In many ways, young Cambodians are caught between two worlds. There is the traditional way of life, which is so important to our past, and the modern way of life, which seems to be an inevitable part of our future. Trying to maintain our identity as “good” Cambodians while also embracing modern styles and activities is rather difficult. Three young Khmer women: Rath Bunthany, Toeun Sonic and Lun Sothea, all have to face these sort of difficult decisions on a daily basis, and they all make different choices, but they are all very much Cambodian.
Rath Bunthany, 24, rarely stays at home when the weekend rolls around. Instead, she uses her free time to go somewhere like a nightclub with her friends or relatives.
The Pannasastra University of Cambodia student, who is also a script writer for a radio programme, doesn’t use her free time to sleep or sit at home, even though she rarely has the opportunity to relax during the week.
Rath Bunthany says she doesn’t care what other people do or what time they leave their home, but for this modern girl, a combination of hard work during the week and fun on the weekend is the ideal schedule.
“I like to invite my friends to go somewhere when I am free from studying and working. I like to do different things depending on the time of day. From 4pm to 6pm I like to visit the riverside or some place that has fresh air,” she said, adding that later in the evening she goes to eat something, and then she goes to sing karaoke and dance in a night club such as Rock or Spark.
“I think it seems strange for the others, but it is normal for me and my friends. Sometimes I laugh at myself and ask ‘Why do I divide time like this’?” she said with a smile.
Rath Bunthany says that she prefers to go out with many friends because then she doesn’t need to spend much money and they can save up to go to another place as well.
“I pay around US$10 per night to go clubbing or sing karaoke. I spend it on beer or food, not just dancing,” Rath Bunthany said, going on to explain why she doesn’t just stay at home on the weekends. “I want to change my environment at work by going out in the fresh air, dancing and singing with my friends. I don’t want to stay at home because I am afraid that I will become a crazy person,” she said, adding that she cannot be happy until she forgets working and studying.
Toeun Sonic, a 25-year-old NGO staffer, does not want her youth to pass without knowing happiness in her life. That’s why she also takes her free time on the weekends to go clubbing and dance with her friends.
“I would like going out more than staying at home.” She explained. “I will become stressed out if I stay at home all the time.” Toeun Sonic visits the riverside two to three times a week rather than going to dance because it is less expensive. “But I like dancing at night time,” she said.
She thinks that dancing is good for her because it is like an exercise and it’s also relaxing. “I like going to nightclubs to dance around 11pm or midnight because there aren’t a lot of people on the dance floor and it is easy to dance,” she explained, adding that going out gives her a chance to see many kinds of people and witness the changes in Cambodian society.
Toeun Sonic compares staying at home with being a frog in a well. “They live their life without knowing anything and when they come out, then they finally see how beautiful and happy the world is,” she said. “I think if this kind of person has a chance to go out, they will be even happier than me or the person who goes out often.”
Lun Sothea, 26, is a tailor who chooses to spend her free time quite differently. She is quite happy to stay at her house.
“I like staying at home more than going out because I think it is useless to go out to dance or sing,” she said, adding that taking the time to do housework and earn more money is a better choice.
She said that she will occasionally drive for a little while along the river or go shopping, but usually she stays at her house.
“I don’t feel bored when I stay at home. I can listen to music or watch TV,” she said.
She explained that she does not think all people who like going out to nightclubs are bad; it is what they like to do, but they should not spend too much time doing it.
Some Facts about Cambodian Women
Mean age of marriage for women: 22 years
Fertility rate (births per woman): 3.2
Labor force participation: 0.88
Wage equality for similar work (survey): 0.73
Estimated earned income: 0.75
Legislators, senior officials and managers: 0.16
Professional and technical workers: 0.48
Educational Attainment (female-to-male ratio)
Literacy rate: 0.78
Enrolment in primary education: 0.96
Enrolment in secondary education: 0.88
Enrolment in tertiary education: 0.56