Banyan Blog: Cambodian sayings

Kampong-Phloek-a-floating-village-in-Siem-Reap-CambodiaCambodian village on the shores of the Tonle Sap, from “adventures of a good man”.com The stilts are so high because in the wet season the lake floods right up there.

Banyan Blog (by “Mitty”, who grew up in the diaspora) has a post about Khmer sayings. They cover the importance of family, the relationship between parents and children, and all the usual things. Some are a little obscure. (Before continuing, just to note that the blog is currently looking a bit moribund, but the author is active on Twitter – which I am not).

“A mother thinks about her children like an oar to a canoe. Children think of their mother like the Buddha who turns his back.”

“Like the Buddha who turns his back”? I don’t quite get it. The complete saying means that parents (mothers) always care about their children, but children don’t always care about their parents. My own mother used to say something similar, but not as a saying, more as, “I hope you won’t forget us when you grow up.”

“Love your children one tao (a unit of measurement, a large basket to put rice in). Love your grandchildren one thaing (one thaing is equivalent to 2 taos).”

I don’t recall anything like that in my childhood, but it’s true, the older you get the more sentimental you become over very small children. I think there’s a “gandparent gene” planted in us by evolution, so that mam and dad cavepeople could go off hunting and gathering while the grandparents looked after the kids.

“Let your parents eat while their throat is in vertical position.”

Sounds weird, but means “look after your parents while they’re still alive.” What a strange way of expressing being alive – “while their throat is vertical.” The stress on food and feeding is telling, too.

“Learn from studying, wealth from working” (“Cheh mok pi rean, mean mok pi rok.”)

Obviously better in Khmer than in English: “Wisdom from study, wealth from work”, or something like that – in other words, to succeed in life you must study hard and work hard. That doesn’t quite capture it, though – it’s not exclusively about getting wealth (“mean” means things, possessions), it’s also about knowledge as an end in itself, which is a profoundly traditional and Buddhist idea. I’ve been struck by how the humblest Cambodians see study and schooling as  deeply desirable. What holds them back is the lack of decent schools at every level.

Finally, one that comes in traditional Buddhist and modern sarcastic versions:

“T’wer la-or ban la-ar, t’wer aa-krok, ban aa-krok.” (traditional version): Do good, get good. Do bad, get bad. 

“T’wer la-or ban la-ar, t’wer aa-krok, ban luoy.” (new version): Do good, get good. Do bad, get rich.

From the Khmer Times, 9 June 2014, “Arrival Of Rolls Royce Signals Economic Gain“, concerning the opening of a Rolls Royce showroom in Phnom Penh