How do you know about Cambodia? Have you heard of a briliant Khmer civilization and their sad history? Many people little know exactly about Cambodia or they could misunderstand it. For them, the Sookmyung Times (SMT) was starting to find a trace of Cambodia with KESEY, a Cambodian girl as an international student in Global Cooperation of SMU. Let’s know about Cambodia. And feel it!
The Kingdom of Cambodia, formerly known as Kampuchea, Khmer is a country in Southeast Asia that borders Thailand to the west and northwest, Laos to the north, Vietnam to the east and southeast, and the Gulf of Thailand to the south. Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy with Norodom Sihamoni as King. Phnom Penh is the kingdom’s capital and largest city, and is the principal center for the country’s economical, industrial, commerce and cultural center of Cambodia. Most Cambodians are Theravada Buddhists, but the country also has a substantial number of predominantly Muslim Cham, as well as ethnic Chinese, Vietnamese and small animist hill tribes.
The Glory of Khmer
SMT Cambodia remains a beautiful civilizaition. What’s the background of it?
KESEY The Khmer Empire flourished in the area from the 9th to the 13th century. That’s the root of a briliant civilization. The Khmer Empire declined yet remained powerful in the region until the 15th century. The empire’s centre of power was Angkor, where a series of capitals was constructed during the empire’s zenith. Angkor, the world’s largest preindustrial civilization, and Angkor Wat, the most famous and best-preserved religious temple at the site, are reminders of Cambodia’s past as a major regional power.
SMT When people think about Cambodia, they easily recall ‘Angkor Wat.’ What’s Angkor Wat to Cambodian? Also, would you recommend other vistiable places that shows Khmer civilization well, like Angkor Wat in Cambodia?
KESEY It’s ‘Angkor Wat’ that represents the civilization of Cambodia. It combines the civilization with the Khmer heritage and culture. With decline of the Angkor, it was concealed under jungle in the 15th century. One day, it was founded by a french explorer. However, there was a curse. He died of a fever since he found the architectures of God. Whatever it is, we can see and feel it again thanks to him. It is also drawn on the Cambodian national flags since 1863. We are so proud to be Cambodians. For places which worth visiting, I recommend Independence Monument, or Vimean Ekareach, which was built in 1958 in Phnom Penh to commemorate Cambodia’s independence from French colonial rule. Also, I would like to reconmend a stupa which houses the skulls of those killed at Choeung Ek and is able to feel sadness about the killing fields.
Painful Scars of Cambodia
SMT Although Cambodian civilization was good, it is hard to preserve it. Like Korea, I heard Cambodia was invaded by some of neighbor countries. Could you tell more about the history?
KESEY After a long series of wars with neighboring kingdoms, Cambodia continued as part of the colony of French Indochina, from 1941 to 1945. But, under the reign of King Norodom Sihanouk, Cambodia gained independence from France on November 9, 1953. Cambodia became a constitutional monarchy under King Norodom Sihanouk. However, right after the independence the Vietnam War broke out. Although Cambodia adopted an official policy of neutrality in the Cold War, Vietnam and U.S. forces bombed and invaded Cambodian in an effort to disrupt the Viet Cong, Vietnam Communist, which is a political organization in South Vietnam and Cambodia and Khmer Rouge. So many Cambodian were suffered from another hardship.
SMT There was a painful time until Cambodia sets up a constitutional monarchy. What are the killing fields?
KESEY ‘The Killing Fields’ refer to a number of sites in Cambodia where mass slaughter of some 2,000,000people was carried out by the Khmer Rouge regime during its rule of the country from 1975 to 1979, immediately after the end of the Vietnam War. Pol pot who was the leader of the Cambodian communist movement, led Khmer rounge to take over Phnom Penh, a capital of Cambodia. He attempted to rebuild the country’s agriculture on the model of the 11th century, discarded Western medicine, and destroyed temples, libraries, and anything considered Western. Over a million Cambodians, out of a total population of 8 million, died from executions, overwork, starvation and disease.
Across Cambodia and Korea
SMT I think Cambodia and Korea have some similarities such as history. Nowadays, many Korean people go to Cambodia for tourism, business, and missionary work. How do Cambodian people think of Korea?
KESEY Many Cambodians like Korea. Cambodia is also affected by Hallyu, the Korean culture flow. When I was in Cambodia, I knew Rain through his movies and his songs which were translated into Khmer language. His dancing is also powerful and intelligent. Korean dance is very attractive and wonderful through what I have seen on the TV entertainment. They dance with their own different styles and they are very handsome, and pretty too. I’m sorry that few Cambodians think that some Koreans don’t respect Cambodian culture, and use it commercially. But, there are many Korean missionaries in Cambodia. It is great that they help Cambodians and share their hardship.