From Cambodia to Japan

A Cambodian Student Looks at Life in Two Different Worlds

It's time to holiday in Cambodia

From the Wall Street Journal's today issue:

It's no longer easy to purchase AK-47 assault weapons here. Vendors have stopped selling marijuana in public markets, and fun-seekers can no longer lob live grenades behind the military compound outside of town.

Once famous for being the most lawless city in Asia - a wild west frontier of ex-soldiers, drug addicts and criminals - Phnom Penh is rapidly becoming the latest Asian tourist playground of spas, handbag dealers and boutique

Many in the city's hardened expatriate community don't like the changes, saying they've eroded much of the sense of adventure the capital once had.

But for visitors and for some newly wealthy Cambodians, Phnom Penh has become a more inviting place, retaining its Buddhist temples, wide avenues and French villas even as it pushes seedier elements underground. Before, high-end tourists only went to Angkor Wat, Cambodia's renowned temple complex. Now, they're stopping off in Phnom Penh, too.

A thousand years- Sting


A million roads, a million fears

A million suns, ten million years of uncertainty

I could speak a million lies, a million songs,

A million rights, a million wrongs in this balance of time

But if there was a single truth, a single light

A single thought, a singular touch of grace

Then following this single point , this single flame,

The single haunted memory of your face

I still love you

I still want you

A thousand times the mysteries unfold themselves

Like galaxies in my head



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Your surname or my surname?

So if you are married to a Japanese citizen, by Japanese law, you have two options regarding your surname: (1) either change it or (2) have your spouse adopted yours.

That' s one fascinating fact about Japanese civil code. All legally married couples are required by law to share a surname. Siblings, likewise, have to share a single family name. Although the law grants equal rights to both spouses to decide whose surname to retain, in practice, it’s the wife who usually chooses to surrender her maiden name, and takes the husband’s.

In recent year, there have been calls from many Japanese women right groups to change the law so that married couples can assume separate family names. Critics of the law describe it as a discrimination against women, and that it interferes too much into citizen’s personal life.

Cambodia's case

Cambodian culture is strikingly different from Japan in term of family naming.
In Srok Khmer, there’s no law that forces married couples to have a single surname. Husband and wife generally retain their maiden names respectively after marriage, although it’s customary that children inherit surname from their father.

In certain cases, however, children adopt their mother’s surnames instead of their father’s. For example, when couples divorce, the mother who win children’s custody sometimes registers children with her surname.
Even when the couples are not divorced, children sometimes have different surnames. For example, an elder brother might take his father’s surname, while the younger brother will take his mother’s. This is because, unlike in Japan, there is no law that requires couples to decide the surname of their children when they marry, or law that requires all siblings to have the same surname.

There are also cases in which children share both parent’s surnames. For example, if the father’s surname if “Sok”, and the mother’s is “Chan”, then the children’s surname could either be “Sok Chan” or “Chan Sok”. The reason why such practice exists is mainly due to the fact that Cambodian culture, unlike Japanese, doesn’t place importance on a single family name.
Do you think Japan should change the law by allowing married couples to have separate family name? Or do you think Cambodia should create a law that require married couples to share a single surname?

***For articles related to the Family Name Issues in Japan, you can go here:

1. Keiko Watanabe, The “Double Surnames” Issue in Japan, September 17, 2006
2. Discussion forum: Japanese surname after marriage

Khmer Krom Recipe

I just came across this incredible website. It has excellent instructions on how to cook Khmer food. As of now, there are 561 recipes, ranging from appetizers( Mahope-Sra) to salad( Nhoam) to soup( samlor) to dessert and drinks. Each recipe is neatly written, and is accompanied with a picture of the sample dish.

The site's name is Khmer Krom Recipe. But as I dug through its contents, I realized most of the recipes are basically the same as Khmer Kandal's. Yet there are a lot of yummy-looking dish that I've never seen or tried. Since I'm a very bad cook, who knows only a few Khmer dish, I hope to learn a few recipes from this site. Big thank to the creators of this page.

If you're interested, you can go here : Khmer Krom Recipe. Scroll down to see the details of each recipe.

Postcards From Cambodia

Some photos of my family I took during my recent trip to Cambodia.

My three year-old niece Kosoma.

Sunrise in Kampong Speu, Cambodia

Butterfly and flower around my house.

My niece Kesor Seyhak and my cousin Thalim.

My niece Kesor Seyhak


Of Drinking and Altruism

“Sometimes when I reflect back on all the beer I drink I feel ashamed. Then I look into the glass and think about the workers in the brewery and all of their hopes and dreams. If I didn't drink this beer, they might be out of work and their dreams would be shattered. Then I say to myself, 'It is better that I drink this beer and let their dreams come true than to be selfish and worry about my liver.' ” ~ Jack Handy

A Song From the Past: " Batt Oun"

Dedicated to you. A Khmer song from the past. " Batt Oun". Written and sung by prince Sisovath Panara Sereyvuth in the 1960s, it quickly became a big hit in Cambodia( As well as in France, if the commentator in YouTube is correct). This song is arguably one of the greatest Khmer songs of all time.

Hour Lavy, another Cambodian singer who gained fame in the early 1990s, has his own version of this song. Same melody, same lyric, buth entirely different voice. Still nice, nonetheless.

Interestingly, Hang Meas production, a leading music production company in Cambodia, has recently released the same song ( sung by Preab Sovath) , though it's not as good as the previous two versions.



Butterfly I found on my school's campus.

The Lost World of Angkor---From Discovery Channel

Thought you might want to see this documentary.

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I'm Back?

Typing. Type. Type. My fingers are running on the keyboard. Not knowing what to begin.


Hitting those familiar keys again.



And contemplating...

Not a single thought came to my mind. Not yet.

These familiar keys of my laptop couldn't help much.

Ideas seem to have dried up. Even a few greeting words for this first new post of this year. After almost 12 months of no updating.

It's no simple task, after all.


Within You'll Remain

I've been looking for this song for ages. Finally, some genuinely kind blogger has posted it. Big thank man.

Listening to this song is like taking a journey back through time---well, to be exact, to year 1996, when I was in grade 9. I first heard this song in a part time English class. It was Saturday, I believe. Back then the school had an extra session on Saturday, and it was always about listening to English songs.

Students seemed to enjoy this day more than any other days. They were particularly more attentive to the "lesson". They were more willing to repeat, to work in groups and to do the role play.

Needless to say, the students seemed to have absorbed the whole lesson without any major difficulty. At the end of the class most of them could easily repeat what they had learned and heard. Some students---for instance, me---even felt the class was too short. Only one hour. We even suggested the class be extended.

Yet, that's not the end of it. We would copy the lesson to practice at home until we were told by our parents or relatives that they were tired of hearing the same songs being played again and again on the tape.

If only our academic course could be turned into such kind of fun "music lesson" in which every student is passionately interested and involved in it, I am sure study performance would be significantly improved.


Anyway, I hope you enjoy this song.

A Touching Story by e-Visa Travelers

A Touching Reunion After 8 Long Years

Klaus Moeller, Germany, 21 May 2007

I have traveled to Cambodia on two previous occasions. I went to Cambodia 8 years ago and fell in love with the country. Outside the temple of Angkor Thom was a little girl selling flutes. I took a photo of her and bought a flute.

When I came home, I looked at this photo for 5 years - always wondering why I did not help her more!

Well, a year ago - I went back to Cambodia with my daughter and 6 of her friends from school. I managed to have someone find the little girl. It was amazing to find her - it took us nearly a whole day!

And so we took the photo of her holding her old photo! It was wonderful - and this time we did take care of her and her family.

Klaus Moeller's Feedback on e-Visa

I have traveled to Cambodia on two previous occasions and was excited to try out your new e-visa service. I am absolutely amazed (pleasantly!) as how easy to use this service is. It took me all but 10 minutes, reduced costs by eliminating FedEx charges and I had my visa ready to print the next morning!

I travel frequently all over the world and not only is Cambodia all the way up as one of the greatest travel destinations - but it has the absolutely best and easiest Visa service of any country! Congratulations and many thanks.

Notre Petite Histoire

Guy Demaison, France, 23 May 2007

Voici mon histoire qui est certainement banale.Je suis le président d'une petite association humanitaires française qui oeuvre au Cambodge. Chaque année nous allons soignée et offrir des vêtements, des jouets et du riz au enfants défavorisés du Cambodge. A l'issue de chaque mission, nous envoyons à sa Majesté le roi du Cambodge un compte rendu détaillé de nos actions.

Voici mon histoire. Un jour, nous sommes arrivée plus tard que prévu dans la décharge de phnom penh pour ditribuer de la nouriture, les enfants étant déja parti travailler, nous avons alors découvert une fillette de 4 ans, déshydratée par une diarrhée, entourée de mouches et qui, sans un secours immédiat, allait mourir. Nous nous sommes mis alors avec frénésie, à la recherche de l a mère pour pouvoir amener cet enfant à l'hopital avant qu'il ne soit trop tard.

Après avoir courru à travers toute la décharge de long en large et épuisé, nous avons enfin trouvé la mère et avons transporté la petite fille à l'hopital ou elle a été sauvée.

Nous avons alors demandé à la mèren la raison de cette inaction de sa part. Elle nous a alors expliqué qu'elle ne pouvait pas se permettre de cesser le travail pour consulter un médecin sans mettre en danger la vie de ses autres enfants.

My Story About Cambodia

Jessica Beltran, United States, 25 May 2007

First off i would just like to say Cambodia is a beautiful country, with beautiful people who are so pure and kind. I loved every moment i spent in Cambodia, i plan to return again one day. My heart goes out to the people of Cambodia.

After my time spent in Cambodia i realized what selfish life many americans live, we only think about ourselves, our needs, and complain about things not ever being good enough. I just want to say its time for americans to get out of there selfish world and think about the rest of the world and be grateful for the things you have.

The people of Cambodia have soo very little but the little they have they cherish, and its amazing how the country of Cambodia has suffered soo badly but yet the people and children are still very happy.

My heart fell in love with the children of cambodia I helped out in 5 different orphanages with 11 other people i traveled with. These kids are beautiful and they fall in love you with you the moment you enter and you fall in love with them. Even though the language barrier was difficult they make every effort to talk with you and play with you. I loved every moment of spending time with these kids.

The hardest part was saying good-bye some of these children didn't want to let go. I recommend on your visit to Cambodia to visit the orphanages and remember to be grateful the little you have and show your love to the people of cambodia.

Clockwork Radio

Anthony and Helen Pearson, Cumbria, 24 May 2007

My daughter bought me a clockwork radio for Christmas a couple of years ago. I never used it, being addicted to my tiny short wave radio, which enables to access the BBC World Service. I took the clockwork radio with me to Cambodia in February 2007. Each evening from our hotel in Phnom Penh, we saw two ladies go down to the river to bathe. They submerged themselves up to their necks and removed their clothing to wash, before redressing and climbing out onto the river bank to dry. My wife and I reasoned that they only had one change of clothes.

We went down to the riverside, and with the help of a passing English speaking Cambodian, gave the ladies the clockwork radio. They looked astonished.

Two nights later we were walking along the river bank and saw a group of people huddled in a circle, our two ladies were among them. There, in the centre of the circle was the clockwork radio playing Cambodian music. We didn't disturb them, just walked on past, but feeling rather a nice glow inside.

David, The Moto Driver

Omar Montenegro, Argentina, 23 May 2007

His name is not David but due to our inability to pronounce his Cambodian name he agreed to his new, temporary western name. He was our driver in Phnom Penh.

David knows everything about his city. During our week stay, he showed us many wonderful places, including great ones off the tourist guides.

The last day David took us to the airport. After saying good bye, there was a silent, sad moment. It was obvious that David had touched our hearts with his friendly, warm personality.

David's English is good, occasionally he surprised us with very advanced vocabulary. If you run into David don't hesitate to hire him and please tell him about these lines.



Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation

Meet Sin Sisamouth's wife

Meataphoum Music Production Company interviewed Keo Thorng Gnut, the wife of Sin Sisamouth, Cambodian most famous and highly prolific singer-song writer in the 1950s to the 1970s.

Here's an excerpt from the interview:

"Before my husband [Sin sisamouth] passed away, he used to tell me not to worry about anything. He said even if he died, his songs would live, which means I would get some kind of pension from the state and royalties from those music companies that make profit over the songs. But it's been more than 20 years and nobody cares about us."

--- Keo Thorng Gnut

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Sronos Pka Ktom

In his book, Komnarp Snaeh Meas, Kung Bun Chheun said he wrote this song. It was originally used as a soundtrack for his movie--which I don't remember the title-- made during the early 1970s. The film centers around a Lon Nol's soldier and a rural girl. The soldier was injured by a bomb during a bloody battle and was saved by the girl. The bomb made him temporarily blind, so he didn't have a chance to see his savior's face. Meanwhile, she took very good care of him until he got better.

Both eventually fell in love with each other. Later on, he was transferred to Phnom Penh through a helicopter. ( There's another well-known soundtrack in the scene in which he said goodbye to her. The song was written by Kung Bun Chheun and sung by Ros Sereysothea. It begins with something like, " Ut-tam-peakachak bong kvak lea oun...lea oun.." You've probably heard of it, I guess. )

She came to see him in Phnom Penh. He eventually recovered his eye-sights but only after she had already returned to the countryside. The reason she left was because his mother didn't like her as she 's a poor girl, and she wanted him to marry another girl.

What happened next, I don't remember. I think Kung Bun Chheun remade the movie in the late 1980s.

Maybe you've seen it?

( The real title of the song is Jet smos borisot, not Sronos pka ktum. Thanks Tonghor for pointing out to the whereabouts of the song)

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For real?

  • 17,535,000 : Number of Japanese tourist abroad in 2006or (or 14.6 % of the whole population. Data: Japanese Tourism Marketing Corp.)
  • 3,000,000 : Number of Cambodian tourist abroad in 2006 (or 21.4% of the whole population . Data: Reaksmeykampuchea )
Reaksmey Kampuchea today quoted Ho Vandy, president of Cambodian tourist association, as saying that more than 3 million Cambodians--or 21.4% of the whole population--- traveled abroad last year. Most of these people, he said, went to Thailand, Malaysia, Hong kong and Macao. The number doesn't include those who traveled to countries like the U.S. , Australia or Europe.

That' s a surprisingly high number compared to a mere 1.7 million tourists who came to Cambodia in the same year.

It's unclear how Mr. Vandy obtained the data. But if it's true, does it mean that the rapid economic growth( 13% last year) has actually benefited the population? Or does it merely reflect the fact that the number of Cambodian migrant workers who travel to countries like Thailand, Malaysia or Korea has considerably increased?


Sumo and Discrimination

I read a short but interesting article about Sumo(相撲), a traditional style of wrestling in Japan, in the February issue of the Nihongo Journal yesterday. It gives a brief insight into the present day aspect of Sumo. For example, it talks about how and when sumo championships are organized, the career as a sumo wrestler, the background of the current wrestlers ---Rikishi (力士)---their salaries compared to professional players of soccer and baseball, and past and present championship winners.

But one unpleasant fact I just learned from this article is that unlike other types of sports in Japan--K1, or Boxing, for example, where you usually see girls appear on the ring to announce the start of a new round-- women are not allowed to enter the sumo's ring. The main reason, according to the article, is attributed to the fact that sumo is closely intertwined with Shinto( 神道), a religion unique to Japan. Sumo is a sacred sport, and in the past, traditional male rikishi(力士) wrestled each other in order to please God. Meanwhile, Shintoism considers women as impure( for a reason I'm not going to mention here) and thus are not allowed into the competition's area, which is believed to be a sacred place.

Moreover, sumo championship is organized alternatively at various places in Japan, namely Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto and so on. Traditionally, on the final day of the competition, the top officer( usually the governor of the City) would be asked to present the championship cup to the winner in the ring. But, this is not possible in Osaka as the present governor is a woman, otherwise it will go against the sport's rule.

The article goes on to say that while there is outcry from critics over such age- old rule, there is no sign that it's going to change soon.

As for my personal opinion, I find it a little surprise that such outdated practice is still allowed to exist in a modern and advanced country like Japan. Admittedly, I'm not a big fan of this sport, but I'd still join the critics too. It's time to change the rule.

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No courage to read

I've come across the translated (Japanese) version of this book several times at the library. But I had no idea it is a national bestseller, a recipient of a 2001 book award, or that it has been translated into nine languages, including Khmer, until I came accross the author( Loung Ung)'s website the other day. All I knew about this book is that it is a horrible account of the writer's life during the Khmer Rough era.

Honestly, I never want to go through its content. It's not because I am not moved by its title, nor because I dislike such books.

It's because I lack the courage to read it. Growing up in Cambodia, I'm used to hearing stories of unbearable hardship, brutal killings, starvations and struggling during the murderous regime from all sort of people--- most frequently from my parents, my grandparents; and occasionally from my teachers, my friend's parents, people I know and I never know.

The stories have been told and retold to me since the time I was able to speak and understand Khmer. At home, my parents would often recount their horrible experiences during the Khmer Rough era (My mom lost one mother and eight of her 12 siblings, not to mention dozens of her relatives). At school, my teachers would tell their own accounts which were equally terrifying. In the school's text books ( at grade 2, 3 and 4) , there were written stories of the suffering of people and brutal killings with illustrated images, which were no less unpleasant and painful. In the media (National TV and well as Radio) back then, similar accounts were often widely broadcasted.

So sometimes I feel I have heard enough of these stories. It's unpleasant, sad and horrifying enough to have absorbed all these traumatized accounts in your head. It's time to move on, to read and to search for something else.

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Iraq Iran

The title of this entry is misleading. This post is neither about Iraq war nor Iran nuclear issue. It's about a song: a Khmer song written by Mr. Fay Sam Arng and produced by SSB production company. It appears SSB has recently made so many songs in a short period that song writers can no longer find any interesting title for their songs. So they are forced to pick an odd title for a newly released song. It's called " Iraq Iran." Disappointingly, like the title of my post, the title of this song is misleading.

Check the below video, if you want to find out whether the song has anything to do with these two middle east countries.

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Various forms of Khmer poetry

Click on the image for bigger view.

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Who was your ancestor?

Sometimes I wonder where my ancestors came from. I used to ask my parents about them. Sadly, though, it appears the blood line could only be traced back to as far as my great great grandparents or, say, a hundred years earlier. And it abruptly ends there.
But for Kung Te Cheng( Chinese: 孔德成), a Taiwanese, that is a little different from me. Mr. Kung is able to identify his ancestor who lived in China more than 2500 years ago. Guess who his forefather is. You got one clue: His surname is Kung ( ).
Well, here's the answer. He's Confucius(孔夫子), the great Chinese philosopher and thinker.
Mr. Kung Te Cheng is now a 77th generation direct descendant of Confucius, and is considered the head of the main line of descent. Of course, the line is not going to end here as he has a grandson and great grandson who is the 79th and 80th lineal descendent.
It’s fascinating in that after more than two an a half millenniums, the Confucius bloodline still survive. I’m now asking myself if I could be a descendent of some great persons who lived back thousands years ago. Well, who knows?( Hahaha) One thing I’m sure, however, is that my ultimate ancestor had to be here on earth as far as everybody else’s had. For I believe every human being shares the same ultimate ancestor(s).
(Picture: Wikipedia )

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