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Masters pass down their skills

NETH Chhom and Pen Yon, both in their 60s, are part of a resurgence in Cambodia's traditional handing down of skills from master to pupil.

They have become teachers in a new community learning center at Wat Sbeng in Udon, Ponhea Lu district in Kandal province.

Neth Chhom, 65, has dedicated his life to being a master silversmith. Since receiving his diploma from the School of Fine Arts in 1948, he has practiced traditional metalworking on objects ranging from Buddhas to Apsaras.

"During the Pol Pot regime I was slaving in the rice paddies in Pursat," he said. "But after the liberation, I came to the village of Phum Thal near here and continued my work."

At Wat Sbeng he will instruct ten pupils, aged from15, in the techniques of the intricate designs, filigree, embossing and inlaid work which are part of the silver tradition.

"I am pleased to be able to transmit these skills to pupils," he said. "It's not work, it's a joy."

Musician Pen Yon is 68, and has played pinpeat and mahouri music for 40 years. Early in his career, he played at the Royal Palace.

He was fortunate enough to be among the few musicians who survived the Pol Pot regime, continuing his music work afterwards.

Pinpeat is the ensemble which traditionally accompanies the court dance (lkhaon kbach), masked dance (lkhaon khaol) and shadow play (sbaek) in Khmer theater. They also play at religious ceremonies.

Pen Yon taught his five sons to play music - his oldest son is a music master - and will now take on eight students.

"Teaching is a pleasure, and I am happy to think that others are following in my footsteps," he said.

Both men will earn $75 a month for their work. Funded by UNESCO, with a $31,000 donation by Japan. The learning center opened in October.

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