Cambodian Towns Rapidly Losing Their Khmer Identities
September 20, 2007, 2:30 am
Filed under: Culture



Cambodian Towns Rapidly Losing Their Khmer Identities

by Moeun Chhean Nariddh



t was interesting to read about the Italians arguing whether there should be a Chinatown in Rome (“When in Rome, do as the Romans would do not the Chinese”, Tuesday, March 12, Page 16).

Yes, it’s no strange sight to see a Chinatown in cities across the world. But, what the Romans worry about is exactly what the Khmers do.

Though you may not find a clearly defined Chinatown here, many towns here are, in many ways, already Chinatowns. Just look around the markets in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Battambang, Sihanoukville, Kompong Cham and in many provinces.

Remember the recent Chinese New Year? It was time when the town named itself.

Worse than what makes the Italians in Rome worry is the fact that you may, on the contrary, have difficulty finding a real Khmertown. As when you wish to see the Bayon temple in Siem Reap at the height of its beauty, you should rise early.

Like many markets in Phnom Penh, the Psar Kandal Market has two other names. It is a Khmer market from 2 am to 6 am, when Khmer vendors from nearby countryside come to sell their farm produce on the street side.

From 6 am to 6 pm, it is a Chinese and Vietnamese market, when they come to do the business in their more comfortable stores.

Nevertheless, it is not only the markets and the cities that are losing the Khmer identity, but virtually all social institutions are increasingly dominated by Chinese-Cambodians, including the government, businesses, many workplace and higher education.

Maybe an old Khmer prophecy is correct: “Chen denh Khmer, Khmer denh kmaoch (The Chinese chase out the Khmers and the Khmers chase out the ghosts)”. Over time, we have seen a flow of Khmer people move out of the cities and go live in the uninhabited countryside where “the ghosts would live.”

Some people attribute this trend to the general Khmer attitude of wanting to live a calm, modest life free from greed and noisy surroundings. Yet, they seem to fall victim to this attitude as the costs of living rise and they become trapped in a circle of debt, mainly to the Chinese.

If this continues to be the case, they eventually may not be able to chase any ghosts as they become ghosts themselves.




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