Cambodian Culture

Glimpses of the Culture

Respect for the Head in Khmer Culture

On a previous web page, I described an "air rage" incident on a plane flight from Phnom Penh to Hong Kong in May of this year. Since that time, a Khmer-American man, Rick in California, wrote to me with his theory of the incident.  [Thanks, Rick!]

Then recently I saw an article in our Cambodia Daily newspaper which may also have a bearing on my experience on the plane. Click on the links for more information about Khmer culture.

E-mail from Rick in California

I'm sorry to hear about the "air rage" that you had encountered on the plane. If I'm not wrong, the person you described was a master of the "folk spirituality" group (or some refer to "folk religion" teacher).

I do not know exactly where your towelette was in reference to the man's head. But those people are very serious about their heads. Things like trash or dirty cloth or other disrespected items definitely cannot reside above or near their heads. Their occupation is fortune telling and rain prediction,etc., and very popular among Chinese ethnic business men.

In Phnom Penh in the past they served mostly Chinese community around Psah Kandal (central market). They consulted them about their future business fortunes, cast spells against their competitors, and some time give them clue about the rain (some people bet on rain like playing lotto),etc. The folk spiritual master usually believes that his ancestor's spirit stay with him around his head and gives him supernatural power to tell fortune. It is strictly his responsibility to safeguard his head at all cost or his ancestor's spirit will leave him dry. And this is may be why the man was so outraged by the trash you place at a higher position than his ancestor's spiritual residence.

I'm glad you did not place your socks or shoes there above his head as those items are considered the lowest of all things and that can easily be triggering his anger many, many times than what you'd seen. Those men are very superstitious even just little thing like that happened to him can shake his "Fung Seui (wind and water black magic power)" confidence....

Cambodia Daily Article

Chinese Chef Killed After Practical Joke

Ya Yunling, a 38-year-old Chinese chef and practical joker, was murdered with an ax Sunday night in Boeng Prolit Commune, Prampi Makara District, allegedly by his Khmer sous chef, police said. Police said that the two men had enjoyed a playful relationship and often kidded with each other. But when the chef dumped a sticky banana-based dessert on his sous chef's head around 8 PM that night, he violated a local taboo, police said: He touched a Khmer man's head.

The suspected murderer stewed for two hours before allegedly hacking his boss' skull three times in the kitchen of the Ton Hor Chinese Restaurant, said police officer Yim Socheat. Another investigator, In Monyneat, said that the 23-year-old suspect, Kong Koeung, has disappeared, but police found his picture and address on his resume in the restaurant's files, and are waiting for an arrest warrant to be issued.

An Ancient Jigsaw Puzzle

Rebuilding a templeIn 1970 the Frenchman in charge of restoring the huge Baphuon temple in Cambodia faced the prospect of having to abandon his work as the Khmer Rouge and warfare moved closer and closer to the Angkor temples.  For the past ten years, he and his crew had completely dismantled the 11th century monument piece by piece.  300,000 carved stone pieces covered more than 20 acres.  The team was forced to leave, and all the records for reassembling the temple, stored in an office in Phnom Penh, were burned.

Now another Frenchman has resumed the task of rebuilding the temple.  Old photographs of the temple have given the scientists some clues on how to reconnect the stones by matching the carvings that cover them, and some of the old workers from the 60s and 70s have reappeared to help.  With that foundation and a lot of patience, it is hoped that the temple can be restored by the end of 2004.

Click here to return to Top of the Page
Click here to go to main Cambodia page
Click here to return to Charlie's Home Page