Like others, Cambodians have their own verbal habits

5 Aug - 1When they answer their ubiquitous cellphones, Cambodians begin by saying Hallo, which is not a typo.  I suspect the word has its roots from the years that this nation was a protectorate of France, where they don’t pronounce the h” and the first sound is “ah.”

The telephone greeting often is linked to the Khmer phrase for “how are you?”  The populace apparently has tired of the words, and many can be counted on to reassemble the few syllables in their response to amuse themselves.

When I answer the way they do, I await Continue reading

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Women sold into sex work condemned to no future

Still from The Virginity Trade

Still from “The Virginity Trade”

Variations of one Khmer proverb go something like this:

Men are gold, women are cloth. . .

The implied meaning is that men who do something unacceptable are like gold; they will be as clean as the metal after it is washed.  The converse is suggested for women; when sullied, even washing won’t rinse off all the dirt.  They will be perpetually dirty objects of scorn.

Two one-hour documentaries Continue reading

Being a foreigner in local markets can be daunting

This is not my local market, but it is typical of markets found everywhere in Cambodia.

This is not my local market, but, other than its spaciousness, it’s typical of indoor markets found everywhere in Cambodia.  I recall that I took this photo on an important Buddhist holiday.

Closing in on two years in this country, I relish more than ever my daily encounters with Cambodians and the chance to practice my atrocious grasp of the language.

It is one thing to try to speak and understand Khmer with waiters and gym trainers who are bilingual to greater or lesser degrees. They seem to enjoy my struggles with pronunciation — you try to articulate as one sound the diphthong “ng” and the triphthong “pdt.”

It is quite another thing to climb the Mount Everest of fathoming a normal rush of words that I know yet fail miserably to hear when they are strung together in speech.

I long ago gave up trying to read or, horrors, write the language.  But words and some grammar are beginning to sink in and I now can engage in the most rudimentary of short conversations such as ordering food in a restaurant.

The big problem with learning Khmer where I usually range is that almost everyone seems to speak enough English that I am not called upon to use the local language.  Moreover, they usually don’t expect me to speak Khmer and I don’t always expect them to speak English, inevitably causing confusion.  Still, I persist stubbornly.

In the last several weeks, I finally have become emboldened to Continue reading

For many Cambodians, giving birth is perilous journey

maternity 6

Far too many Cambodians live like this in the provinces, even within Phnom Penh limits, with few having either the means for or access to (or both) maternity healthcare that normally is appropriate.

This post is published verbatim with the permission of Banyan Blog, where it originally appeared. The writer’s insights are always worth reading, and I highly recommend the blog as well as its Twitter feed. The source of all but one of the photos, which I have added to the Banyan Blog post, is Kuma Cambodia, funded by a Norwegian association that goes by NAPIC.

One of the most dangerous moments in a woman’s life is giving birth, especially when access to quality medical care is not easily available.  In Khmer, the term to give birth is called “ch’long tonle” which means to “cross the river”. The elders use this phrase to describe the dangerous journey of crossing the river, which was oftentimes difficult and dangerous. Some would make it, others would drown. The phrase is appropriate in describing the perilous and uncertain journey of childbirth.

According to UNICEF, Cambodia’s maternal mortality rate is 170 per 100,000 live births (2013). While the rate has improved significantly since 1990 (1,200 per 100,000), it is still one of the highest in the world. The biggest challenge is Continue reading

My views about learning Khmer language have evolved

IMG_4508

My teacher with one of his lessons at Brown coffee house, where I often do my language homework.  On this day, however, Meng tutored me there prior to my upcoming travels.

It was seven or eight months ago that I started studying the Khmer language.  I wrote in this space that I felt it was wrong to live in Cambodia or any other foreign country without trying to learn the language.

My opinion has not changed, but circumstances have forced to me think hard about my goals. One such circumstance is a few weeks of travel starting Aug. 13.

(The travel means that you can expect only sporadic tweets should you be following me as well as irregular posts here or on Facebook, if any, for a while.)

Continue reading

Why study a language that only 15 million speak?

khmer sign

The language of Cambodia, called “Khmer” and usually pronounced K-mye, is hardly heard around the world.  No one who doesn’t live here needs to speak, understand or write it.

It happens that I have an aptitude for language.  I can get along somewhat in French and Spanish (the latter sadly falling into disuse now that I have left New York) perhaps because I took the not unusual path in olden times of studying Latin for a year or two in junior high school.

Thus did I decide to pick up a little Khmer when I decided last year to move to Phnom Penh. With echoes of the Ugly American reverberating in my brain, I considered it appropriate to study the language if I was to be a resident of the country.

Not to learn the language struck me then and strikes me now as arrogant.

The irony is that Continue reading