Extreme Khmer

Now that I have the ability to post video to this page, I’ll be able to more efficiently plug the vital work of Khmer teacher extraordinaire Frank Smith.

Lokkru Frank teaches and runs the Khmer program every Summer at SEASSI (Southeast Asian Summer Studies Institute) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He wrote the textbooks that many if not most of the current younger generation of Khmer students (and tons of Khmer heritage students!) used. He also has a video podcast, called “Extreme Khmer,” which he publishes to his own website, and also to youtube.

I can’t grab video straight from his site, and the most recent video – a presentation by Farina So from DC-CAM about Cham in Cambodia – is not yet up on youtube.

So, for now, here’s clip one of the best recorded performance of the Preah Ko Preah Keo story I’ve ever seen, recorded by Lokkru (teacher) Frank Smith.



The New Mandala

Just a brief post here to acknowledge a newish (almost 6 months) co-blog about contemporary mainland Southeast Asia, called “The New Mandala.” It looks extremely promising – in addition to more substantive postings, they also occasionally take care to skewer the nasty exoticization of folks that marks feral capitalism’s relationship to non-state peoples, such as this post, which is titled “The New Mandala Award for Insensitivity:”

am not sure if this will become a regular feature but The Nation must surely be recognised for the insensitivity of this headline:

Karen village loses popular tourist draw

A long-necked Karen woman who had long attracted tourists to her hometown, died of unknown causes early yesterday. Mada, 25, passed away peacefully in her sleep. She left behind two children, a husband and mother. As of press time, doctors had yet to determine the cause of death. According to her mother, Mada was fluent in Thai, English, French, Spanish and Japanese. She was once crowned a beauty queen at a local pageant and had also represented the long-necked Karen at various events. Recently, her family was filmed for a documentary to be aired in Spain. She was a Christian. Siri-orn Rangsiritanont, manager of Mae Hong Son TN Tour Limited Partnership, said she was saddened to hear of Mada’s death. “She was very nice and friendly,” Siri-orn said, adding that tourism in Mada’s village might suffer given that tour operators had normally arranged tours to the village through Mada. There are still a number of long-necked Karens in the northern part of the Thailand and some are paid to continue wearing brass rings around their necks to attract tourists.

The Nation
Mae Hong Son


Imagining death and eros in Cambodian Buddhism

I’ve chosen the title of this first entry carefully; the words mean specific things. However, I’m concerned that the words themselves seem too ‘high-falutin”. On the other hand, some of the alternatives that cropped up first were unappealing – I have suspicions that my irreverent humor is not often appreciated. We’ll find out.

There’s nothing here yet, but will be soon, I hope, as I begin to write more and more. Here’s the description of the page as it stands in the “About this page” section:

I’m in the process of organizing and writing my dissertation at the University of Chicago’s History of Religions program. I’ve finished 33 months of fieldwork in Cambodia, where I focused originally on funerary practices, but rapidly expanded my focus to include death-related practices and beliefs more generally.

Although none of the blog itself has been written yet, let me briefly outline what I imagine it will be:

  1. An opportunity for me to share my thoughts on my ongoing work
  2. An opportunity for me to make mistakes, seek feedback, and clarify my work prior to publication in ‘hard copy.’
  3. A way of organizing and motivating my writing process.

As a result, it is very very important to me that I receive feedback, criticism, and suggestions from those kind readers interested enough to bother. I’m not so naive that I am ignorant of the spam and flame wars that infest many blogs, and fair warning is given here – while criticism is sought, abuse is not – and neither will I allow abusive comments or threads to persist on the page for long.

Finally, here are the main themes that I am currently working with, and trying to organize through my work. Some of these may find their way in significant form into my dissertation, others may be very briefly dealt with, and others may simply have to be left by the wayside. I don’t want to write Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, just a clean, clear dissertationt that makes some contributions to the various fields with which it engages. The themes:

  1. Death, and its productive capacity, especially in relation to
  2. Memory, which is necessary to remember the dead, but also intersects with
  3. Imagination, which helps to bridge the gap between past and future, for individuals and collectives alike.

Of course, I focus on Buddhism, so my work will focus on these themes in Cambodian Buddhist culture.

I hope to see you here, and to hear your voices.