Wednesday, April 20, 2011


The State of Cambodian Reading

This is the story of an accidental discovery. Though I am not a researcher by any shape or form, this discovery was compelling enough that it merits, I think, sharing with the Cambodian public at large.

Starting almost a decade ago, I, in collaboration with some of my friends, have worked on creating reading books for Cambodian children. We divided the books into three volumes. As each volume was completed, I would go to Cambodia, publish it, and distribute it to poor children. In 2008, I distributed some books to a group of poor children living near my aunt’s house. Due to limited number of books, I gave the books to only those children who could read. The ones who could not read yet had to wait for next time. However, one courageous boy, who had just begun learning in the first grade, came up to me and asked if he could have a book to keep with him so that when he was able to read he would learn to read that book. Unable to turn down his request, I decided to give that boy a book and hope that he would keep his promise.

Earlier this year, after getting the final volume of the children’s books published, I went to visit my aunt’s home again and sought out that boy to whom I had given a book 3 years ago. He is in the third grade now. I told him that I had some new books that I would like to give him and his friends if he would mind going around asking them to come to receive the books. The boy went around the neighborhood and found a few of his friends to come and receive the books. As a way to test the children’s ability to read, I decided to ask each child to read me a story while I am recording them on my digital camera.

While I was listening to the children’s reading one after another, I noticed that their reading ability varied greatly. As it is evidence in the video clip below, the boy (wearing red vest) to whom I gave a book 3 years ago could read very well while his classmates were performing rather poorly. I know this is a very small sample of subjects on which to conduct a study, but the finding has nevertheless given us an indication on how much difference supplemental reading books could make. I hope that this finding would generate some interests among Cambodian researchers to conduct a more systemic study to see how great an impact supplemental reading has on children’s ability to read.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Essay on Cambodia

Based on cultural and linguistic evidences, both Funan and Champa appear to share their identities with people living in the Indonesian archipelagos. Though Funan seems to have a rather murky linkage with Indonesia, Champa has nevertheless had a very strong link with Indonesia. According to the archaeological and historical evidences, it has been accepted that Champa, as a kingdom, was founded by the people of Indonesian origin. These people appeared to be pirates who had been chased away from the Strait of Malacca’s and Sunda’s areas by their Indonesian kins. Given the fact that Champa had been founded and appeared on the Chinese foreign mission’s records a few hundred years behind Funan, it begs the question whether the Funanese could have been an earlier group of people who had been chased out from the Straits of Malacca and Sunda as well. At this point, we should point out that the Straits of Malacca and Sunda were the most important maritime trade routes in the early day. They provided and acted as a vital conduit for maritime trades between the Far East, Middle East, and beyond—just like the Panama Canal nowadays providing maritime linkage between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Thus, whoever controlled the Straits of Malacca and Sunda would control one of the most lucrative maritime routes in the world because they allowed people who controlled them to impose taxes and tariffs on ships passing back and forth. We could only imagine that back in those old days, the Straits of Malacca and Sunda must have been the most contested areas because of their strategic and commercial importance. As a matter of fact, our imagination couldn’t have been wrong if we briefly looked at the history of colonialism. It was the strategic importance of the Straits of Malacca and Sunda that brought the Dutch to Indonesia. Whether the Straits of Malacca and Sunda played any role in the process, Indonesia was also the first country in Southeast Asia to be colonized by the Europeans. If we assumed that the Straits of Malacca and Sunda had been the major maritime trade routes since pre-historic time up to the 19th century of the Christian Era, it would be possible that people had been fighting one another countless times to gain control of these areas because they were the economic power bases for global trades which depended mostly on maritime transports. Though we could only hypothesize what had taken place in insular Southeast Asia during the earlier period of its history, it is possible that among the people who had probably contested, lost, and been chased away from the Straits of Malacca and Sunda were the Funanese (Cambodians). For the Cambodians, or Khmers, or Funanese, the history began at the place called Oc Eov (a corrupt spelling of the Khmer words O Keov which were given to the French colonialists by their Vietnamese assistants who could not pronounce the Khmer words properly), located at the southern end of present-day Southern Vietnam. It was probably at Oc Eov’s settlement that the Chinese travelers/sailors reported of seeing “ugly” people with very dark skin and frizzy hair. The Chinese called their country Funan. From the records left behind by these early Chinese travelers, the Funanese are the predecessors of modern Cambodians or Khmers. But, just like other indigenous people throughout the world, the Funanese and their culture were eventually glossed over by the arrivals of new ethnic groups and their cultures. Based on historical evidences, the Funanese led a very primitive existence. Their lives revolved around hunting and gathering. They lived in villages surrounded by fences. Little was known about their governmental structure. However, it was likely that the Funanese formed tribal community and appointed or accepted whoever was the strongest or most cunning person to be their leader. Culturally, the Funanese liked to wear tattoos on their bodies and believed in shamanism and spirits. One of the most enduring symbols of spiritual worshiping was the Neak Ta, the omnipresent guardian of both the villages and the forests, which is still being worshiped today by many Cambodians. The primitive world of the Funanese was first transformed around the 1st century of the Christian era when they came into contact with the Indian explorers/adventurers. According to the Cambodian history, these Indian adventurers or conquerors were not coming from India but rather from Java (Indonesia). The Cambodians or Funanese called them Pream Chvea or Javanese Brahmins and regarded them as warriors. Thus, it was likely that the Indian warriors who came to conquer or colonize Funan were Indian immigrants or traders from Java. Along with these Indian traders/warriors, there must have been Javanese troops, for, in order to conquer or colonize a territory which had already been settled by other people, ones must have forces.

(Excerpt from the Cambodian Royal Chronicle)