When Sihanouk died several months ago, many people in Cambodia saw his face on the moon (I wonder what NASA had to say about that). A lot of Khmer people abroad scoff at the sightings and the massive outpouring of grief in Cambodia for the former king. This is hardly surprising since most overseas Khmers do not think too highly of the late Sihanouk.
I think most people tend to blame Cambodia’s tragic history on its leaders. While leadership is certainly a major factor, having lived in Cambodia for the better part of the last four years, however, I would have to say that it is more than leadership.
Whatever leadership the country has had in its history, it’s also largely a reflection of the the culture and the mentality of the people.
Contrary to what many in the West might think, the problems currently crippling Cambodia does not revolve around a few bad people holding the whole population hostage. Most Khmer people would love to be part of the rich and powerful elite so that they could step on everyone else. Everyone wants to be king…perhaps that’s why Khmer people revere the king so much.
It’s not a matter of good Khmers versus evil Khmers. It’s the Khmer mentality. The mentality has to change. I repeat: THE MENTALITY HAS TO CHANGE.
The solution is not as complicated as one might think. All it boils down to is CHARACTER.
Poor character is what has gotten the country to its current predicament. If the inhabitants of a house are lazy, dishonest, disrespectful of one another, what do you think will become of the house? The same goes for a country. Cambodia a huge dysfunctional family that no member wants to be a part of. Just like members of family that can’t stand one another, everyone in the country wants out. They have little self-esteem, unity, or faith in the community.
I’m sorry, I don’t mean to diss my fellow Khmers, but that’s how I see it. What I’ve observed over the years about folks in Cambodia is that they’re incredibly smart in the things they shouldn’t be smart in… and incredibly ignorant in the things they shouldn’t be ignorant in. That’s why things are the way they are.
If the country is to reverse course, we need to wake up and aggregate our excrement…that means to get our shits together.
What does it take? Start with things like honesty, hard work, fairness, and love and respect for your fellow human beings. These aren’t Western or Eastern, Buddhist or Christian, Democratic or Socialist qualities. They’re universal qualities, which means they transcend all cultures, religions, and political ideologies. If everyone somehow wakes up and embrace these values, things will start to fall into place, and trust me, they will get much, much better. It’s really that simple.
I was watching an episode of an HGTV show called “Million Dollar Rooms” the other day and came across a segment showing a house adorned with what appeared to be a piece of wall sculpture stolen from Angkor Wat. The narrator said it was an ancient piece “from Thailand” dating back to 600 A.D. The piece was said to be worth some $300,000. The bas relief was unmistakably Khmer, bearing the same designs as those on the walls and columns of Angkor Wat.
In fact, you can do a search for “Khmer sculpture” on eBay, and you will get a bunch of results showing high-priced Khmer antiquities– apparently once stolen from Cambodia– being offered for sale. Many of the sellers are from Thailand. These items will end up in private collections all over the world.
I was visiting Angkor Wat some years back and was appalled by the amount of antiquities that had been stolen by thieves. I saw bare walls and columns where the bas reliefs had been chiseled out and sold on the black market. I saw scores of stone sculptures with missing heads. These items one way or another have found their way into private collections. These are priceless national treasures that belong in museums and historical sites in Cambodia, not as ornaments to decorate some rich guy’s home.
Can you imagine the torch of the Statue of Liberty stolen by thieves and later flaunted on TV by a private collector? It’s unimaginable because America is today what the Khmer Empire was during the 12th century. In fact, they’re making a Hollywood movie about the Khmer Empire that cast John Cena, Angelina Jolie, Jet Li, and other foreigners in the leading roles. No one seems to be bothered that King Jayavarman VII is being portrayed by a white actor in brown skin makeup.
It seems that everything about the once mighty Khmer civilization is being bought, sold, plundered, and exploited in every way possible. And no one seems to care.
I invite everyone to check out my new website, Khmeroldies.net. If you like classic Khmer songs sung by the golden voices of Sin Sisamouth, Ros Sereysothea, Pen Ron, and others, then you’ll love this site.
I prefer old Khmer songs and listen to them almost on a daily basis (damn, I feel old!), so this is a labor of love. I try to keep a good selection of oldies music performed by deceased artists as well as current Khmer singers.
I’ve long suspected widespread discrimination against Asian Americans students in the college admission process, especially by elite American universities. Here is an article shedding light on this shameful practice.
Some excerpts from the article:
Studies show that Asian-Americans meet these colleges’ admissions standards far out of proportion to their 6 percent representation in the U.S. population, and that they often need test scores hundreds of points higher than applicants from other ethnic groups to have an equal chance of admission…
…A study by Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade examined applicants to top colleges from 1997, when the maximum SAT score was 1600 (today it’s 2400). Espenshade found that Asian-Americans needed a 1550 SAT to have an equal chance of getting into an elite college as white students with a 1410 or black students with an 1100.
You can read the full article here.
This practice flies in the face of meritocracy that is at the very core of American idealism. You let your fastest runners compete in the Olympics. You let your most talented basketball players become star NBA players. Why not let the brightest and most hard working students into the best universities?
This article deals with only racial discrimination at academic institutions. One can only surmise how much anti-Asian discrimination goes on in the workplace, where the practice is not as easily quantifiable.
That elite US universities insist on perpetuating this appalling practice shows that racial politics is alive and well in America, even at institutions that are supposed to promote enlightenment and help eradicate racism and discrimination.
As is expected in country generally lacking in education, superstition plays a significant role in the everyday lives of ordinary Khmers. People regularly consult fortune tellers and practitioners of magic to drive away evil spirits, make life decisions, and even cast spells on their enemies and love interests. The Buddhist temples largely have become vehicles to facilitate people’s beliefs in the supernatural.
Of course, as Buddhists we should be tolerant to the beliefs of others. However, to the extent that superstitious beliefs contradict the Buddha’s teachings themselves, I think such tolerance can go only so far. People tend to become lazy when they rely on superstitions to raise their children, conduct business, and make other life decisions. If one is clueless about something, they could go to the library or bookstore, search on the internet, or ask someone who is an expert in that field. Of course, relying on superstitious beliefs frees one from the need to make an effort to learn and think logically and rationally. In the long run, such practices will hamper the development of a nation.
It’s not surprising that the belief in superstition is most prevalent in the poorest and least educated countries around the world. Poor education contributes to superstitious beliefs, which in turn contributes to a culture of ignorance, which in turn contributes to even more superstition. It’s a pretty vicious cycle, really.