I moved here to the Kingdom of Wonder almost a year and a half ago as a way of returning to my roots. Being born and raised in Melbourne, Australia I always was surrounded by a rich Khmer heritage as well as the openness of western society. I am very blessed to be able to say that I do, have the best of both worlds.
I grew up and went to school with Caucasian and European kids, I then attended a catholic high school yet I always felt a deep craving and connection with the country where my parents were born and left in 1975. It was only since I moved here that I realised Khmer heritage, customs and traditions was literally always in my blood and was heightened even further once I settled and called this place my home and meant it.
From my opinion, Cambodian people are strong believers in God- karma, the idea that if you only do good things, good things will happen to you and vice versa for bad. Even in Australia I always had this mentally, whether it was taught to me by my parents or perhaps I had always known deep down this is the correct mentality and principle to have, I can’t really remember but it has always been words that I lived by and still do. Having had the Catholic upbringing as well, when I first read the Good Samaritan bible story, I felt I could relate to both religions as we really do have the same idea and realised that we aren’t really different after all.
Cambodian people are very close to their families in the sense that they respect their parents above all and literally live together throughout their whole lives. Personally, my family have always been and are very close but we are also very European or western as well, in the sense that we are all equal. My mother always said to me, and still does, that when she was younger and her parents said no, it meant no. Where as she wanted her children, so my siblings and I, to grow up very independent and learn from our own life lessons, be mistakes or rewards, she didn’t want us to have that sheltered childhood that she had. I really believe it is not so traditional in Khmer families.
I also noticed that they are genuinely happy people, we can have so little- a job, a house, food and be more than content with life, that is the most important lesson I have learnt since allowing myself to be fully Cambodian. Back home in Australia it was very easy to not appreciate money and take things for granted. I felt we were always in a rush or competing with one another to always have the latest technology or be wearing the most high end designer clothes and brands. Western countries can be driven by wealth, whereas here in Cambodia being able to have food on the table and enjoying quality time with family is what they work for.
Being a very religious country- I have noticed there are many holidays in which people do not work (God’s day or Monk’s day- I do not know the proper name, so do forgive me). I love the richness of how much God is a part of everyday life, we see monks on motos and elderly ladies with shaved heads, full smiles with no teeth wearing white shirts and black skirts piled into tuk tuks. I also noticed almost every home has a tiny version of their home stationed out front which I believe is for the elders or guardian angels that are to watch over. As spooky as it sounds, it’s somewhat beautiful to know that everyone believes and practises the same way of living and really respect and appreciate what they know.
I remember growing up, there were always certain things that would happen and my parents always had an explanation or reasoning towards it, I do not believe it is a specifically Khmer way to think as there are also western comparisons as well.
• at night I was always told not to whistle- the reasoning was that if you whistle at night, you are welcoming spirits into your home.
• Another would be that at 3am it was the spirit hour- westerners believe it as well- it’s always shown in movies, but in Cambodia, we know that dogs can see or sense spirits or presences, so do listen out if ever you are awake, you can hear them barking and howling like mad.
• I recently learnt that if ever you smell incense and you know that you haven’t burnt any it meant that an ancestor or deceased family member was trying to contact you or perhaps just visiting.
• Less superstitious but full of reason, if you are speaking and you choke on your saliva, it means someone is talking about you. Same as westerners we say biting the tongue or when our ears burn it is the same.
• Khmers believe that when you sneeze someone is missing you or thinking of you, western society believes that when we dream or constantly dream of someone they are thinking or missing us.
One that my parents had always instilled in my brothers and I, is to always respect and love those who are older than us and in doing so everything in life would be great and fall into place. I am sometimes guilty of being annoyed and raising my voice at my parent and being reminded that if I continued with such disrespectful behavior that literally my business would fail. I do not know if that has anything to do with the balance of life or the idea of the karma is being put into play or perhaps it could just be my parents way of wanting us to be more kind and loving towards them, either way it all stems from the goodness of having a pure heart and our parents wanting us to live happy and successful lives.
Either way, if someone were to ask me where I like living more, I cannot say specifically, for the time being it is here in Cambodia, but then again it is because I am able to live my western lifestyle and still understand and appreciate the Khmer way of living too. I cannot say this enough, but I do feel very blessed to have been brought up in Australia but I am also very proud to say that I am Cambodian.