A few weeks ago I embarked on a long flight back home to visit family and friends in the U.S. for the summer. It’s hard to believe almost a year has passed since we left for Cambodia. It’s nostalgic to be back home and enjoy the things that I missed. Some of them are simple things I took for granted like a fresh cool breeze, expanses of luscious green grass and trees, playgrounds that are shaded, and traffic that moves in an organized fashion. Some things I deeply miss, I can’t get back.
I’ve been in a writing limbo over the last few weeks, partly from being busy trying to do as much as I can while I am here. The other part, the seemingly lack of inspiration. As the days went by, I could feel my motivation to write slipping away from me, or so I thought.
It was easy to be inspired in Phnom Penh with the cacophony of restless images and an unknown life beckoning me to rediscover it. But being back home is different. It’s a different kind of noise, a known life and routine, and a different kind of calling. I’ve realized the source of inspiration here is quieter, calmer and perhaps more soothing because it has the familiarity of home. Instead of being drawn by life outside the house, it’s what’s inside my childhood home that inspired me to write this.
Over the last few months I’ve had a Khmer teacher who has helped me learn how to read and write Khmer. The alphabet and grammar are fairly straightforward (the vowels are a bit tricky). Writing is a bit difficult as it is entirely different than the Roman script. While we focus most of our lessons on the mechanics of the language I am also learning interesting and important aspects of Khmer communication. What I’m learning is that the Khmer language is fairly complex in the layers of communication. Cambodia is a very hierarchical society and words are chosen depending on whom you are speaking with.
There are many websites, blogs and books if one is interested in learning the history and basics of Khmer language. What might not be as easily accessible are the unwritten rules of this hierarchy in communication. Through language, Khmers communicate the values they put on respect and distinction of social classes in society. This social value is transmitted through the importance that Khmer people put on honorific titles and the different words one uses to speak with certain people.