Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Stéréotypes

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

Un élément crucial du programme d’AUCP, c’est sa perspective interculturelle. Tous les étudiants doivent suivre un cours qui s’appelle Cultural Patterns of France and North Africa. On étudie la politique, la religion, et l’identité dans un environnement international. On essaie de tenir le miroir de nos propres identités. Le but, c’est de créer des liens entre cultures, de devenir un pont entre les Etats-Unis, l’Europe, le Moyen Orient, et l’Afrique.  

Pendant mes études et mes interactions ici, j’ai noté que les Américains ne connaissent pas vraiment les Français et vice versa. Par exemple, les Français pensent que les Américains mangent que du fast-food, que chaque Américain est propriétaire d’une arme, et que tout le monde déteste les noirs. Evidemment, ne n’est pas le cas. D’ailleurs, il n’y pas mal de stéréotypes américaines envers les Français que je trouve actuellement ridicule. Et donc, je vous présente une petite liste de mes observations.

 

Les Stéréotypes Françaises que je trouve plus ou moins vraies:

-On adore le vin et en boit tout le temps.

-On adore le fromage et en mange tout le temps.  En effet, je dirais que 98% de mes repas chez ma famille terminent avec du fromage.  

-“Pardon my French.”  Absolument, carrément, vraie. Je pourrais parler pendant 5 minutes en ne disant que de l’argot et des gros mots.  Merde alors


Les St
éréotypes Françaises qui ne sont pas vraies (ou au moins, pas a Marseille!):

-Les Français sont des crâneurs.  C’est vrai, mais seulement a Paris! Au Sud, c’est une culture différente. Ici, on est détendu, méditerranéen. Ici, ce n’est pas la capitale. Ici, c’est la vie quotidienne des gens réels. Marseille en particulier est une ville diverse et unique. Parfois j’ai même l’impression qu’elle ne se prend pas au sérieux.

-Les Français sont les plus romantiques du monde.  …Pas forcément. Encore une fois, ici on n’est pas Paris. Ici, c’est quoi, la classe? Il serait plus correct de dire simplement que le “PDA” est ordinaire, même encouragé, chez les Français.  

-Les Français sont racistes.  Possiblement vrai, mais c’est une variété de racisme complètement différente, et a mon avis moins sérieuse, que celle des Etats-Unis. Par exemple, en France on a la tendance a identifier les personnes par leur race. Mais, ce n’est pas parce qu’ils se croient supérieur a cette personne, c’est parce que la notion de “politically correct” est moins renforcée culturellement. Par exemple, si je disais que quelqu’un est noir, il n’y aurait aucune connotation de la haine derrière; ce n’est qu’une observation. Mais si j’avais fait une action inspirée par la haine, je serais indubitablement et gravement punie par la loi. En plus, les origines sont moins importantes que la citoyenneté, car la relation des immigrés avec la France est bien différente. Ici quand je dis que je suis Italienne, on croit que je viens d’Italie. Je suis avant tout Américaine, mes ancêtres n’ont rien a voir avec (selon les Français). Il s’agit de l’universalisme français. Aux Etats-Unis, je crois que le racisme est plus profondément enraciné, mais on n’en parle pas.  

Ben alors il est possible que j’avais des autres choses dont j’ai voulu parler, mais je suis fatiguée et je vous laisse avec cette petite analyse.  

Stéréotypes

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

Un élément crucial du programme d’AUCP, c’est sa perspective interculturelle. Tous les étudiants doivent suivre un cours qui s’appelle Cultural Patterns of France and North Africa. On étudie la politique, la religion, et l’identité dans un environnement international. On essaie de tenir le miroir de nos propres identités. Le but, c’est de créer des liens entre cultures, de devenir un pont entre les Etats-Unis, l’Europe, le Moyen Orient, et l’Afrique.  

Pendant mes études et mes interactions ici, j’ai noté que les Américains ne connaissent pas vraiment les Français et vice versa. Par exemple, les Français pensent que les Américains mangent que du fast-food, que chaque Américain est propriétaire d’une arme, et que tout le monde déteste les noirs. Evidemment, ne n’est pas le cas. D’ailleurs, il n’y pas mal de stéréotypes américaines envers les Français que je trouve actuellement ridicule. Et donc, je vous présente une petite liste de mes observations.

 

Les Stéréotypes Françaises que je trouve plus ou moins vraies:

-On adore le vin et en boit tout le temps.

-On adore le fromage et en mange tout le temps.  En effet, je dirais que 98% de mes repas chez ma famille terminent avec du fromage.  

-"Pardon my French."  Absolument, carrément, vraie. Je pourrais parler pendant 5 minutes en ne disant que de l’argot et des gros mots.  Merde alors


Les St
éréotypes Françaises qui ne sont pas vraies (ou au moins, pas a Marseille!):

-Les Français sont des crâneurs.  C’est vrai, mais seulement a Paris! Au Sud, c’est une culture différente. Ici, on est détendu, méditerranéen. Ici, ce n’est pas la capitale. Ici, c’est la vie quotidienne des gens réels. Marseille en particulier est une ville diverse et unique. Parfois j’ai même l’impression qu’elle ne se prend pas au sérieux.

-Les Français sont les plus romantiques du monde.  …Pas forcément. Encore une fois, ici on n’est pas Paris. Ici, c’est quoi, la classe? Il serait plus correct de dire simplement que le “PDA" est ordinaire, même encouragé, chez les Français.  

-Les Français sont racistes.  Possiblement vrai, mais c’est une variété de racisme complètement différente, et a mon avis moins sérieuse, que celle des Etats-Unis. Par exemple, en France on a la tendance a identifier les personnes par leur race. Mais, ce n’est pas parce qu’ils se croient supérieur a cette personne, c’est parce que la notion de “politically correct" est moins renforcée culturellement. Par exemple, si je disais que quelqu’un est noir, il n’y aurait aucune connotation de la haine derrière; ce n’est qu’une observation. Mais si j’avais fait une action inspirée par la haine, je serais indubitablement et gravement punie par la loi. En plus, les origines sont moins importantes que la citoyenneté, car la relation des immigrés avec la France est bien différente. Ici quand je dis que je suis Italienne, on croit que je viens d’Italie. Je suis avant tout Américaine, mes ancêtres n’ont rien a voir avec (selon les Français). Il s’agit de l’universalisme français. Aux Etats-Unis, je crois que le racisme est plus profondément enraciné, mais on n’en parle pas.  

Ben alors il est possible que j’avais des autres choses dont j’ai voulu parler, mais je suis fatiguée et je vous laisse avec cette petite analyse.  

MOROCCO

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

Somehow two weeks have gone by since I got back from Morocco and I stll haven’t gotten around to writing about it here.  I’m sorry everyone!

I don’t even know where to begin, it was such an incredible and educational experience!  As you may or may not know, my program studies the Middle East and North Africa, and how we can bridge their world with ours through a little more intercultural understanding. So, the week-long trip to Morocco is a huge part of the semester and really ties together everything we’ve been studying.

A few quick facts about Morocco:

It is located in North-West Africa.  It is a very agricultural region. (So no, I was not riding camels in the desert, although that would be awesome)

It used to be a French colony.  The French influence is everywhere, and the language is spoken among the educated and wealthy.  The Moroccan dialect, Darija, is pretty far from standard Arabic, so I didn’t understand much.

Morocco is very diverse.  It is a Muslim country, but I saw everything from women dressed in skinny jeans and leggings, to women in niqabs.  About half of the girls I met during my stay wore a scarf around their head.  There is also a large Jewish population, which remains rather separated but the two live in peace. 

There are so many things I want to talk about, and I will probably make several posts about this experience, but to start here are some things that first shocked me:

-No matter where in the world you go, you will hear American pop music.

-Moroccans are incredibly warm and welcoming people.  I felt at home with my host family by day 2, whereas it took me a month to feel comfortable with my French host family here.  Moroccans treat their guests like family.  Also, the mother will feed you delicious food until you explode.

-Not every home has a Western-style toilet or a shower.  But the Hammam is one of the greatest experiences I have ever had (more on that later).

—Even though our cultures and traditions are wildly different, you will always have things in common with the other person.  Girls in Morocco like to talk about boys and makeup and music and school.  The youth like to criticize the government.  Everyone loves to watch TV.

—Religion is a public, everyday thing.  It forms the basis of their culture and the community.  My host family members pray 5 times a day, there are mosques everywhere, and religious expressions are used in everyday conversation.  But, as my Islam professor says every class, il n’y a pas un seul Islam (there is not just one Islam).  Everyone is Muslim, but how they interpret the religion can vary drastically.  Kind of like Christianity.

—You never realize just how wealthy you are as an American until you leave the West.  Everything is cheaper in Morocco, and yet it’s still too expensive for so many people living there.  Morocco is pretty developed, but it is not super rich.

—Tradition and modernity live side by side in Morocco.  You could be outside a store that sells cell phones, and then a merchant with a donkey carrying goods passes you.  

Well, there’s a small overview of what I discovered in Morocco. I can’t wait to say more!

Dinner in Lisbon: An International Adventure

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

While we were on vacation in Lisbon, a friend-of-a-friend put us in contact with a British girl who he had studied with.  We messaged her just to ask for restaurant and sight-seeing reccommendations, and she ended up inviting us to her birthday dinner!  We ate at a little hole-in-the-wall, family-style restaurant somewhere around the windy, hilly roads of a quiet neighborhood, and it was arguably the best night of my vacation.  The girl, whose name is Gigi, is studying abroad through Erasmus, a European-Union exchange program that basically allows you to study anywhere in the EU and to meet other Europeans from the same program through meetings and parties.  Gigi is awesome and really friendly, and we found ourselves in the middle of a group of 25-ish students from all over, several of which (like us) she had just met.  I met students from Italy, the UK, Poland, Turkey, France, Portugal, Brazil, and Germany.  We all sat around a giant table while Gigi and the couple that own the restaurant ran around bringing us wine and big plates of food to share (food, drink, and dessert all for 6.50 euro?! Vive le Portugal!!).  It was such a warm, intimate environment and allowed us to have great conversation.

Most of the students were really excited to meet some Americans and pick their brains.  We compared politics, school, religion, etc.  They were fascinated by the things happening in the US today and wanted to know where we stood.  I was asked several times what I thought about the current situation of my country.  I found that saying something like “I like Obama and I think we’re at a turning point" was usually a satisfying answer. It was also really funny to me when one  girl from Great Britian said that she was surprised that she liked us, seeing as the only Americans she had ever met were obnoxious, inconsiderate, and culturally unaware.  I think it really is a shame that so many Americans don’t get the opportunity to travel, or learn foreign languages, or study other parts of the world.  Having an open mind and being able to understand differences is so important, especially for us as Americans, who are brought up to think that we’re the best of the best.  I am so fortunate to have found a program that is so comprehensive and intercultural.  I am an American, living in a French city where 25% of the population is immigrants or of North African/Middle Eastern descent.  But beyond that, my classes are focused around discovering these cultures and their languages, making educated comparisons, and bridging the three together for my international relations studies.  I’m just getting so much out of this semester and I can really see how it’s going to help me in my future career.

Now back to the dinner.  Being surrounded by so many nationalities was truly an amazing and humbling experience.  Seeing the United States through the eyes of European youth really made me take a step back and think.  Being able to navigate this international experience and make a good impression also made me feel good about my studies and my future.  We all came from different places, grew up differently, study different things, yet we were all eager to learn things about each other and, thanks to the pervasiveness of English, to communicate and get along.  Honestly, I think a lot of diplomatic relations would be more productive if meetings were held at a Portugese family-style restaurant.

Final Blog Post: The Lingering Effects of the Khmer Rouge in 21st Century Cambodia

Monday, February 11th, 2013

Everyone has a story.  The tour guides, the landlords, the waiter at every restaurant on every street.  If you are a citizen of Cambodia, you have a story about the horrors that happened to you or your family during the Khmer Rouge.  Sometimes, people are open to sharing their stories.  While in the Mondolkiri jungle with us one day, our tour guide Mot recounted how his father was digging his own grave during the Khmer Rouge, only to be saved by volunteering to climb up a coconut tree and extract the fruit.  Sometimes, they are not.  When pressing Tra’s landlord for details on what happened to her during the Khmer Rouge, all she would tell me was that she went to the countryside, and then came back.  Either way, the Khmer Rouge is a time period for Cambodia that every surviving citizen remembers, however unwillingly.  The memories are not the only remnants of the Khmer Rouge period, however.  It has only been 34 years since the Vietnamese overthrew Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge regime, which was the ruling party from 1975 through 1979.  In this blog post, I will further explore how the Khmer Rouge’s reign continually affects the Cambodia and its peoples demographically, economically, and culturally.

Demographically, Cambodia is currently experiencing the effects of a “lost generation”.  Anywhere from 1.7 to 3 million people died during the Khmer Rouge.  That is one eighth of the entire population at that time.  About half of these deaths were by executions, while the other half were from starvation and disease that occurred as a side effect of the Khmer Rouge.  Two major issues in modern-day Cambodia arise from these deaths.  Firstly, the elderly who survived Khmer Rouge now have no one to care for them in their old age, since their children were killed.  In Cambodian culture, it is a matter of course to take in your parents once they can no longer support themselves—in fact, having children is seen as insurance towards your future survival.  Because of the Khmer Rouge, however, a substantial amount of the generation of caretakers is dead, and parents who outlived them now have nowhere to live and no money to support themselves.  Therefore, the amount of homeless, elderly Khmer people on the streets has increased dramatically.

 

Bones and teeth of the lost generation from a mass grave outside of Phnom Penh.

Bones and teeth of the lost generation from a mass grave outside of Phnom Penh.

The second issue that arises because of this “lost generation” is tied in to the economic impacts of the Khmer Rouge; that is, there is a loss of skilled workers.  When Pol Pot was elected, he immediately rolled out his “Year Zero” manifesto, demanding that Cambodia return to an agrarian, pre-industrialized society.  Because of this demand, Pol Pot ruthlessly killed professors, doctors, lawyers, artisans, economists, and the like, to ensure that their intellect would not threaten his powers.  In the present day Cambodia, this genocide means that there are not enough seasoned, educated professionals in the workplace to adequately balance and manage the number of rising intellectuals.  In the words of the CIA World Factbook, “The major economic challenge for Cambodia over the next decade will be fashioning an economic environment in which the private sector can create enough jobs to handle Cambodia’s demographic imbalance.”  The Khmer Rouge killed who would have managed the rising number of new, educated workers in 2013’s Cambodia.  Because of the lack of private sector jobs, it is much easier for young Cambodians to employ themselves in garment factories, where it is nearly impossible to experience upward mobility within the company, therefore perpetuating the Cambodian cycle of poverty.

Young people gathering outside the palace in Phnom Penh

Young people gathering outside the palace in Phnom Penh

During the Khmer Rouge, the governments’ main goal was to increase the amount of agricultural production of rice.  The Khmer Rouge emphasized the importance of farming, and did not support cities or urban life. Now, 34 years later, this attitude still affects Cambodia’s infrastructure, specifically, its roads.  As people and the constitutional monarchy attempt to rebuild their lives after the Khmer Rouge, they have not been able to prioritize the necessary monetary funds it takes to keep up the building of roads and highways in Cambodia as quickly as the amount of vehicular transportation grows.  Therefore, the best roads in Cambodia are those that either the Chinese built for their own private purposes (exemplified as the road from Phnom Penh to Mondolkiri), or those that run from Phnom Penh to any other major city, such as Sianhoukeville or Siem Riep. These connecting roads are essentially cleared dirt or gravel paths, usually only large enough for two lanes.  The quality of roads is either vastly inferior or nonexistent when concerning any other places besides these major cities.

A typical Cambodian road

A typical Cambodian road

The effect of the lack of infrastructure on modern Cambodians is great— transporting ones’ self to and from work becomes long, expensive (in having to pay a driver monthly), and dangerous, especially when you must commute in a van that fits tens more people in it than intended.  Besides commuting to and from work, lack of proper roads also leads to inefficiency in the countrywide distribution of goods and food.  When cities in the same country cannot rely on each other for trade in food and goods, the overall country suffers, as each city must “fend for themselves”, making prosperity and an escape from poverty unlikely.

Look outside of the bus windows-- note the amount of people on the vehicle.  This is extremely common.

Look outside of the bus windows– note the amount of people on the tuk tuk. This is extremely common.

Another economic issue that spurred from the Khmer Rouge reign is the weakness of the Cambodian monetary unit, the riel.  During the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot banned the use of money, and even printed its own banknotes (which never caught on as currency yet we saw at the Landmine Museum in Siem Riep).  In 1980, after the Khmer Rouge, the riel was re-introduced as a form of currency, yet with nothing to “back” the currency, inflation quickly took hold.  Comparing the 1979 6th issue of the riel, in denominations of 0.1 Riel, 0.2 Riel, 0.5 Riel, 1 Riel, 5 Riel, 10 Riel, 20 Riel, 50 Riel, to the 12th issue of the riel (2001-2008) issuing only 50 Riel, 100 Riel, 500 Riel, 1000 Riel, 2000 Riel, 5000 Riel, 10,000 Riel, 20,000 Riel, 50,000 Riel, it is easy to see that inflation is enormous and their money, weak.  Therefore, the U.N flooded the Cambodian economy with US Dollars in 1993, and today the USD is used as their primary form of currency for anything over 1USD—riel is used essentially as change.  When a country does not even have a strong currency, how is it expected to successfully function on a local, let alone global, scale?  The lack of a successful, self-backing Cambodian currency is a direct result of the Khmer Rouge.

Banknotes printed by the Khmer Rouge

Banknotes printed by the Khmer Rouge

The Khmer Rouge affected Cambodian peoples culturally not only by giving them a shared experience of trauma and genocide.  Firstly, it executed musicians and artists, which therefore caused Cambodia to lose many of its traditional songs, dances, musical instruments, and myths.  Oral tradition and other skill not written down were wiped out.  Even if tradition was recorded, the Khmer Rouge burned thousands of books as a symbol against intellectualism.

On a greater scale, the Khmer Rouge wiped out ethnic minorities.  As Pol Pot longed to reestablish the great Angkor Empire that once ruled Southeast Asia, he executed many ethnic minorities, as the only “pure” Cambodian “race”, as seen by the Khmer Rouge, was of course, the Khmer people—believed to be direct descendants from the Angkor Empire.  Today demographically, the Khmer people make up 90% of the population, with Vietnamese at 5%, Chinese at 1%, and other Cambodian ethnic minorities at 4%, collectively.  Cambodia is the least ethnically diverse country in Southeast Asia because of Pol Pot.  Much like the Native Americans in America today, ethnic groups in Cambodia such as Muslim Chams, are regarded by the majority “race” as “less than”, and are subject to discrimination and social isolation.  Because of the poor attitude the Khmers have about ethnic minorities, they are less likely to get hired by Khmer, further isolating the minority and lessening their chance for economic prosperity and an escape from the cycle of poverty.

Scenes from an ethnic village in Mondolkiri

Scenes from an ethnic village in Mondolkiri

Despite the Khmer Rouge’s horrific effect on Cambodia, the Khmer people continue to improve their country every day.  According to the CIA World Factbook, “Since 2004, garments, construction, agriculture, and tourism have driven Cambodia’s growth.  GDP climbed more than 6% per year between 2010 and 2012.”  Things are looking up for Cambodians.  More and more citizens are able to leave their villages in order to get work in the cities.  There is free public schooling, an increase in tourism and therefore economic boosts, and a worldwide increase in acknowledgement and education about the Khmer Rouge period.

I will conclude my final blog post with a memory:  During my second day in Cambodia, as we rode in a tuk tuk towards the garment factories, Dr. Rallis pointed towards the shallow pool of dirty swamp water that ran alongside our road.  In the brown water grew lotus flowers, which he informed us were considered by Cambodians to be the most beautiful flower.  Dr. Rallis stated that Cambodians consider the lotus flower to be a metaphor for the Khmer people.  The lotus flower grows in harsh conditions—dirty, muddy water.  However, it rises above its environment and blooms into a beautiful and usefully edible plant. While Cambodia still faces many struggles as it rebuilds, it’s important to note that the country has already made incredible strides and its future, while challenging, is hopeful.

Acknowledging the past, yet looking towards the future.

Acknowledging the past, yet looking towards the future.

 

Sources:

“Central Intelligence Agency.” CIA. Central Intelligence Agency, n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2013. <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/cb.html>.

William Shawcross, The Quality of Mercy: Cambodia, Holocaust, and Modern Conscience (Touchstone, 1985), p115-6.

“International Economics – Historial Exchange Rate Regime of Asian Countries.” International Economics – Historial Exchange Rate Regime of Asian Countries. The Chinese University of Hong Kong, n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2013. <http://intl.econ.cuhk.edu.hk/exchange_rate_regime/index.php?cid=1

Buddhism and Spirituality

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

In this post, I will explore how Buddhism functions as a part of the Khmer people’s collective unconscious– how, despite the fact that it is not a “religion” in the traditional monotheistic sense, it is an effective, inclusive, and gentle guiding force in many Khmer people’s lives.

A monk in Phnom Penh making his daily round of collecting alms for the poor

A monk in Phnom Penh making his daily round of collecting alms for the poor

Firstly, what is Buddhism?

“To many, Buddhism goes beyond religion and is more of a philosophy or ‘way of life’. It is a philosophy because philosophy ‘means love of wisdom’ and the Buddhist path can be summed up as:

(1) to lead a moral life,
(2) to be mindful and aware of thoughts and actions, and
(3) to develop wisdom and understanding.” (Source: http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/5minbud.htm)

These three principals are evident in Cambodian people’s daily attitudes.  Primarily, the most noticeable principle in action is the second one concerning mindfulness.  It is considered extremely rude to be rude in public in Cambodia.  Unkind words, thoughts, or outward displays of anger were simply not seen.  The only display of anger I saw throughout the whole trip was that of white tourists.  The Khmer people stay cool, calm and collected in difficult situations– whether it be traffic, changing plans, or getting in arguments. To display anger would just be completely out of the norm! Cambodians know how to keep their anger and emotions “in check”.

Leading a moral life is also evident, when considering how impoverished the country is, yet how the crime rate is so low.  For example, according to the UNODC, Cambodia only has 3.4 per 100,000 people in homicides every year, which is pretty low when compared to the rest of the world, including other impoverished countries such as Honduras (91.6/100,000), El Salvador, and Cote d’Ivoire. ((Source:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate#By_region)

Regarding the physical presence of Buddhism, the first obvious signs will be the many orange-cloaked monks who walk about the city of Phnom Penh, as well as the several “Wats” in which the reside.

Statue of Buddha in the Royal Gardens

Statue of Buddha in the Royal Gardens

Wat in Phnom Penh

Wat in Phnom Penh

 

As one explores Cambodia further, however, there are many smaller signs that Buddhism is prominent.  For example, people will often wear small red bracelets around their wrists, which are a token one receives after visiting a Buddhist monastery that is supposed to give you luck and prosperity for as long as the bracelet stays on– once it falls/breaks off naturally, the person goes to a monastery again for a new one.

One consistent shared feature of houses, stores, and restaurants is that they all contain spirit houses.  These almost doll-house like structures vary in size and style, however, the average spirit house is about two by two feet, either lays on the ground of the residence or is propped up with a pole, and always has incense near the house’s door.  Sometimes, flowers, small fruit, or small statues of Buddha will be placed near there as well.

Larger spirit "house" inside of a home

Larger spirit “house” inside of a rural home

Spirit house outside of a bus station in Siem Riep
Spirit house outside of a bus station in Siem Riep

photo-19Spirit house in a Buddhist Monastery in Sianhoukeville

The purpose of the spirit house is to honor the deceased of the family.  By lighting incense or giving small gifts, the ancestors of this family will be pleased and therefore bless the living with prosperity.

With these both obvious and subtle physical signs of Buddhism in Cambodia, it is interesting to note that the topic of Buddhism is never really brought up in conversation.  While “Theravada Buddhism is the official religion in Cambodia” and it “is practiced by 95 percent of the population” (Source: http://www.cambodialostandfound.com/welcomecambodia.php?id=14), the Buddha or anything about the religion itself is not outwardly discussed nearly as much as, say, Christians are constantly discussing Christ or referring to the Bible.

To me, I find this extremely refreshing.  The Khmer people go about their life with their own spirituality– they offer to spirit houses, give alms to monks, and visit wats, among other things.  The religious imagery is prominent.  However, Cambodians focus on acting out their beliefs more so than actively talking about, discussing, and debating about their beliefs to others, who may or may not be interested.

Buddhism is prominent as a lifestyle/religion and school of thought in Cambodia, and is displayed both in Cambodia’s architecture and cultural attitude.  However, Buddhism is not a source of contention amongst its citizens in the way that Evangelical Christianity is in America, or how Sunni/Shiite Islam is in Iraq.  Cambodian Buddhism is an excellent example of how spirituality can still be cohesively and peacefully be practiced in public, even in the diverse and  ever-evolving views of 21st century humans.

 

 

The De/Sexualized Body

Monday, January 28th, 2013

In Cambodia, there seems to be a distinct difference between sexualized nudity and natural, perfectly acceptable nudity. This distinction is not nearly as clear in America, where everything seems to be sexual.  As an American traveling in Cambodia, sights such as naked children, uncovered breastfeeding, and casual public male urination were at first a  bit of a shock but were accepted by the Khmer culture as completely appropriate to see and participate in while in public.  Here, I will research more into why this is considered normal for the Khmer people.

Child Nudity

In Mondulkiri, our tour group visited a remote ethnic minority village in which the main supply of water for bathing came from a groundwater pump which happened to be right next to an area where the entire village had gathered to participate in a cultural show of sorts for foreign tourists.  Despite the central location, throughout the show, mothers and older siblings would take turns washing their naked children with the pump water; the children seemed about under the age of 7.  No Khmer people seemed to stare, or mind.  Even if they did, where else is a mother supposed to wash her child when this is the only supply of water available?

In Phnom Penh, local boys enjoy a swim in the river at dusk, appearing between the ages of 4 – 12; all of them swim nude.  Buying a swimsuit for their child is probably the last priority for many people who live below the poverty line.

As far as child nudity is concerned, Cambodia is a Lesser Developed Country.  When the GDP  per capita is in 188th place at ($2,200) in comparison to the world’s 228 countries (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2004rank.html?countryName=Cambodia&countryCode=cb®ionCode=eas&rank=188#cb), it is easy to see that buying an excessive amount of clothing for children who are quickly growing can be seen by the Khmer people as an unecessary use of their hard-earned money.  Therefore, it is not a big deal for anyone involved if a child runs around without clothing for awhile.

Of course, the thought that may cross many minds regarding public child nudity is, what about sexual predators?  Aren’t the Khmer people afraid that someone will look at their child in an indecent manner?  Well, it is my theory that Cambodians view child nudity, just like breastfeeding and urinating, as a type of nudity that is desexualized, and therefore appropriate. (Note: child molestation happens frequently by Americans and other westerners while visiting countries like Cambodia, where sex trafficking is rampant.  While there are a lot of advertisements educating the public about the horrors of molestation throughout Phnom Penh, these adverts were primarily focused on trafficking, not molestation on a local level.)

Breastfeeding

It is a commonplace sight to see a Khmer mother breastfeeding her child wherever they happen to be– standing outside their house, sitting around town, or (most commonly), while riding backseat on a moto.

And, for all practical purposes, why should these practices be discouraged?  The World Health organization (http://www.who.int/topics/breastfeeding/en/) states that “Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.” Add that statistic to the fact that 43% of Cambodian children are breastfed until age 2 (http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/cambodia_statistics.html), it becomes clear why breastfeeding isn’t deemed too immodest for public display– if it were, mothers would be confined to their homes so much that nothing would ever get done!

Public Male Urination

In a country where public restrooms are often small, squatting toilets, with no air conditioning and oftentimes dirty, is it any wonder why men urinate outside?  It’s an easier, faster, and more convenient way to release your bladder than to go searching for a small, dark toilet.

Throughout these three examples, I hope I have emphasized that the Khmer people view these forms of nudity not as sexual, but as normal, everyday parts of life.  Therefore, desexualized nudity is appropriate for the public to see.  Conversely, in Cambodia, sexual identity and expression of that identity is a private matter.  Khmer people do not have public displays of affection, and they dress modestly.  

 

“This is Cambodia time.”

Monday, January 7th, 2013

The phrase is repeated to me almost daily, as I am frequently reminded of the time difference: not only the obvious twelve hour difference between our clocks, but the very different mindset behind the seconds, the minutes, and the hours. As an economist, I am all too familiar with the “time is money” adage. Business decisions are formatted into long-run and short-run goals. We recognize and consider opportunity cost, or the value of our alternatives. All of these are constrained by the same important concept: time. Time is huge factor in our decision making; it  the most vital variable in our lives. “How long will it take?” “What time should I be there?” “How much will I make per hour?” Our days have been segmented into blocks since primary school: 7:55-8:10 Morning Announcements and Class Attendance, 8:15-9:05 Mathematics, 9:10-10:00 English, 10:05-10:55 Art, 11:00-11:50 History, 11:55-12:00 Bathroom Break, 12:05-12:35 Lunch, 12:40-1:10 Recess…. You get the idea. We are a people regimented by the clock, with events being components of time.

Nap time for a moto driver in Phnom Penh

Nap time for a moto driver in Phnom Penh

Enter Cambodia, where market stalls seem to be open from daybreak to well past sunset. Men routinely lounge about in hammocks come noon. Tuk tuk drivers negotiate fares based on the distance, uphill or downhill, traveled not whether it takes half a day to get there. Hardly anyone “clocks in” when they come to work. There is no overtime pay rate. It is not uncommon to spend an hour or more waiting for your order to come up in a restaurant. Here, time is not a commodity which can be spent, wasted, saved or given. Time cannot be easily converted into money, nor can the conversion be precisely quantified. Take, for example, a street-side fruit vendor. She may earn $2 for the day or she may earn $10. The number of hours she spent trying to sell her crops is irrelevant; the concept of an hourly wage would be completely alien

Fruit vendor

Fruit vendor

to her. She either sold lots of mangosteens or only a few. For Cambodians, time does not exist as an entity in itself; it is not imposed upon them. Rather, time is created. Daily life is made up of events, with time being a component of those events.

Differing religious backgrounds may factor into these contrasting cultural perceptions of time. Judeo-Christian societies understand time as linear or directional. It began with the creation of the world and it will advance until the second coming of the Messiah. In our mind’s eye, we view events chronologically and place them on a timeline. In Buddhist Cambodia, the human experience is cyclical, bound by the concept of samsara–the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Time is a spiral; it moves around and around with no definitive beginning or ending.

Not better, not worse, just different.

As always, please feel free to comment.

Driving in Cambodia

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

I have never seen so many motorcycles in one place before. In America, there is the stereotype that Asian peoples are the worst drivers. I feel that most stereotypes have a ring of truth to them.  I see some of that truth here in Cambodia.  Driving here is simultaneously the most active and passive daily event.  There are no stop signs, no right of way, minimal traffic lights.  Honking is serves as a warning of a vehicles presence.  It is the most unorganized, yet efficient mess I’ve ever seen.

I think part of it has to do with the atmosphere here in regards to driving.  People swerve and cut in and out of every space possible.  Did I mention there is no observance of lane space?  Cause there isn’t.  Everyone moves together: big trucks, fancy Mercedes, tuk tuks, motorcycles, and bicycles.  When you want to go somewhere against the flow of traffic you just do it.  You are patient with those in front of you and you don’t cut any one off.  Those coming against you slow down to let you pass as others cut around you in different directions.  This style of driving doesn’t work well in places like the U.S., where drivers are impatient, rude, and unnecessarily aggressive.  It does work well here however.

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Oh, and those motorcycles…they hold anywhere from one to five people (some adult some children, or infants) or hundreds of pounds of fresh fruit or brooms or ladders.  Whatever they can carry with them goes on the motorcycle.

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