My birthday(s), my problems
September 21, 2007, 2:52 am
Filed under: Funny Stuff

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(Happy Birthday to Mongkul Thomaboth Moeun. He has turned one-year old today. He’s lucky not to have the same problems older Cambodians had faced.)

My birthday(s), my problems

By Moeun Chhean Nariddh

I have created a monster – by reducing my age. During the past ten years the monster was in my favor, but now it has turned against me.

I want to apply for a British fellowship but legally I’m four years too young. By the reckoning on nature though, I should only have to wait another year.

Having had their school years upset by war in the early 1970s and later the Khmer Rouge period, many people found they were too old to attend primary school in the early 1980s.

Teenage Khmers began changing their ages so they were young enough to keep attending primary school, repeat classes and avoid conscription.

Aunts and uncles soon began starting school alongside their nieces and nephews.

Many who changed their birthdates picked easy to remember dates – such as January 7, the day Pol Pot’s regime was overthrown, or April 13, Khmer New Year’s Day.

I, too, was reborn on January 1, 1973 instead of my real birthdate of April 22, 1969. It was 1984 and I was about to take a primary school examination I was too old for, so I gave my “new” birthdate instead.

I don’t celebrate either birthdate – or any of the others I have given to officials at one time or another – because only rich people celebrate birthdays. But if I were rich enough, I would celebrate my real birthday.

But for now my counterfeit birthdate haunts me. To apply for a Reuters Foundation scholarship, I have to be 27. I will be 27 next year but because of my fake birthdate I will have to wait another four years to be eligible.

Many other Khmers, whose identity cards, passports, certificates and degrees bear birthdates which are not their real ones, face similar problems.

Chhim Dararath, from Phnom Penh’s Chatomuk school, could not vote during the UNTAC elections because he was too young.

He was really born in 1971 but changed that to 1979 to allow him to repeat primary school classes.

He said it took him almost 10 years to learn the 69 Khmer consonants and vowels, because of poor memory caused by chronic illness during the Khmer Rouge years.

He has now graduated to secondary school, where he studies alongside young boys and girls. He was appointed class monitor in addition to his usual task of helping to wipe the kids’ noses.

“I’m very ashamed to be called ‘uncle’ by my young classmates,” lamented the 24-year-old pupil.

Sok Seng, an electrician at a Phnom Penh power plant, said he changed his birthdate from 1966 to 1972. He was able to miss out on military service in the 1980s “because I was still officially young.”

Now, his brother who is really two years younger than him is officially two years older.

“I want to change back to my real age but it’s too late,” he said.

He, like most Khmers, no longer have any identity papers issued before the 1970s, and all his more recent ones bear his counterfeit date of birth.

“I will still have to work six more years after I reach the retiring age,” he joked.

Uy Borasy, a trader at a Phnom Penh market, said many people also changed their ages during the Khmer Rouge rule.

He reduced his age by three years to try to avoid being sent to Khmer Rouge mobile youth work teams, “but it was not effective because the Khmer Rouge’s Angkar would select all the big boys and girls regardless of their ages”.

He later changed his age again under the State of Cambodia regime in the 1980s so he could study at high school.

Now, he says, he has to live with the fact he has a “young age with an old face”.

hnom Penh Post, Issue 4/8, April 21 – May 4, 1995
© Michael Hayes, 2000. All rights revert to authors and artists on publication.
For permission to publish any part of this publication, contact
Michael Hayes, Editor-in-Chief
http://www.PhnomPenhPost.com – Any comments on the website to
Webmaster

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