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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cupid highlights revealing depths of Cambodia's generation gap

Cupid highlights revealing depths of Cambodia's generation gap

090213_17.jpg
090213_17.jpg

While some view Valentine's Day celebrations as un-Cambodian, the

younger generation embraces the occasion through buying gifts and

spending time with their loved ones.

Photo by:

Heng Chivoan

Floral Express on Sihanouk Boulevard.

Where's the love this Valentine's Day? Apparently, not at Phnom Penh's Bak Touk High School, where director Sok Sovanna tells the Post he's imposed a "love-free" zone during what he calls a very un-Cambodian holiday.

"I don't support Cambodian youth celebrating Valentine's Day because it is not a part of Khmer culture, such as Khmer New Year or P'chum Ben," Sok Sovanna said.

"This is part of Western culture that makes our young people overwhelmed with joy and leads them to forget about their studies."

However, the adamant director acknowledged that his authority on this point does not extend beyond school grounds.

"I don't care if [students] celebrate outside school by giving gifts to loved ones. But if I see students doing such things in my school, I will re-educate them not to show their romantic love here," he said.

Sok Sovanna's "Cupid crackdown" could have an unintended economic impact.

Flower-sellers have done a brisk trade in recent years by setting up stalls near high schools and other areas where students gather. They may find business slow anywhere near Bak Touk High School.

If we celebrate in a good way, it will not have a negative impact on our tradition.

"At my school, there will be no flower-selling inside or outside. This is our rule to enforce discipline among our students," he said.

Jeopardising tradition

Resistance to the holiday is not simply a matter of enforcing parochial discipline but preserving national culture, Miech Ponn, an adviser to the Mores and Customs Commission within the Buddhist Institute, told the Post.

Miech Ponn challenged the capital's love-crazed youth to consider whether their culture will be lost as more young people become enamoured with Western traditions.

"I do not know how they celebrate Valentine's Day in Western countries, but the way we bring in their culture into Cambodia is too overwhelming," Miech Ponn said.

"We seem to bring in outside culture to destroy our own. I think many Cambodians just don't understand their own traditions very well."

If they did, he added, they would find little need to look towards the West.

"Valentine's Day means a loving day. We already have this in Cambodia. It's P'chum Ben and Khmer New Year, during which children and young people show their respect and love, and they make amends to anyone they have wronged. This is our traditional way of showing we love each other," Miech Ponn said.

"I understand globalisation, but if we bring such culture in, why do other countries not take some of our culture back with them? In the end, we expand their culture by forgetting our own," he added.

Celebration of love

But on a day given over to the celebration of friendship and love, questions of tradition or even geo-cultural trends are the last things on young people's minds.

Sok Liya, 18, a student at Indradevi High School, has no boyfriend but plans to celebrate the day by going out to eat with her friends.

"Valentine's Day is good for people who have love and can spend time with their lovers. But even though I don't have a boyfriend, I will spend time with my classmates and have fun," she said.

However, she cautioned young women planning a romantic day with the men in their lives to think of their security.

"[Some men] think that they can do whatever they want," she said.

Sok Chamroeun, 23, a student at Sisowath High School, is preparing for his first Valentine's Day with his girlfriend. Part of those plans will include ditching his studies for the day and purchasing flowers and gifts for his true love.

"I think Valentine's Day is a special occasion for me because I will be able to tell my girlfriend about my honest heart and my feelings for her," Sok Chamroeun said.

He added a word of advice to those who might look down on the holiday or dismiss it as another example of young Cambodian people losing touch with their heritage.

"I know some people will use this holiday to behave badly and in a way that contradicts their culture. But for me, if we celebrate in a good way, it will not have a negative impact on our tradition," Sok Chamroeun said.

"I don't think Valentine's Day is a bad day, as some people say. On this day, all people - young and old - can celebrate together. We don't focus simply on youths."

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