I love days where I feel connected with the local culture and the people of Cambodia. Tonight was the first time I interacted with Ra, a Khmer colleague, outside of work. Usually expats hang out with one another after work but locals tend go home to their families. But today we invited Ra out with us to catch the sunset and for dinner. It was nice to share our experiences and learn more about each other outside of the professional environment. It was such a great learning experience for all of us. We realized that no matter where we grow up, parents are still the same everywhere. Growing up and gaining our independence was a challenge for all of us and where we were raised did not matter.
A colleague’s wife gave birth today and the office was buzzing with excitement. Ra asked me and another colleague from Australia about the terms associated with pregnancies in the west. We ended up explaining what “being in labor” and what “my water broke” meant. It was hilarious and entertaining but also informative. In Khmer, Ra knew special water came out of a woman. He just didn’t know what that meant. That’s when we realized even though he was 24 years old, he was very sheltered. Men and women are raised very differently in Khmer culture. Young women might have known about this but the young men wouldn’t because of the conservative nature of their society.
There is apparently a code of conduct for girls and boys. It is called Cbpab Srei for girls and Cbpab Pros for boys. These two books literally outline the way girls and boys should behave throughout their life. Men are no longer expected to follow it but women are even though it was banned from schools in 2007. The book of rules encourages total obedience to one’s husband and his happiness. They are also told to deal with any physical abuse that comes their way and wait for their husbands to calm down. Girls are also told to avoid eye contact with elders because eye contact signifies disrespect. In the villages and in some aspects of city life, many people still expect girls to behave this way. I am surprised I never heard of this before. Oh and this shouldn’t come as too much of a shock but these rules were written by a man in the 1800s.
Society is changing at a pace the conservative members of the community can no longer control. It will be interesting to see how this impacts Cambodia within the next five to ten years.