Taking part in this culturally-rich, three week project in Cambodia has been a truly wonderful experience!
Indeed, I was presented with opportunities of authentic cultural immersion, such as attending the sixth day of funeral for a person I did not know, visiting a village just outside the tourist-hub in Siem Reap to observe traditional wedding music rehearsal (and attempting to play the unique traditional instruments), and meeting the head monk of Wat Bo pagoda, venerable Pin Sem. Of course, these are just a few of my experiences!
Working with Cambodian Living Arts (CLA) was an enriching opportunity also, because thanks to Seng Song – our passionate and dedicated contact in Siem Reap – I met several diverse artists and art-based groups. In the first instance, it was a privilege to work closely with Pon, from Sounds of Angkor, whom is on-track to becoming a cultural ambassador for Cambodian Living Arts.I also enjoyed teaching Pree written and verbal English skills, and along with Jess, assisting him build confidence in his presentation style. Although I did not work directly with Tip regularly, I was fascinated by the way he collaborated with Pon and Pree on a short demonstration of Traditional Cambodian Shadow Puppets for the presentations. Mind you, for all three students, I felt incredibly proud watching their final presentations because their hard-work, interest and focus on learning, and the initiative to undertake additional rehearsals in their time, showed clear progress and confidence in their ability – an outcome I very much believe all three can maintain in the absence of myself and Jess.
Since being home, I have told most of the people who ask about my trip that one stand-out part of my experience in Cambodia was the fact that I was not just playing tourist in another country. The way I see it, I had a purpose each day. Whether it be working directly with artists, or meeting new artists, or planning lessons, or documenting the work and progress, I was busy (and like I have said on a previous post – the good kind of busy). The routine per se, somewhat enabled me to establish a way of life, however short-term, and consequently, I did feel I was making a contribution to the community.
My initial expression of interest for this trip included that the project would be an opportunity for me to develop my skills in the creative arts through the building of meaningful relationships in a new culture. I can admit that I have learnt a lot about the role and importance of traditional art-forms, and have greater appreciation for the significance they have in Cambodia. I discuss related ideas on my post, ‘Why we need the arts: art, culture and sustainability’, as well as in the article I co-authored with Dr Catherine Grant, ‘Re-enchanting the world with performing arts: stories from Cambodia’.
So where to from here? Well, for now, I can safely say that my thinking about the way the world works (or doesn’t, for that matter), is shifting. This project has heightened my awareness that despite the good, there is still so much wrong with the world, whether it be poverty, corruption, or matters beyond these. It seems easy to ‘switch-off’ and live in willful ignorance. However, after my learning and experience in Cambodia, I will be looking for ways in the future, including through my professional career, to keep informed on the complex issues at-hand. More than this, I will endeavour to do something about them to bring about positive change.
Here are a few moments from the trip!