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You’ve met Sieklin multiple times now, both as the exemplary young student and man in the post about “braindrain” and as my angel savior sous-chef that time I thought it would be neato to cook a full Thanksgiving dinner for my host-fam. Sieklin always smiles for the camera and I often catch him in the middle of practicing his English-listening in his free-time. He lives full-time in Phnom Penh now for school but comes home for the weekend whenever he can. He’s been a true pal from day one and I don’t know what I would have done without him in the early days. We interviewed at our usual coffee spot after working on some scholarship applications, amid the din of the wild Thai boxing woodwind accompaniment.
Birthplace? Here in our village.
Siblings? Now, there are three of us – my younger brother, younger sister, and me. My older sister passed away a few years ago from a sudden illness so I became the eldest.
Married? Of course not, cousin (laughs).
Favorite song? I love both foreign music and Khmer music. My favorite foreign song is the one you showed me, Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars. My favorite Khmer song is Romdual Krajeh by Sinn Sisamouth, it’s a classic.
First thing you do in the AM? Brush my teeth, wash by face, sometimes take a bath.
Favorite place in Cambodia? I love Angkor Wat! Even though I’ve never been there (laughs). But of the places I’ve been, I love Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri the most. The landscape is incredible, waterfalls and mountains and everything.
Farthest you’ve been from home? The same, Mondulkiri (about 200 km from our village).
Biggest wish for Cambodia? Doesn’t Peace Corps not let you talk about politics? It’s too big of a wish, I don’t dare say! I am just a simple citizen. But… we need new administration.
Biggest wish for your own future? I want a big job, specifically something in the embassy. I want to be a representative for Cambodia.
Favorite Khmer proverb? Jeh daap mɨn smaa brarsop moowey. It means knowing how to do ten things isn’t the same as nurturing one skill.
Job history? I am still in college so I haven’t had a big job yet. But for 3 months in high school I taught English to little kids, I even got a little money for it. I mostly taught English to myself and I used teaching methods from my favorite teachers.
Favorite Khmer tradition? Water Festival, Bon Om Tuuk! Older people have told me that we celebrate it to honor the many soldiers who sacrificed themselves for the civil wars of Cambodia a long time ago. Another thing is the Apasara dance (many delicate movements, all of significiance). It shows you how Cambodians behave if you pay close attention to it. I also want to say that I don’t think it’s good how much food we waste at some ceremonies, as much as I love tradition. Like for Bon Pchum Ben we throw a bunch of food into special offering piles at the pagoda because we believe the spirits will come and eat it. But many families have to spend as much as a whole dollar per day to buy food they will throw out for nothing. And it isn’t just here, it is all over the country and for two weeks!
Something you find interesting about another culture? I am interested in America’s independence and democracy, their belief in the individual.
Best cure for the common cold? Soak a towel in boiling water and wrap your whole body in it.
Personal hero or someone you admire? My friends from high school, still my best friends. They are always making laugh and want to relax and have fun. Only one of them is still here in our commune, the others have gone to work in South Korea. I wish I could joke and make others laugh the way they do.
What do you think about drinking? I really don’t like it, but I will often have some during special events like weddings. I have a limit, though, just one or two cans. Any more than that gives me a headache.
And gambling? I don’t usually play, maybe once per year for Chinese New Year. We usually play cards at your house. We didn’t this year but next year for sure!
If you won a million dollars? It’s just for imagination, right? I would donate a lot of it to organizations here, helping the poor. I wouldn’t give the money directly to those in need, I don’t think that helps. But organizations that are building important things, like schools, I think that’s especially important. I really want to help the education system here improve. What’s more, I want to sit the Minister of Education down and see how he thinks things should change. There should be no cheating on the national exams, for a start. Another issue is that teachers aren’t paid enough, they get distracted with their private classes because they need to make more money. Students need more quality time in state schools, not expensive private schools.
If you didn’t need to sleep what would you do instead? Honestly? Play with my phone at night (laughs). But during the day I would read books and some of my old school lessons.
Most annoying question you get asked? Hmm, I don’t really get asked annoying questions. My friends sometimes tease me and call me in funny ways but that’s alright.
Something everyone should do once in their lives? Everyone should experience the reward of being a model citizen, the citizen that their country needs. Like for Cambodia to move forward, people can be model citizens by following the country’s laws which will help eliminate corruption and bribery.
Luckiest thing that ever happened to you? Maybe when I was in 6th grade, I won a bicycle for being 2nd overall in my class. It’s too old to ride now, it doesn’t feel so smooth. A second thing is that I got to go to the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh. I only got to go for an interview that was a part of the scholarship application we did together. It is a beautiful place and really hard to get in with all the security. Even the king and the prime minister have to have special permission to enter but I got to go in (huge smile).
Something special about the place where you grew up? This place is special because it is full of the people who I love. And my school and home were close together. Some students have to come from very far but I only had to bike to and from school, easy.
Best advice you ever got? Pel kraabay bat trow twer rabang, pel pralang tub kham rien. My math teacher told me that the night before my national exams. It means, “if you’re missing water buffalo, build a fence, if you have a text, just study hard.”
Anything else you want America to know? My dream, to be an ambassador. I want to make Cambodia famous on the world stage, especially for our culture.