Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Phnom Penh

Two posts today: this one, which is hopefully pretty interesting; and another one probably only of interest to legal eagles. The second one is below, or you can access it here.

For the last few weeks, I've been working with some high school students who volunteer at DC-Cam, on top of my legal research. I'm supposed to be helping them with their writing; between communication difficulties and my lack of experience, I'm learning far more than they are.

My most precocious student is Romas, a Cham Cambodian girl who has essentially appointed herself student representative. Not only is her English better than the other students, but she is plain-spoken and confident where my other students are shy and deferential. It's a pleasure to work with all of them, but Romas's force of personality really sets her apart, especially among such a young group. She often translates for me, and negotiates on behalf of her peers over deadlines, meeting times, and so on.

Romas, along with a couple of other young volunteers, is learning radio production at DC-Cam. Last week, she brought me into the studio to play me a song about Phnom Penh. I got my hands on an mp3 version. Listen below, or here if the embedded player doesn't work.

A bit of background: the first thing the Khmer Rouge did when they took over was to force every last person to leave Phnom Penh. They claimed it was an "evacuation," and that the United States was planning to bomb the city (not altogether implausible, unfortunately), but it was really just another step in their plan to wind back the clocks into an agrarian golden age. The song Romas played me is about the period of exile from Phnom Penh:
Oh! Phnom Penh, during the three years we were apart, I missed you and my heart suffered each and every day, because the enemy cut off the affection between you and me.

When I was forced to leave you, anger burnt in my heart and compelled me to avenge [the sufferings you bore] to show my faithfulness to you.

R. Phnom Penh, our beloved city, in spite of the three years of hardship, you managed to preserve our [nation]'s bright history of courage and represent the soul of Kampuchea, which was once one of the world's glorious empire.

You prevented the disappearance of Cambodia, the descendant of the majestic Angkor empire.

Oh, the soul of the Khmer nation lives on and, oh, is inspired by the majestic Angkor empire.

Oh, Phnom Penh, now we are reunited and you are relieved from bereavement.

Oh, Phnom Penh, our nation's heart and soul.

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