REDEFINE CAMBODIA: A LETTER TO THE NEXT GENERATION
First published in Milk Magazine. Reposted with permission.
December 2014, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
(Khmer Translation Below)
I have always wondered what my life would have been like had we stayed in Cambodia after the war. It is hard to fathom all the struggles my country faced as we tried to get back on our feet; limited water supply, rations of rice, no electricity and no running water. This generation grew up living under the threat of violence from rocket fire, grenade attacks and millions of landmines.
You were robbed of being able to learn from the many talented artists, musicians, filmmakers, and intellectuals who came before you. The country started over and the burden fell on the shoulders of your parents’ generation. Many conformed to the mentality of doing whatever it took to survive. You inherited all these remnants of war, and with it, a terrible legacy that defined your parents’ generation, and to many in the outside world, defined our country.
Over 30 years have passed since then. Much progress has been made. Much more needs to be done. Yet, in some ways, many still see our country trapped by the shadows of our past.
It’s time to redefine Cambodia.
Eerie Art Form
There’s something about smot that gives me peace and calm. I close my eyes and at once I am in a trance. For most Khmer people, young and old, smot is an eerie type of traditional music, one that beckons the dead. Just saying the word is enough to give some people the creeps.
I did not grow up listening to smot. I only heard of it last year when my parents listened to it constantly as my father’s health was deteriorating. My mother would play the CDs of smot music for my father to comfort him, to comfort both of them. Since then, I have been fascinated by this unique traditional music. Though I have limited understanding of the verses, it’s the sound that captivates me the most. The melodies are melancholic and heavy, unlike most traditional Khmer music, which are upbeat and light. The voices of the smot singers are mature and hauntingly beautiful.