Just off the phone with Savong. A long distance lunch.

Auckland Travel Blog

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Savong at home, 2004, with his younger brothers and sisters.

My home in New Zealand is a few hours ahead of Siem Reap, Cambodia and I just phoned Savong. We laugh a lot - and one standing joke is that I can smell lunch cooking. He's at his father's house near Siem Reap. Savong's Dad is a fine man - just a little older than me though he looks a lot younger. Years ago he was a monk - but during the Pol Pot years it was not a good time for monks. Today he is something of a fortune teller - perhaps not quite the right title - he is a consultant who advises people about decisions they're making in life, whether the property they choose to buy is going to be good or otherwise (think feng shui) and advising about relationships. He told me on a previous visit, as I sat there on the floor - all knees (I felt so Western!) - that he assesses people by the way they sit, the way they stand and by the way they walk. Body language and demeanour. He's a really fine man, upright, and justifiably proud of his children. I was honoured really, because last time I saw him he gave me a big hug: I felt really accepted in his family - and really given my age, and in that context, I felt something like an Uncle to Savong - though in other contexts I look up to Savong, who is half my age.

In Cambodia - as in Vietnam - the word friend translates as something more than we have in English. I often reflect on how in English we have a few words for friend - pal, chum, mate, acquaintance even - but they're all quite casual and lightweight. In Khmer, the word friend translates as something like "brother friend" or "sister friend" though if you're older, then another word is used meaning something like "uncle friend" - which says a lot about how friendship is akin to a blood tie, but is also defined by the social mores of cambodia - the respect to older people. So in that context I cause social confusion, I think, when I tell Savong that I look up to him.

That's another of our ongoing jokes. We tell each other that "You're Number One brother," while I claim the lowly status of number 22. But that's the funny thing - Cambodians have a strong sense of social distance or generational respect, while us Kiwis have - according to Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers book, the lowest social distance and greatest sense of egalitarianism in the world.

Lunch today was nice. We talked about ideas for the school and affirmed my travel dates and in the background I could hear the day to day clatter of life in the modest, wonderful home where Savong was raised. I so look forward to seeing the family again in person.

geokid says:
Nice story. You are a great guy.
Posted on: Feb 11, 2009
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Savong at home, 2004, with his you…
Savong at home, 2004, with his yo…
photo by: Fulla