“Should I wear my national attire?” is one of those questions often heard from Cambodian teenagers, young adults and students who are about to participate in any formal event in national and international levels.
Speaking of national attire, today (April 02, 2011) actually marks and celebrates another Culture Day at the Institute of Foreign Languages (IFL), Cambodia. The institute annually holds this event—maybe one or two weeks before Khmer New Year Celebration in mid-April—just to remind Cambodian youths about the beauty of Khmer culture and tradition. With different themes each year under the topic ‘Khmer Culture’, the celebration is yearly joined by around 1000 IFL students and teachers and non-IFL people, and showcases a range of cultural programs ranging from Khmer traditional dancing, singing, stand-up comedy, and a lot more. Yet best of all the programs is fun non-stop Khmer traditional and free-style dance joined by hundred people for the whole afternoon.
IFL Culture Day is, I think, the most anticipated day for most, if not all, IFL students. For few students who do not get much involved in activities in the school, they may not even know when and what is included in the program. However, for many students, they even make preparation to join it. Their preparation lies in many areas such as practicing dancing, learning singing, and/or choosing a right outfit.
Of all the preparation they make, outfit to be wearing during the event is almost always doubt. From my experience as an IFL Culture Day-goer, I can understand and relate to the fact that IFL students especially women don’t want to wear Khmer traditional cloth on the day even though the institute states its preferred outfit to be Khmer traditional cloth. The reason they usually give may lie in one of the following:
- It is tight, thus uncomfortable to move around in the attire. Click picture to see and think why it is uncomfortable.
- It is thick, thus stuffy under hot weather of the month of April in Cambodia.
- It doesn’t show the teenage side of the ones who wear it; in order words, it is not up to date.
- There are many types of Khmer traditional clothes, so it is not easy to pick one that suits the annual program.
- If I wear the type of cloth as required, I will also have to wear makeup as to fit together, which I don’t really like.
- I might look weird during the day if people did not wear similar outfits like I do.
- I ride motorbike, and it’s not easy with Khmer traditional clothes.
- I have other appointments, so I waste time changing clothes if I wear Khmer traditional clothes.
- I don’t have a traditional outfit and I don’t want to spend money to get one just for this event. And,
- I don’t have a reason to wear Khmer traditional cloth.
Of all the ten above-mentioned reasons that I have heard so far, I am personally more interested with the last one since it really relates to my true experience as a Cambodian student representative in the 2007 AUN ASEAN Educational Forum and Young Speakers Contest in Laos.
Frankly, it was my first academic trip abroad so I was extremely excited and nervous at the same time. Then, I tried to ask for advice about this and that from many people including the Cambodian program’s facilitator who sent me there. When I got to ask him whether I had to bring any Khmer traditional uniform to the event, he responded in an unserious way that it was optional. As a newbie, I trusted him and really brought no Khmer traditional cloth there.
For the first nine days of the ten-day trip, everything was going extremely well since everyone else from other ASEAN countries who also joined the event and I were a lot alike in a way that we all dressed similarly and used English language as a means to communicate.
However, things became so weird and uncomfortable for me when the event reached the last official moment called Farewell Party in which all the student representatives, except I, wore their traditional clothes.
I felt uneasy because as a representative of Cambodia—a country rich in cultures and history—I did not anything at all to show to other people the identity of the country. In the party, I belonged to no one and no nationality. I could have been the citizen of the world, but during such event that people showed their national identity and culture, I should not have a citizen of the world at all; instead, I should have been a Cambodian.
In my life, I guess that I failed to show Cambodian identity to other people from other countries was one of the biggest mistakes that I have ever made in my life and that I promised I would never make again.
That’s why I have always made sure that I have an identity whenever I join any party or event because I realize I don’t have no reason not to convey my country’s or my identity to other people and I have every reason to show to the world how beautiful and genuine Cambodia really is.
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