Kids Are Awesome, No Kidding

In Cambodia, it’s common to see parents paying attention to the behavioral development of children only when they are five years old. (Cough cough namely, when the children are enrolled into pre-schools and are found to have problems socializing or following instructions.)

A closely-held belief is that children, aged between 1-3 are just blank paper, waiting for us to teach them how to survive in the world, so parents only concern themselves with teaching the young ones how to walk, or talk. They think the social, emotional, and cognitive lessons can come later. THEN they’d spend years asking themselves, “How did this happen?” when the child turned out to be lacking in either cognitive, emotional or social skills even as adults. The crucial thing is that in the past few decades, research has shown that the first few years of our lives actually play a huge rule in laying the foundation for who we become later on.

Although a few books have been written, well, more like translated on this phenomena, I doubt the information is that widely spread, which calls for a more accessible spread of information, *drumroll* like this movie called The Beginning of Life, directed and written by Estela Renner.

The Beginning of Life is a heartwarming, informative feature documentary about how important the first years of human lives are. It was was filmed across Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Italy, Kenya and the United States, following the early lives of (simply adorable) babies and their family from various background ranging from stay-at-home dads, to same-sex couples, and single parents. You name it; they have it. It was also sprinkled with experts in the field of childhood development.

I think the central message is that instead of regarding children aged from 1-3 as blank slates, waiting for our input, we should regard them as what they really are: tiny adorable scientists. The reason is when we regard them as puppets, waiting for us to teach them how to live, we’re more prone to controlling behaviors when they do something we deem as unreasonable. We yell at them when they drop the spoon, again and again, (and again) even after the tenth time of us telling them not to. However, if we think of them as tiny alien scientists, trying to do experiments to find out who they are, and how the world works, instead of being annoyed at the spoon dropping, you’ll see that the baby is just trying to test their hypothesis about the dropping of the spoon.

“If I drop this, it will make a sound. Will it make another sound if I did it like this? Again? And again?” or
“Every time I do this, uncle does this ugly frowny face. What if I do it again, but this time, farther than before?” And when you do indeed end up with an ugly frowny face, the baby will all be like, “Yay, I understand uncle now!”

In these formative first years, the movie explains, what the baby needs from us is not total controlling instructions on how to live, but a good lab partner, who is willing to support them when they find themselves in sticky shit (sometimes literally). Instead of holding their hands and guide them through life, what they need is the freedom to explore, but with a hand at their back, ready to embrace them should they fall. The movie also shows the cliche but very true power of love. Affection from the adults around them, whether it’s from a single parent, a stay-at-home dad, a same sex couple, as long as it’s pure affection shown by attention, even something as simply as replying to their blabber, is enough to give the child self esteem which is crucial in motivating the child to explore, to persist, and to ultimately find success, not just in their early years, but throughout their lives as well.

I think everyone, even those who are not a parent, and not thinking of becoming one anytime soon, should watch this movie. Apart from the squeals you get from seeing too many cute children and their families, you can also reinforce your new view of small babies as tiny alien scientists. I mean, after watching this movie, I went out for a lunch break and spent a good 10 minute playing sword fighting (more like tooth pick fighting) with a 3 year old child. Sometimes, it’s good to get out of our conceptual adult mindset once in a while and just simply giggle with a child after you’ve lost to them in a sword fight.

You can watch the trailer of The Beginning of Life here, watch the movie on iTunes, and the six-episode series on Netflix, or find more information on how to watch it on Videocamp (here)! If you don’t mind waiting, keep your eyes out for UNICEF Cambodia’s possible free screening of this movie in the future (follow them here)!






New Taste of Khmer Cinema

If I were to ask you to think about a famous Khmer film right now, you would think about movies that are related to either the tragic Khmer Rouge area, some poppy cliché ghost story, a remake of some historical stories in the past, or something with a cause like say corruption, or poverty.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love me a good documentary about corruption as much as the next person, but I was always aware of a void for good films that depict the ordinary life of this rapidly changing city.

All this has changed after I’ve seen Diamond Island directed by Davy Chou.

The film follows a young man who leaves his hometown to work as a construction worker in Phnom Penh’s blooming Diamond Island. Bora, the protagonist has these soft, large deep-brown eyes juxtaposing his hard rigid jaws and bold lips. In a way, Bora’s features describe his story perfectly. He was a shy, awkward kid without too many friends who would subsequently prove himself to be daring, wanting to get a taste of everything even when he’s scared.

Now, if this was a cliché pity-inducing film, one would expect to see the poverty, oppression and helplessness in the life of a construction worker, but this was not one of them. By fate, Bora chances a meeting with his brother who’s left home years ago, probably in search for his dream in the booming city. The brother introduced Bora to the life of middle-class Cambodian teens with their big bikes, and their café lounging hobbies (cough cough).

Furthermore, the story of Bora’s life unfolds beautifully on screen with great camera work, jump cuts and color scheme (gave me such an artgasm). Seriously, the director himself said details were a priority and that’s definitely shown through the film. The most noticeable one is the clash between colors in the footage with a lot of warm takes in Bora’s construction life, and cool colored takes in Bora’s life with the middle-class kids. And symbols. There are symbols everywhere from the motorbike that Bora’s ridden on, to the bridge that connects Diamond Island to the rest of Phnom Penh.

Now, if you are a nerd like me who lovvvves good symbols and certain aesthetic tastes, you would definitely enjoy the film (and come on! You’re reading a freaking blog for god’s sake. Of course, you are a nerd), go watch it! It will be released on the 27th of October in several cinemas in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

Bonus: a tomboy (transgender) character whose storyline is not about his sexuality. Seriously, he was just there, playing games on his iPad and being normal. And that’s how LGBTQ people should be portrayed on films sometimes, you know, just living out their normal days, like the rest of the people do.

Bonus bonus: the actors and actresses in this movie are not hot-shot celebs. Literally, the main actor is a taxi driver, and the main actress is unemployed. The cast was chosen to portray the real beauty of Cambodia, not those made-up, Chinese wanna-be’s (not that there’s anything wrong with them, but they do not adequately represent the diversity of beauty of Khmer people). We’ve got a set of mostly dark-skinned cast which I think is healthy for the people of Cambodia. I mean, media has played a huge role in the (literal) white-washing of the Khmer beauty standards. This film is a fresh breadth of air with its raw, Khmer faces.

Now though the movie is sort of slow-paced and confusing (bordering on psychedelic at times), I would recommend EVERYONE to go watch it. I do not guarantee that you are going to find it good, but this is a leap from the traditional films! We always lament the lack of good original arts including films in the country, well, here is one. Why not give it a shot? The creative industry in Cambodia, just like Bora, is hard but soft, possessing a lot of potential, yet so unsure, so fragile. And to be involved in it whether as a critic or a supporter is to play a part in reviving, or more like, sculpting the future of art fields in the country. What are you waiting for? Go book the tickets now!

You can also watch the trailer here, and their social media page here!

Hoi An: Greenness Among the Old


Hoi An, the famous World Heritage Site is well-known for its unique blend of architectural influences including Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese and western styles. However, few might be aware of the hidden green features of many buildings and spaces this former port has to offer, both traditional and contemporary. Below are three green architectural pieces that you can explore when you are in town. Continue reading Hoi An: Greenness Among the Old

Thunder and Lightning

Today, my friends and I got the last tickets for an ancient dance entitled “Thunder and Lightning” by the Sophiline Arts Ensemble. Basically, it depicts the myth of “Ream Eyso & Moni Mekhala”. Needless to say I fell in love with the graceful movements of the dancers. Each and every one of them moved so fluidly as a result of long hours of rehearsing I assume. This begs the question, just why haven’t I learned to appreciate Khmer ancient dances? Growing up, like most kids, (the fact that almost half of the audience today were foreigners supported this point), Khmer ancient dances are just a far-fetched fantasy land of some sort. It was never “there”, so to speak. I have never been to a dance before. I think it’s because of the lack of exposure. Anything worth-while can be loved by all if it is exposed to the public enough (that is the basis of marketing). Take the case of Sean Seavmey for example. The main reason for the lack of exposure, I suspect, is the lack of funding. This brings me back to the time when art is promoted and properly funded with prestige by the late king Norodom Sihanoulk. Artists were rich, famous, loved, and most importantly, given pride. I mean, for god’s sake, the late king himself has starred in as well as directed several movies. However, now, artists have to make-do all by themselves. They have to seek fund, promote, and perform all by themselves. I mean… can you imagine how hard it is in a country where art is not widely appreciated and generally regarded as a waste of money and time? At the end of the show, I figured that if the leaders ain’t gonna support them, only the fans remain. For me (and a whole lot of others out there), art is what gives meaning to life. I do not want this art to be lost which will deprive the future generations from being inspired. So to Cambodian youths, I urge you, stop wasting your time and money on Chattime or Koi and actually go support Khmer arts. If you keep an open mind while observing any art, you will find meanings that you would not have found anywhere else otherwise, I can assure you.
Mrs. Sophiline Cheam Shapiro said there would be another ancient dance four months from now. Set your eyes out for those fliers and get your money ready.

A Cup of Kindness Vs a Cup of Selfishness?

In response to my buddy’s question on the degrading of the culture of caring among Cambodian society, i decided to cook up this very short post. Continue reading A Cup of Kindness Vs a Cup of Selfishness?

YDP Charity Trip

YDP Charity Trip

      If you followed the news, you would have heard about the tragic stampede happened in 2010 over Koh Pich Bridge (Diamond bridge), Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It happened on July, 22nd, 2010, on the very day of Cambodian much celebrated water festival. The bad omen sort of followed through, water festival was  canceled once and again in 2011 (mourning for the loss last year, duh) and 2012 (due to the flood).
      This year, it was yet again canceled (same old reason, the flood).
Using this opportunity, YDP (Youth Development Program) decided to organize a charity trip to Siem Reap province from 16th to 18th November, 2013. This trip was sponsored by non other than ACE,Room to Read CambodiaICA CambodiaUCITCRULE, and UHS. (if you are puzzled by all the acronyms, click on the link to know who they are! Blind dates!)
YDP Charity Trip logo
      The first day was devoted to travelling (we had to get up and meet at 6 o’clock sharp), and delivering our packages and books to the children over at HVTO (Homestay Volunteer Teacher Organization).
Homestay Volunteer Teacher Organization
      The second and third day were the real reasons why most of the participants joined, to visit the a dozen or so famous Khmer Temples at Siem Reap, renounced for their beauty and elegance.
      I have already been to the land of wonder (Siem Reap) for several times already, so i wasn’t THAT excited over the second and third day. The main reason I joined was that I wanted to know how sweet charity tastes.
So in this post, I am going to focus heavily on the first day of the trip, the HVTO visit. 
(Excuse me for not having enough detailed information, I didn’t care about any details since I didn’t intend to write about it)
It was maybe 10+ kilometers from the main road, the path was full of holes filled with red-brown mud and water (some as big as a lake, and i’m not even kidding). We were waved at whenever we passed a house full of playing kids. I bet they didn’t see big 25-seat buses crossing their villages that often; and the holes in the road sort of support my bet.
      We arrived at HVTO headquarter at around three o’clock. The kids were already lining up, waiting for us. Upon further questioning, we found out that they had been there since ten o’clock. I was a kid once, and i was forced on several occasions to wait for “the guests”. The notion that the kids were wasting their time waiting for us didn’t sit well with me.
      Just to be sure, I asked a young girl next to me if she was upset that she had to wait that long. To my astonishment, she said the kids AGREED no, DEMANDED to wait.
Nobody forced them. They were genuinely excited for our arrival.
      This has reminded me of how genuine country people can be as opposed to some (*cough-cough* most) sarcastic, whiny towns children.
      We spent over one hour playing some games and taught them some English words. Not that they needed any teaching; i mean, the little girl spoke much better English than some of my friends here in Phnom Penh city.
The kids over at HVTO and YDP organizers
      As the evening approaches, we began to feel fit to say our last words and bid the children good bye.
     Mr. Chun Serey, representative of all the village seniors who were absent due to their duty to over-see the construction of another building at the moment, expressed his gratitude to us.
He said this organization DOES receive funds from time to time (obviously), but this was the very first time CAMBODIANS were the givers. I am proud to be a part of this so.
Mr. Chun Serey speaking to the audience

“It was about time people who are more fortunate reach out to those who have less. We can’t always rely on foreign aids; it’s time for Cambodian aids.” -Chun Serey

Mr. Diep Sophal, a famous history lecturer and was the head of this trip, said a few words that still linger with me long after the trip (just as most of his invaluable words).

“ខ្មែរស្រលាញ់ខ្មែរ។ Khmer loves Khmer.” – Mr. Diep Sophal.

It’s this simple. The whole charity trip stems from the love we have for one another as Khmers. We are certainly not the first Cambodian to help our fellow Cambodians out, there are numerous others before us. However, it is still not enough.
I believe it is about time all of us who are fortunate enough realize our luck and reach out to those who have less by all means possible.

What about you? Have you reached out yet?