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blog Cambodia; blog the planet.

Jul 21, 2005

Barang cheh Kmai

Barang cheh Kmai
is a phrase that follows me around, it means 'french knows khmer'. Any foreigner who looks to be of European extraction is called 'barang' so even though my French skills are terrible, by default I am a 'barang'. (This gives much amusement to my French friends here.)
It can be fun to hear people talking about me when they don't think I understand. ("He's skinny." "What's he doing?")
If you've ever wanted to be famous, being a foreigner in Cambodia can cure you of that. You are conspicuous everywhere you go, especially when you have red hair. My friends from Peru and the Philippines almost blend in! When I returned to visit the States, I got on the train at one point and was amazed - nobody looked at me! I was completely anonymous!
I went into a restaurant the other day near my house, a small place that didn't have a menu. The staff quickly told me 'No have food you can eat.' (Maybe they thought I'm allergic to rice?)
I quietly asked them about the food the other customers were eating. Suddenly the whole restaurant stopped talking to listen, and comment 'cheh Kmai'. I listed a few types of food that I thought they might have - 'lok lak', 'bay chaa' and the staff were relieved. I think the best way to get past the language barrier is to be polite and patient. If you raise your voice or are in a hurry, it doesn't help.
But don't forget that as a foreigner you are just as amusing and just as confusing! Anybody who makes fun of 'Khmerlish' should try a few Khmer classes to see what it's like to learn a completely foreign language. You'll come out of it with a lot more respect - Cambodians are doing a lot more to close the language gap than foreigners.
Language learning is a life long process. I haven't been practicing my written Khmer, and if you snooze, you lose. Over in France, an authentic 'barang' has just launched his very own Khmer language blog for practice. Good luck to Emmanuel @ Manur.org!
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Upcoming events: OK folks, don't forget: Cinematique Anonymous meeting tonight, Comics meeting Friday, and Art Auction at Java Cafe this weekend!

- jinja Link

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Nice Post!

Before my last trip to Cambodia, I had taken some khmer language classes (with my kids) and listened to tapes and even a computer CD! Despite all the practice, I found it impossible to say certain vowels and consonants and words. At best, I can only say a few phrases and it was difficult for Cambodians to understand me. Here in the US, my khmer teacher taught me a song -- "Arapyah Yah" and I have DVD so I was able to practice it before I went over. Nonetheless, if I wanted to make Cambodians laugh hysterically, all I had to do was sing that song and attempt to dance ... :-) What was really funny, a few khmer friends took the time to write out the words of the song for me (but in KHMER!).

My writing in Khmer is also really slow ... I'm still using the first year primer ... I would do better if I had khmer keyboard and installed the fonts ....  
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