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A Khmer expression

Dear Editor,

I'm a bit startled by Mr Sorya Sim's letter criticizing the Khmer saying, "If

you're mean, be mean enough so that others respect you. If you're stupid, be stupid

enough so that others pity you". Mr Sim claims that he, as a Cambodian, has

never heard the saying, and that it is "inaccurate" and overly negative.

He also claims that I have "manipulated" the saying "to point only

the negative side in order to possibly serve [my] own personal or political interests",

before his letter descends into an unintelligible diatribe accusing me of wanting

Cambodians to kill each other, to be uneducated, yadda-yadda.

First off, this expression is pure Cambodian; it was coined by Cambodians themselves,

and appears in the Post unedited. My Cambodian wife knows it, my Cambodian friends

recognize it, and it is quoted as a Khmer proverb in the book Cambodian Culture Since

1975 - Homeland and Exile, by May Ebihara, Judy Ledgerwood, et al - noted Cambodia

experts. Just because Mr Sim has never heard of it doesn't mean that it doesn't exist,

or that it was "manipulated". If Mr Sim had bothered to ask a few knowledgeable

people about this saying, he might have not wasted so much time condemning it.

It is possible that the "positive" meaning which Mr Sim cites, "If

you're knowledgeable, be knowledgeable enough so that others respect you" is

the original form of the saying, pre-dating the Khmer Rouge upheavals which changed

so much of Cambodia's linguistic and cultural landscape. If that is the case, fine.

However, it doesn't change the fact that the "negative" saying which was

published is a genuine, unedited article - regardless of its meaning.

In response to Mr Sim's rant that I "imply that all or most Cambodians are mean

or stupid", I'd like to clarify that the goal of the Khmer Sayings column is

to be a mirror, a reflection of contemporary Khmer culture, nothing more. I only

translate and interpret the sayings; I do not write nor "manipulate" them.

Therefore, if you don't agree with its "negative" meaning, that is your

problem. Blame your own culture for creating it, not me.

And regarding Mr Sim's allegations that my column intends "to poison Khmer culture,

to destroy, not to help Cambodia", I will not stoop to reply to this groundless

nonsense. "Wars have made many Cambodians under-educated, isn't that enough?",

he asserts. It seems that in Mr Sim's case, even a Master of Arts degree from Yale

University was unable to help. My faith in this fine school is shaken, that they

would award an MA to a person with such limited reasoning and logic skills. I'm sure

glad I saved my money and went to Cal State Long Beach.

- Jason Roberts, Long Beach, California.

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