Tum Teav alive today
If you want to understand many things of the Cambodian mentality and old traditions that still around, Tum Teav is a film you should watch. Although it is seen as an old story where mothers determine the husband for their daughters upon social and economic considerations, the true is that such practice continues present in modern Cambodia.
You can get the version with English subtitles in this link.
One prove of modern “Tum Teav” like stories can be traced in music. One of the most popular is the song interpretation of Neay Cherm, probably one of the best current Cambodian singers, because he is introducing a real Cambodian falseto notes (the male highest register, in his case like an extraordinary shout that is molding the rather always soft and unaltered Cambodian songs). At the same time – and it is mostly rare in the world for an artist, he is a good actor, although he is now confined to the Cambodian comedy that, by the way, needs to be developed to something more “serious” and formative than ridiculous scripts of clowns without any professional formation.
In this beautiful piece of art, we see a modern Tum Teav in the leading interpretation of the Cambodian singer and comedian Neay Cherm: the poor young man is happy with his loving girlfriend, when an alien in a car crushed her… the crush is literal in all ways: he brings her to “his hospital” and her mother, instead to blame the rich handsome doctor, blames the poor guy, who has nothing to see with it. The mother falls in love with the doctor and managed to arrange a wedding. Then, she visits the parents of Cherm (our Tum) and ask them to avoid any contact with her daughter, since “you all are very poor… look at this horrible house you got.”
Cherm, as Tum in the old story, cried out in disbelief and, finally, attends the wedding in order to sing “Oh dad, oh mom, she let me already” (ពុកអើយម៉ែអើយនាងការចោលខ្ញុំហើយ).
Another modern interpretation of Tum Teav comes from another prominent young Cambodian artist, Kaev Veasna with his song “My girlfriend will be the wife of another guy” (សង្សាខ្ញុំប្រពន្ធគេ):
To my understanding, all these are versions of the old story Tum Teav, as much as Romeo and Juliet of William Shakespeare has influenced the love tragic stories in the West.
In this interpretation of Veasna, a singer specialized in romantic pop and also a good actor, Teav the girl is already at the obliged-by-the-mother party and then she escapes and takes refuge in a clothing shop attended by Tum (Veasna). As the bodyguards look for her, she states inside the shop and eventually work with him, getting in love. After some days of hidden, he offers to her a compromise ring, but at that moment appears the mother of Teav and bring her back to her wedding.
Still another very interesting interpretation of modern Tum Teav by two another Cambodian celebrities: Khemarak and Sereymon with their “I know, love, you are famous” (ដឹងអូនជាតារា). Actually it is a series where it is the father of Teav who prevents her from following her own heart in loving the man she loves. As the original story, in the interpretation of Khemarak and Sereymon the story ends with a tragic dead of both lovers.
But out of music and films, modern Cambodian society still reigned by this old tradition where parents order the husband for their daughters out of economic considerations. And we are not talking about rural families without much education, but it is real in the growing Cambodian middle and high classes as well. Although I am completely agree that a girl should think in her future and not going to marry a hopeless guy, because love does not pay the bills, it is important to underline that Cambodian young women must feel free and in control of their own life and, nobody, even their own parents, must tell them who would be the man they will stay the rest of their lives. Only in this social and cultural phenomenon, we can understand the proliferation of weddings between Cambodian young women with elderly foreigners, because, behind it, there are parents supporting sometimes the giving of their very young girls to those they think will assure a better economical life… such attitude is nothing more than women’s abuse.