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Khmer studies becoming more popular

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Relations improve in wake of anti-Thai riots
Tuesday January 29, 2008
Bangkok Post
The riots in Phnom Penh five years ago that resulted in the Thai embassy being burned and rocked Thai business confidence in the country has not deterred Thai people from learning the Khmer language. Since the anti-Thai protests on Jan 29, 2003, Dhonburi Rajabhat University, which pioneered teaching Khmer, has seen more students applying for the course, according to university vice-president Prayoon Songsilp.About 40 students enrol in the class each year, said the expert in the Khmer language, adding the number was higher than during the protest, which temporarily soured ties between the two countries. However, she did not reveal past records on the number of students. Dhonburi Rajabhat University opened its Khmer language course in 1989. Now Silpakorn, Maha Sarakham and Si Sa Ket Rajabhat universities also offer students courses in the Khmer language in a bid to build closer relations between the countries.For Thailand, one of the most jarring events in Thai-Cambodian relations in recent history happened on January 29, 2003. On that day hundreds of young Cambodians stormed the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh, broke into the compound and burned the building. The angry rioters then moved on to other Thai businesses in the area, looting and smashing property, prompting then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to send C-130 military planes to evacuate Thai people living there.The major cause of the protests came from a single misunderstanding of culture and history between the two countries. Actress Suwanan Kongying was accused of saying that Angkor Wat belonged to Thailand in a television show, something she later denied saying.The incident showed a large gap in understanding between the two countries. One way to close that gap was to learn the language of Thailand’s neighbouring country.”The Thai people should know all the languages of their neighbours, especially the Khmer due to many similarities in the cultures,” said Ms Prayoon.Thai words used to address members of the Royal Family have their roots in the Khmer language, she said as an example.Pajaree Phancharoen, 20, a second-year student at Silpakorn University’s archaeology faculty, said she had chosen to learn Khmer because she was interested in the language.It is not difficult to learn to write Khmer because it is similar to the Thai language, but the pronunciation is different because it has more than 20 vowels, she added.”I would like to become a tour guide because there are very few people who know the Khmer language. I want to know the Cambodian culture, way of life and food,’ ‘ she said.Supachai Varoros, a fourth-year student at Dhonburi Rajabhat University’s education faculty, said he is taking up the course because his home province, Si Sa Ket, is adjacent to Cambodia.”After I graduate, I will go back home to become a teacher because I got a scholarship to study. I chose to learn Khmer because I think I can use it more than Japanese, Chinese or English in my hometown,” he said.”Language will be an important way of helping us understand and not look down on each other,” he added.The situation now is different from in the past when only a few Thais knew the language of their neighbouring country.The lack of Thai people speaking Khmer was reflected in an incident involving the navy when Cambodia was at war.”The Royal Thai Navy, which patrolled along the border, got hold of some Khmer documents, but no navy officer could read the documents,” recalled Ms Prayoon.After then-prime minister Chatichai Choonhavan launched a policy of turning the battlefield into a trading market in 1988, a lot of Thai businessmen flocked to Cambodia but knew nothing of the language, she said.Those who knew how to speak Khmer made big money at the time when Thai businesses starting up in Cambodia needed people to translate contracts and agreements.In addition to being translators, these Thais also had to turn themselves into teachers for the Thai businessmen and bankers who wanted to do business in Phnom Penh.The demand for Khmer speakers led to a decision by Dhonburi Rajabhat University to open language courses to the public.”Reporters or businessmen were among the 500 people in the first group who entered Phnom Penh, but they had to apply to join the course first,” she said.She also taught the language to Thai diplomats being sent to Phnom Penh or those wanting to know Khmer since 1994.However, the Khmer language is not highly popular compared with other languages in this region for Foreign Ministry officials 


Written by Kolbot Khmer

February 17, 2008 at 7:57 pm

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