Cambodia is beautiful. And not just because of the temples. Everyday was an opportunity to meet someone new. I learned a lot from the people we encountered, most especially from our two Tuk Tuk drivers and trusted companions, Mr. Theoun and Mr. Bun. They taught us many Khmer words like “Akun!” (Thank you), “Suosday” (Hello), “Lea heuy” (Pronounced Li Hai and means Good bye), and “Jol Moi!” (Cheers). In return, we taught them a few basic Tagalog words and phrases.
Along the way, we met others who imparted their own words. After seeing the confused expression on the waiter’s face when we drew a rectangle in the air (how we Filipinos ask for the bill), I asked the help of the manager and he taught me that the Khmer word for bill/check is “Kiet loi.” Two little boys in the floating village taught me a shorter version of “What’s your name?” which is “ch’muah ei?” after I struggled to pronounce the longer version. It made them smile, nonetheless, to hear me try.
I guess it’s the same when I hear foreigners saying Tagalog words like “Salamat!” or “Mabuhay!” When you want to know more about a place, you make a real effort to know the people and their culture. And to know the people, you need to learn how to speak their language. So that the very act of uttering a word or phrase means “I think you’re interesting and I want to get to know you” or something like, “I respect you, your culture, your language” or more often than not, “I’m probably saying this wrong but please please please I hope you understand what I’m trying to say.”
I scribbled down all those words in my tiny notebook so I wouldn’t forget. I wrote them as I heard them, so my spelling may be
a little off. It was very practical (for those who can’t live without extra rice, “bai” will be a useful word). Every now and then, I whipped it out and looked up the appropriate Khmer word to use in the situation. And aside from being practical, it never failed to make the people smile.
Cambodia was such a rich and wonderful experience. Can’t wait to go on more adventures like that this year! 🙂