Since the glory days of the Angkor Empire of old, the Cambodian people have been on the losing side of many a historical battle, their little country all too often a minnow amid the circling shanks. Popular attitudes have been shaped by this history, the relationship between Cambodia and its powerful neighbors, Thailand & Vietnam, based on fear sometimes loathing. Most Khmers think of their Thais neighbors as the bad cultural kidnappers who have aided and abetted Cambodia’s decline. Cambodian attitudes towards the Vietnamese people are awkward and ambivalent. Sure they generally loathe them too, but it is balanced with a begrudging respect for their hard work ethic and “liberation” from the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979. When “liberation” became occupation in the 1980s, most Khmers son remembered why they didn’t like the Vietnamese after all. Many Cambodians feel the Vietnamese are colonizing their country and stealing their land. At first glance, Cambodia appears to be a nation full of shiny, happy people, but look a little deeper and it soon becomes a country of contradictions. Light and dark, rich and poor, love and hatred, life and death all are visible on a journey through the kingdom, but most telling of all is the glorious past set against Cambodia’s tragic present. Angkor is everywhere: it’s on the Khmer flag; it’s the national bear, its hotels and guest-houses, its cigarettes. It is anything and everything. It’s a symbol of nation hood, of fierce pride, a fingers-up to the world that says no matter how bad things have become, you can’t forget the fact that we, the Cambodians, built Angkor Wat and it doesn’t come bigger than that. The king JayavarmanVII, Angkor’s greatest king, is nearly as omnipresent as his temples. Contrast this with the abyss into which the nation was sucked during the hellish years of the Khmer Rouge, which left people profoundly shocked, suffering inside, stoical on the outside. Pol Pot is a dirty word in Cambodia due to the death and suffering he inflicted on the country. Whenever you hear his name, it will be connected with stories of endless personal tragedy, of dead brothers, mothers and babies, from which most Cambodians have never had the chance to recover. Such suffering takes generations to heal and meanwhile the country is crippled by a short-term mentality that encourages people to live for today, not or think about tomorrow, because not so long ago there was no tomorrow. No one has tasted justice, the whys and how remains unanswered and the older generation must live with the shadow of this trauma stalking their every waking hour.
(1). Life Style: For many older Cambodians, life is a centered on the family, faith and food a timeless existence that has stayed the same for the centuries. Most of Cambodian lives in the extended family than The Nuclear Family. The Extended Family comes together during times of trouble or times of joy, celebrating festivals and successes, mourning deaths or disappointment. The Cambodian house is big or small depends on the family’s members, one thing is certain: there will be a lot of people living inside. For the majority of the population still living in the countryside and others live in the urban area, these constants carry on as they have several generations sharing the same roof, the same rice and the same religion. But during the dark decades of the 1970 and 1980, this routine was ripped apart by war and ideology, as the peasants were dragged from all they held there to fight a bloody civil war and later forced into slavery. The Khmer Rouge Organization took over as the moral and social beacon in lives of the people and families were forced apart, children, turned against parents, brothers against sisters. The bond of trust was broken and is only slowing being rebuilt today. Faith is another rock in the lives of many older Cambodians, and Buddhism has helped them to rebuild their shattered lives after waking from the nightmare that was the Khmer Rouge. Most Cambodian houses contain a small shrine to pray for luck and the Wat is thronging with the faithful come Buddhist day. Food is more important to Cambodian than the most, as they have tasted what it is like to be without famine stalked the country in the late 1970s, and even today, malnutrition and food shortages are common during the times of drought. Rice is a staple served with every meal for Cambodian, farmers are attached to their land, there very survival dependent on it, and the harvest cycle dictates the rhythm of rural life. Cambodia is set for major demographic changes in the next couple of decades. Currently, just 15% of the population live in urban area, which contrasts starkly with the country’ s more-developed neighbors like Thailand and Malaysia.
Cambodian traditionally greet each other with Sam Piah, involves pressing the both hands together in praying and bowing the head, similar to Thailand. The higher the hands and the lower the bow the more respect are conveyed. It is important to remember when meeting officials or the elderly. In the recent times this custom has been partially replaced by hand shake but, although men tend to shake hands with each other, women usually use the traditional greeting with both men and women. It is considerable acceptable for foreigners to shake hands with Cambodians of both sexes.
Both men and women often wear cotton or silk Sarongs, especially at their homes. Men who can afford it usually prefer to wear silk Sarongs. Most urban Khmer men dress in the trousers and these days most urban women dress in western style clothing. On formal occasions such as religious festivals and family celebrations, women often wear a Hol (a type of skirt) during the day. At night they change into single color silk dresses call Phamouong which are decorated along the hems. If the celebration is a wedding, the colors of such garments are dictated by the day of the week on which the wedding falls. The women of the Cambodian are generally modest in their dress, although this is fast changing in the bigger town and cities.
A small token of gratitude in the form of a gift is always appreciated when visiting someone. Before entering a Khmer home, always removed your shoes if the home owners do so first. This applies to some guest-houses and restaurants as well if there is a pile of shoes at the doorway, take yours off as well.
The Khmers are easy-going and may choose not to point out improper behavior to their foreign guest, but it is important to dress and act with the utmost respect when visiting Wat or other religious sites. This is all the most important given the vital role Buddhism has played in the lives of many Cambodian in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge holocaust. The Proper etiquette in Cambodian pagodas is mostly a matter of common sense. Don’t wear shorts or tank tops. Take off your hat when entering the ground of Wat. Take off your shoes before going into the temple sanctuary. Bow slightly in the presence of elderly or senior monks. You put a small sum of money into the donation box. Never point your finger-or, nirvana forbid, the sole of your feet towards a monk or a Buddha figure.
Visiting temples and pagodas, you should wear long trousers or a long skirt, and should have your shoulders covered. In the city, people tend to dress casually, but relatively conservatively. Jeans, long shorts, (and skirts for women) are common for all ages, as well as polo shirts, T-shirts and blouses or dress shirts. Women generally cover shoulders and knees, but tank tops are very common in the cities. Very short skirts or revealing tops are not appropriate, especially when at ACO. Flip-flops, sandals and comfortable athletic or walking shoes are all good footwear. Being polite & culturally sensitive:
(2). Religion: Since the earliest time the people of Cambodian worshipped the natural forces, “the spirit of wind, water, earth, mountain, river, tree and stone” that called Animism.
The earliest form of worship in Cambodia was a widespread primitive belief in Animism or spiritual forces. Patronages to it continued even after the adoption of religious belief from India in the early century of the Christian era. The presence of spirits in all material things like: (tree, river, mountain, stone and earth) that exerted a profound influence for the daily life. The supernatural forces were both revered and feared because of this duality widespread superstitions surrounded them. They had to be either invoked or appeased through rituals. People gave special attention to the spirit of water because of its necessity for the human’s survival. The spirit of the ancestors also required nurturing and pacifying because; according to the belief; when someone died his soul was reincarnated and his spirit became a free agent.
This religion was brought to India by Aryans. The principles of this religion developed from about (900-550 B.C) and were reflected in hymns known as the Vedas. Gods stemming from the Vedic beliefs that are depicted in the Khmer art include Agni “god of fire,” Indra “god of storm, rain, cloud,” Surya, “god of sun." The followers of Brahmanism had worshipped images; recognized the forces of Animistic spirits, and believed in the endless cycle of creation and destruction. Brahmanism adopted the ancient concept of the cosmology of the world with The Mountain Meru that situated at the center of the cosmic world.
The fusion of Brahmanism and the early beliefs of the Vedic traditions could give birth to the Hinduism. Its concepts were probably formulated at the beginning of The Christian era. Hinduism is the dominant religion in India to-day. The religious followers believed in the universal world spirit called Brahmanism and worship, amongst other the deities of The Trinity “Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.” Each of these gods inspired a religious cult that became an important form of worship at the Angkor period. Shivaism was the earliest and one of the most important cults in Cambodia. In the 11th century it was supplanted by Vishnuism.
This religion began in India as a reform movement against Hinduism & Brahmanism. By the 2nd century of the Christian era 2 strains of Buddhism was defined Mahayana and Hinayana or Theravada Buddhism. Both of these were transmitted to Cambodia. Mahayana was known as the greater vehicle; may have arrived in Cambodia during 7th century A.D. Hinayana Buddhism was known as the lesser vehicle adhered to conservative principles preserving the original doctrines and expressed them through Pail language. 90% of Cambodian populations are Buddhist. To-day, the official and state religion of Cambodia is Theravada Buddhism which being practiced in neighboring countries such as: Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and Sri-Lanka. Nowadays, the other religions in Cambodia include Islam and Christianity.
(3) Arts: The Khmer Rouge’s assault on the arts was a terrible blow to Cambodian culture. Indeed, for a number of years the common consensus among Khmers was that their culture had been irrevocably lost. The Khmer Rouge not only did away with living bearers of the Khmer culture, it also destroyed cultural artifacts, statues, musical, instruments, books and anything else that served as a reminder of a past it was trying to efface. The temples of the Angkor were spared as a symbol of Khmer glory and empire, but little else survived.
More than any of the other traditional arts, Cambodia’s royal ballet is a tangible like with the glory of Angkor. Its traditions stretched long into the past, when the art of the Apsara (beautiful nymph); resounded to the glory of the divine king. Early in his reign, King Sihanouk released the traditional harem of royal Apsara that went with the crown. Nevertheless, prior to the Pol Pot regime classical ballet was still taught at the palace. Dance fared particularly badly during the Pol Pot years. Very few dancer and teacher survived, including one old woman who was the long one who knew how to make the elaborate costumes that are sewn piece onto the dancers before a performance. In 1981, .with a handful of the teachers, the University of Fine Arts was reopened and the training of dance students, resumed. Much of Cambodian Royal Dance resembles that of Indian and Thailand (it has the same stylized hand moments, the same sequined, costumes and the same opulent stupa-like headwear), as the Thais learnt their techniques from the Khmer after sacking Angkor in the 15th century. The royal dance was traditionally an all-female affair (with the exception of the role of the monkey), there are now more mall dancers featured.
The Bas-reliefs on some of the monuments in the Angkor regions depict musicians and Apsara holding musical instruments similar to the traditional Khmer instruments of today, demonstrating that Cambodia has a long musical traditions all its own. Customarily, music was an accompaniment to a ritual or performance that had religious significance. Musicologists have identified six types of Cambodian musical ensemble, each use in the different settings. The most traditional of these is the Areak Ka, an ensemble that performs at the wedding. Much of Cambodia’s traditional music was lost during the Pol Pot era. The Khmer Rouge targeted famous singers and the great Sin Sisamuth, Cambodian most famous songwriter and performer, was executed in that regime. After the war, many Khmers settled in the USA, where a lively Khmer pop industry developed, influenced by US music and later exported back to Cambodia, it has been enormously popular. Phnom Penh has a burgeoning pop industry, many of whose famous stars perform at the huge restaurants. One form of music unique to Cambodia is Chapaye, a sort of Cambodian blues sung to the accompaniment of a two stringed wooden instruments similar in sound to a bass guitar without the amplifier. There are few older masters such as Prach Chouen left alive, but Chapaye is still often shown on late night Cambodian TV before transmission ends.
Khmer language belongs to the Austro-Asiatic Mon-Khmer group. At the time of Angkor Empire the Mon people occupied Indianized states in southern Myanmar and northern Thailand. They still live as the minorities in both countries today. The Mon-Khmer languages were influenced by Sanskrit, the holy language of Brahmanism and the Pali, the holy language used in Hinayana Buddhism. The development of the Khmer language can be divided into three consecutive periods: Ancient Khmer (6th-13th century A.D), Middle Khmer (14th-18th century A.D) and the Modern Khmer language, from the 19th onward. There are 33 consonants and 24 diphthongs and 14 vowels. This language has no rising and falling intonation. It is written from the left to right and leave no spaces between the words. The second language in Cambodia is French for older generation, while among the younger generation people more English is spoken.
Khmer architecture reached its peak during the Angkorian era (9th-14th century AD). Some of the finest examples of the architecture from this period are Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom. Today, most rural Cambodian houses are built on high wood pilings and have thatch roofs, walls made of palm mats and floors of woven bamboo strips resting on bamboo joists. French left their mark in Cambodia in the form of some handsome villas and government buildings built in neoclassical style-Romanesque pillars. Some of the best architectural examples: are in Phnom Penh, but most of the provincial capitals have at least one or two examples of architecture from the colonial period.
Even in the pre-Angkorian era, the periods generally referred to as Funan and Chenla, the people of Cambodia were producing masterfully sensuous sculpture that was more than a mere copy of the Indian forms it was modeled on. Some scholars maintain that the Cambodian forms are unrivalled in India itself. The earliest surviving Cambodian sculpture dates from the 6thcentury AD. Most of it depicts Vishnu-God with four or eight arms, which are displayed at the national museum. Also on display at the national museum is a statue of Hari-Hara from the era of the 7th century AD, a divinity who combines aspects of both Vishnu and Shiva, but looks more than a little Egyptian. The Banteay Srei style of a late 10th century is commonly regarded as a high point in the evolution of South-east Asia Art. The national museum has a splendid piece from this period a sandstone statue of Shiva holding Uma, his wife on his knee. The Baphuon style of the 11th century was inspired to a certain extent by the sculpture of Banteay Srei, producing some of the finest works to have survived today. The statuary of Angkor Wat period it left to be conservative and stilted, lacking the grace of earlier work. The genius of this period manifests itself more clearly in the architecture and fabulous bas-reliefs. The final high point in Angkorian sculpture is the Bayon period from the end of 12th century to the beginning 13th century. In the national museum, look for the superb representation of Jayavarman VII, an image that simultaneously projects great power and sublime tranquility. Cambodian sculptors are re-discovering their skills, now there is a ready market among the tourists; both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap are excellent places to buy reproduction stone carvings of famous statues and busts from the time of Angkor.
With a tradition of craftsmanship that produced the temple of Angkor, it is hardly surprising to find that even today Khmer produce exquisitely carved silver, wood, stone. Many of the designs hark back to those of the Angkorian period and are tasteful objects of art. Pottery is also an industry with a long history in Cambodia, and there are many ancient kiln sites scattered throughout the country. Designs range from the extremely simple, to much more intricate; drinking cups carved in the image of elephants, tea-pots carved in the image of birds and jars carved in the image of Gods.
The film industry in Cambodia was given a new lease of life in 2000 with the release of Pos keng kong (the giant snake). The success of Pos keng kong has heralded a revival in the Cambodian film industry and local directors are now turning out up to a dozen films a year. However, most of these new films are vampire or ghost films and the dubious artistic value. At least one overseas Cambodian director has had success in fairly recent years: Rithy Panh’s people of the rice fields were nominated for the Palme D’or at the Cannes Film festival in May 1995. The film touches only fleetingly on the Khmer Rouge, depicting the lives of a family eking out an arduous existence in the rice-fields. The definitive film about Cambodia is the killing Fields 1985, which tells the story of American journalist, Sydney Schanberg and his Cambodian assistant Dith Pran. Most of the footage was actually shot in Thailand; it was filmed in 1984 when Cambodia was effectively closed to the west, particularly to film makers.
Cambodia has increasingly become involved in sports over the last 30 years. Football is popular as are martial arts, including Bokator, Pradal Serey (Khmer kick boxing) and Khmer traditional wrestling. Bokator is an ancient Khmer martial art said to be the predecessor of all Southeast Asian kickboxing styles. Depicted in bas reliefs at Angkor Wat, Bokator was the close quarter combat system used by the ancient Angkor army. Unlike kick boxing, which is a sport fighting art, Boxkator was a soldier’s art, designed to be used on the battlefield. When fighting, Bokator practitioners still wear the uniforms of ancient Khmer armies. A kroma (scarf) is folded around their waist and blue and red silk cords are tied around the combatant's head and biceps. Young Cambodian boxers: Pradal Serey, or traditional Khmer boxing, is a popular sport in Cambodia. Victory is by knockout or by judge's decision. Styles of boxing have been practiced in Southeast Asia since ancient times. In the Angkor era, both armed and unarmed martial arts were practiced by the Khmers. Evidence shows that a style resembling Pradal Serey existed around the 9th century. There have been heated debates between nations about the true origins of South East Asian kick-boxing. Khmer traditional wrestling is yet another popular Cambodian sport. Wrestling match consists of three rounds, which may be won by forcing an opponent to his back. Traditional matches are held during the Khmer New Year and other Cambodian holidays. The Cambodian Football Federation is the governing body of football in Cambodia, controlling the Cambodian national team. It was founded in 1933, and has been a member of FIFA since 1953 and the Asian Football Confederation since 1957. Phnom Penh National Olympic Stadium is the national stadium with a capacity of 50,000 in Phnom Penh.