laos, to the east and the south by Vietnam, Cambodia is far smaller today than it was during its golden age, between the 10th and the 13th century, when Angkor was the capital of the most powerful and opulent empire in Southeast Asia.
–Khmer: The Lost Empire of Cambodia by Thierry Zéphir
The country plunged into darkness when the newly arrived tribes from Southern China relentlessly overwhelmed and engulfed the area. Don’t expect people like Jean-François Baré and Joel Brinkley to sympathize. To them, there’s no one to blame but the Khmers themselves.
Regrettably, today’s Cambodia (a bastardized name) is synonymous with the Khmer Rouge and the Killing Fields. Some young Cambodians are sick to death, AS THEY SHOULD BE, of the country’s stigmatization: Pol Pot, Ieng Sary, Duch, Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge, and the Killing Fields. They want the country to be known for something more–something positive. Hallelujah! The younger generation does have a conscience.
Even the so-called government of Cambodia would like to “dig a hole and bury the past,” to use Samdech Hun Sen’s idiom.
The ministry of tourism tries to revamp the country’s image by proudly introduces Cambodia as the Kingdom of Wonder, “a rising star.” It took out a nine-minute video ad, showing Khmer smiley faces, festivities, and scenic sites, while an uplifting and melodic song plays in the background, enticing potential tourists to visit this enchanting place.
A young man named Santel Phin, who claims his blog about Cambodia (http://khmerbird.com) ranks no. 1, expresses his disappointment in those who spew negativities on Cambodian people and country. He devotes his time and energy to promoting the opposite.
It’s fantastic; it’s great to see someone who is so passionate about his homeland that he’s willing to do something about it. It’s about time!
However, is it beneficial to mask a decomposed odor with scented flowers?
Let’s take this willingness or action a step further. If we want the outside world to cast a shining light on us, shouldn’t we do something about these problems that rip the people and country apart? Aren’t these the reasons why outsiders view and treat us with contempt in the first place?
Our agenda should be, change our destructive behavior and learn how to use reason or logic that is beneficial to Khmer people as a whole. In a nutshell, we should all aspire to be Khmer Chet Chea, NOT Khmer Chet Kmao.
In order for Khmers or “Cambodians” to rise out of this hellhole, all of us should take some serious actions – that is, we must all take our education seriously and study diligently.
Khmer elders often joke and deride a certain prince for having a wit of a fool when it comes to education. “The purpose of going to school is to become king,” this prince supposedly said or thought. “Why should I go to school when I am heir to the throne?”
Corruption, Cronyism and Nepotism (CCN) are our greatest vices and downfall. They have been destroying Cambodian people and country for four decades.
For instance, when the wind of change swept through Cambodia in the 1970s, the country was not equipped to handle it. The United States had pumped the Lon Nol’s regime with large sum of money and weapons, but it’s soldiers (lacked hardcore training and cheated out of their salary by higher officials or their superiors) were no match for the more disciplined, flip-flop-black-pajama-krama-wearing and AK-47-toting Khmer Rouge soldiers.
Tragically, under the Democratic Kampuchea, the educated and the cream of Khmer crops were exterminated like vermin, leaving ignorant people and children to rule and fend for the country. An estimated 1.7 million lives were lost and the country has yet to fully recover. Yes, the high-rise buildings and the villas may have grown like weeds, of course, at the expense of the poor and defenseless citizens, but the country is still way behind neighboring countries when it comes to education, infrastructure, health, job and decent income for the working population.
Why are we recovering at the speed of a turtle? Is it CCN or is it our small mindedness for keeping other Khmers down? Either way, it has delayed the country from moving forward. A more educated population makes the country stronger and our livelihood longer. And maybe, just maybe, our motherland wouldn’t be a puppet to more powerful countries.
Here is what bribery in school or lack of real education has produced:
• Dumb teachers and students: As manifested on televisions and the Internet social forums, most Cambodians can’t even speak, read, or write grammatically correct Khmer; let alone English. People speak, especially those in Phnom Penh, gibberish. That is not a language; that’s a display of ignorance.
If you can’t even master the Khmer language, then how are you supposed to inform the outside world about true Khmer history, politics, tradition, culture, and religion? Cambodia’s Curse is a perfect example.
Apparently, someone told Joel Brinkley to govern (soy reach) in Khmer literally means “to eat the Kingdom.” Mr. Brinkley is not going to blame himself for this stupid mistake. He’s going to point his finger directly at that Cambodian person for misinterpreting the word. Heck, he’s not the one who speaks Khmer. Regardless, someone must be really stupid that he or she couldn’t even open a dictionary.
In another example, no disrespect to Mrs. Mu Sochu, but she told westerners that PM Hun Sen harassed her by calling her “cheung klang.” She interpreted it to mean “strong leg.” She claimed it has a sexual overtone. Actually, cheung klang is an informal way of saying someone is either brave or well-known or infamously known for something. The word “cheung,” as explained to me, refers to a group or a part of something. For example, Troop Cheung Teuk means Marine or Troop Cheung Damrey means Elaphant Troop. If you want to refer to a person or group as bad, it is called cheung khoch. More importantly, the word cannot be used in a sexual content. It doesn’t have that association. Here is another example. I was waiting for a boat to go to Tragnel, and the owner told me either I could go this cheung (trip) or the next cheung (trip). Again, all it takes is for someone to crack open a dictionary. But then again, if a person doesn’t have common sense or a good grasp of the language they speak, a dictionary will not do him or her any good.
Don’t even get me started about someone supposedly told Joel Brinkley that in Khmer culture, men beat up women. Oh my lord! “Theravadist monks advised the people to be content with the status quo, and having no other option, they complied,” wrote Mr. Brinkley about Buddhism. In the future, I will blog about Theravada Buddhism and Chbab Srey and Chbab Pros (Code of Conduct for Women and Code of Conduct for Men), which Mr. Brinkley incorrectly used to justify his negative views about Khmers. It will require a bit of research and interviews.
• Ignorant attitude and behavior: An uneducated person, without the proper guidance from parents and teachers, will treat other fellow Khmers with hatred, animosity, and hostility. For instance, a person complained on his facebook that some “so-called Khmers” didn’t like his food and restaurant. He received outpouring supports from his friends. They went something like this: “I hate Khmers. Thank goodness, I don’t live near them.” Of all the outpouring supports, only one person reasonably told him to accept good and bad criticisms. If the criticism is reasonable, work harder to improve your food, restaurant, and services. If the criticism is unreasonable, then ignore it. Also, I find it hilarious when people interpret criticism as a form of jealousy of their beauty and success. Possibly, in the case of unreasonable ones.
• Perpetual Ignorance
Here is what CCN has produced:
• Vicious, destructive, and a backward society
• Inferior and psychopathic people. Hence, the outside world will treat Cambodian government and people with hatred and
• Hatred and mistrust of each other
The world operates like a gang. The winning aggressor (against other countries) is respected, feared, and put on a pedestal. It gets away with anything. Vietnam has proven itself, twice, against France and the United States. No one bothers to condemn the country for its human rights violations against the ethnic minorities and Buddhist monks. Thailand has never been colonized and it has been trained and armed to the teeth by the United States and supported by Great Britain. The international community refuses to condemn the country for its human rights abuses against refugees and minorities. With its big-budgeted arm force, sophisticated weapons and fighter jets, it continues to bully Cambodia. As Brinkley reminds us, who cares about this “irrelevant” country? Moreover, except for Michael Hayes of the Phnom Penh Post, no one dares (journalists as well as the UN) to admonish Thailand for disrespecting the decision of the ICJ regarding Preah Vihear.
As we can see, no one respects a tiny and powerless country where its government hunts and guts its political opponents. No one respects a government that tortures, douses acid, shoots, hacks, seizes lands without proper compensation and lets outsiders abuse its own people. Lastly, no one respects barbaric or docile people either. Like the teaching of Lord Buddha, “Walk the middle path.”
Which country doesn’t have the same problems as Cambodia? Fortunately for other countries, their issues are not blatant and rampant. Criminals (politicians or not), if found guilty in the court of law, will be jailed and fined.
If we want others to cast a positive light on us, then we must aspire to be good people, skilled linguists, scientists, lawyers, doctors, astronomers, engineers, historians, journalists, novelists, musicians, entrepreneurs, good leaders, etc.
Don’t be a smorgasbord of crap. If you’re going to learn multiple languages, make sure you speak and write them fluently. You can’t claim you speak English when this is how you communicate: “u,” “ur,” or “hih a u?”
A well-educated society and economically independent and powerful country will be revered. Please be reasonable and patient with each other. And remember, image is everything.