Throughout my time of living in Phnom Penh, I’ve always been fascinated by the architectural history of the city. While I am not a connoisseur of architecture, I appreciate the unique role history and culture plays in the design of a city.
As with most cities in the world, the context of Phnom Penh’s architectural design is a mix of political history, cultural influences, and economic rises and falls. So with my curious mind, I booked with Khmer Architectural Tours (KAT). KAT is an association run by a small group of young Khmer architecture students and graduates who have a passion for Cambodia’s unique architectural history.
Our young tour guide, Virak, enthusiastically guided us through narrow buildings, timeless French colonial structures, and the golden age of Cambodian architecture during the Sangkum Reastr Niyum period under King Sihanouk.
We first started our tour on cyclo, where our guide and the cyclo drivers picked us up at our house. We were greeted by the youthful smile of Virak who had brought with him his elder cyclo drivers with their rustic vehicles representing an era of a time of a gone by.
At the start of our journey, we headed down busy Sotheros Boulevard. With the heat blazing down on us; cars, tuk-tuks, motos, and even some bikes whizzed past us at today’s busy modern pace, while we moved at a slow and steady motion as if still stuck between the past and present. If you’ve never been on a cyclo in Phnom Penh, this is one of the most interesting ways to fully take in the chaos and lively vibe of the city. We were part of the landscape, without the large obstructive barrier of machines dividing our physical space. We were taking in every smell and sound that Phnom Penh had to offer.
It’s been a while since I last wrote. While most of it had to do with being caught up with the busyness of life, work, family and friends, there was more to my stagnant state of writing than that. That was half of the truth. The other truth was that I was hesitant to put my ideas, feelings and insecurities out there again for others to judge. I understand this comes with the territory in publishing my ideas publically.
In May 2014, I published a post about ‘Re-learning Khmer’ in which I wrote that as part of my time living in Cambodia, I was attempting to learn to read and write the language, something I never learned in a formal setting growing up in the U.S. I also admitted in the post that my spoken Khmer wasn’t where I’d like it to be, and that growing up in the U.S.—particularly in an area where there was a small Cambodian community—made it difficult to speak it often or learn it formally. My parents taught me as much as they could, but with wanting to assimilate in American culture, I had little desire to learn at the time.
After my post, most people who commented on my blog could relate, that they went through the same situation and saw themselves in my experience. Some however, criticized my lack of effort for not knowing my own language better, and even blamed my parents for not pushing harder. For the most part, it was a civil discourse, and I came away with the feeling that I wasn’t alone in my struggle. I didn’t feel judged. Then that changed...