It is the first week of the Cambodian year 2556. Unlike Thailand that uses the Theravada Buddhist calendar every where, from the press to official documents, Cambodia seems more attach to the Gregorian Christian calendar. During the new year eve – last April 13 – I got several messages wishing a new Khmer year 2012!
I feel very proud to live in a culture that follows many calendars, then we have many new year eves: December 31, February with the Chinese and Vietnamese new year and the Khmer one, together with Laos, Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka and several Indian provinces.
Then our academic year starts in October!
During this first week of year 2556, I want to wish all my Cambodian people – it includes expatriates in Cambodia and friends of this beautiful country – good wishes and the best of the time. We are also in Easter Time, so it is a blessing for the Nation and the King.
When I arrived to Cambodia, it was October 12, 1999. It was the anniversary of the Discovery of the America’s continent, so it was a very important date for me. My flight left the metropolis of Bangkok, with its skyscrapers. At the time I could not speak English, Italian or Khmer. I arrived at 10 AM to the Pochentong Airport speaking only Spanish and I saw a very different thing to what is today our Phnom Penh Airport.
In this 13 years, Phnom Penh has passed from an authentic dusty town, lacking services, full of beggars and violent, to a place too near to what is a normal city in modern terms. Those who criticize anything today, do not know from what we come from, what it was before.
Traveling from Phnom Penh to Battambang in 2000 by car was a real adventure of more than 15 hours (today you can do it in 5!) There was a dusty and dangerous path from Siem Reap to Poipet. Suay Sisophoan was like in the middle of the mud. Buses from a province to other were old and real unsafe. Cambodia was dark almost everywhere in the night…
I do not have other words to say but congratulations for the overcoming of so many chaos in too many aspects.
At the same time we must remind that the chaos is not completely over. Poverty still at the gates of the cities. Several rural places belong to isolation. Unemployment is a threat.
I have seen hundreds of foreigners coming and departing from Cambodia. I think most of them have been enchanted by the Cambodians. I have been always so curious why Cambodians conquer the heart of persons coming from Europe, North America, Australia…
One thing I can say is that foreigners get in love with the way Cambodians are and it is rather humbleness, simplicity of life and a deep happiness and optimism.
But we cannot forget that the Cambodians with all of these values are the most traditional ones and they are mostly from the rural areas.
I invite all my Cambodian friends to cultivate, preserve and promote these values in your society. Even if development comes and give us better services, more opportunities and many things, we should keep our Khmer spirit, without forgetting the poor and the needed. If all Cambodians have the same opportunities, it will be a great country. If only some Cambodians get the privileges, there will not be the peace we dream.
Happy Khmer New Year 2556!