TODAY- KHMER – The concept of TIME

By Sok San

Should we consider the ” unthinkable ” as we use to think : it is not really important, before we go to the big stuff like Patriotism, Revolution etc…and … etc., ?

For me… I used to observe in many occasions how the Khmer majority use their time. In order to really understand their real identity I try to see their reaction towards time and their time-consuming by working with the REAL Khmer.

The reason I take this problem to the forum is to find out why TIME is a problem for the Khmer(s) ? and how we can help and correct it ?

According to my observation ( not all Khmers but the majority) TIME is not really “clear ” and its application has no precision if we compare it to others, especially the Europeans.

The Khmer-time is “ELASTIC”. This means that not all the Khmers are careless about time but if we try to see ” how the Khmers in majority use the time in their own way ” we will notice many…

This writing is divided into two parts.The first one is to show about the reality of time-using, time spending or time- consuming of the today-Khmer and at the second part, we are intended to take a close look to the Khmer concept of time(s) and their meanings.

A. PART ONE Before we go further….. try first to find the answer : “why the Khmer doesn’t like to obey time ?

In many occasions…. the meeting, the ceremony, the wedding reception etc… when we put the starting time on our invitation card by 6:00 PM, the real time we can start will be at 7:00 PM or 7:30 PM.

In our schedule…. we plan for 2 hour- or- 3 hour- discussion, but we go further more to 3 or 4 hours. Our organizer(s) try very hard to obey time, but we fail and fail…

One time… we started at the EXACT schedule, but just for the two or three of us ( the organizers), the rest and the majority were really late. We have changed our strategy by putting one hour before the real time we plan to start … but still the same.

One time… we asked one buddhist monk in his preaching ( Teas-na:) to give some ideas about TIME to the Khmer buddhists. But later on, seemed NOTHING…. at the next ceremony… the same old game !

To really understand the problem… we tried to find out what’s wrong with the Khmer(s) and time ?

– First, we started to do many surveys, kept all ingredients in the making of this carelessness. We, then discussed and discussed tirelessly in finding way to reduce or, to improve it… Until today, nothing is satisfied yet !

– Second, we finally came up to some conclusions that :

  1. This happened mostly in the real Khmer’s ( meeting, ceremony etc..) but rare Khmer(s) went late to other meetings especially with American’s
  2. Late or Tardy became a real disease in the Khmer community
  3. Time-problem became a Khmer sluggish image when they ONLY dealt with their own people….their own community.( When they worked, they could adjust to American way. They survived with the American system, if not, they would be ” Kicked Out ” from their working place ! )
  4. Time-problem was not only for the illiterate… even the so-called intellectuals, they still DID THE SAME…
    (1. I remembered when I was young our teacher had ordered us to wake up from the early morning, 3:00 AM to welcome Sihanouk for our school inauguration… and other time when Li Chao Chhi, China Premier, did a state visit. The real time we saw their faces was in the afternoon ! When I was young I didn’t mind much about this problem. In the contrary I was happy because I would meet my classmates and we together enjoyed our playing time.)
    ( 2. I read the news at somewhere else that our Khmer eminent representatives for the Geneva signing the Khmer Independence in the 50s were so late at the ” signing ceremony “because they were lost and they couldn’t find the place (sic!). The signing ceremony was already done and for the Khmer delegation it was represented by the Vietnamese. Reason for that lateness was the night before they enjoyed so much and were so busy with their new “cake” in their hotel. When that Delegation came back home, we welcomed them at Pochentong airport as our Khmer Heroes ! ! ! )
  5. Late and Tardy people were in most the time, the same people… their thick faces showed their CARELESSNESS and their SHAMELESSNESS.
  6. Time-problem was not for any specific Khmer group but for all including : men, women, young, old etc…
  7. Time-problem became a BAD HABIT in the Khmer community.

So there were plenty of EXCUSES….. when these tardy people came to the meeting. It seemed so hard… in dealing with this kind of problem. Sometimes it made us NOT really PROUD to be ONE of them… because the whole universe was already near to the new Millennium.

– Who did pollute our Khmer identity ? – What went wrong with Khmer(s) and Time ? – What was its impact on the young Khmer generations? – Any other way around or alternatives for its change and improvement ?