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Kampot Writers and Readers Festival

Phina So
November12/ 2015

My friend and I came on the third day of the 4-day Kampot Writers and Readers Festival. It was a surprise to see the Kampot town still quiet or sleepy as many expats call it. However, after touring around the Kampot Arts & Music Association (KAMA) where the registration and programs were available, we saw many people there, most of which are non-Cambodians.

Not long after our arrival, we managed to meet Chheangly, a poet, and Hang Acharaya, a writer and an actor. Having noted that my session on Khmer Women’s Stories will be at the Ellie Cafe, we went there straight away. There we met some of the organizers. We ordered coffee and talked about how the event had been going generally.

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Several good sessions were happening at the same time, thus, ones had to decide which session they would like to attend. Upon scanning through the program, we decided that we would go to the Epic Arts Cafe on a topic of “From Page to Stage”. Before that, we rented 3 bikes and organized a plan to visit the Samon Village guesthouse. It is such a beautiful place where several stilt-houses are built up from the ground. We had lunch there where we met a very lazy but friendly cat.

One of the houses at the Samon Village Guesthouse. Photo credit: So Phina
One of the houses at the Samon Village Guesthouse. Photo credit: So Phina

At the “From Page to Stage” session, we listened to speakers who talked about their previous work and how they became involved with Epic Arts. We listened to Sokun, an artist from the Epic Arts talked about his YouTube Video on “Uptown Funk” covered from Bruno Mars. The music video is still one of my most favorites. And Sokun is my star.

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We could not help ourselves from touring the town. Its beautiful scenery especially during sunset took everyone’s breath away. It was like we want it, we want it all the time. Along the Kampot river down South, there are houses and ricefields which we went by as the sun was fading through the blue Bokor Mountain range.

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After a quick delicious dinner, we went to watch the puppet show at the Kampot Traditional Music for Orphaned and Disabled Children. The show was very funny to local audiences especially. We busted out laughing many times and found it hard to stop. However, I found that it must be very hard to expats to understand the story. Opp, there was an inappropriate scene in the first show. It was about the master who said something not nice to his female student. He mentioned that the girl has now grown very pretty that men (including himself) would find her very attractive. I didn’t like that part. It happens a lot in Cambodia comedy.

Regarding the Khmer Women’s Stories session, I was one of the speakers along with three members of the Messenger Band. I talked on how there were fewer women writers in the past compared to male writers. What touched my heart the most was when I talked about how I witnessed what I personally called “Khmer Literature Phenomenon in the 80s”. It was when I learn to read and there were many stories written and copied by hand. Those book were sold to middle men/women for renting further to other people. I remembered that there was a room kept just for storing those books. It was fascinating to be able to read those books despite the fact that I needed to wait until my mum was out of the house.

I also argued that there are very little “genius and ethical” publishers in Cambodia right now.

I also helped translate for the girls from the Messenger Band who talked about their life struggle with labor exploitation, family pressure, and how they established the band for. One of the most exciting moments was the chance to see young girls from The Liger School who obviously are writers already even they are still in their teenage year.

I and the Messenger Band on Khmer Women's Stories at the 2015 KWRF. Photo credit: Hang Acharaya
I and the Messenger Band on Khmer Women’s Stories at the 2015 KWRF. Photo credit: Hang Acharaya

As the picture below speaks a thousand word, the group photo after the session is indeed another delightful and memorable moment.

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The event went so well. However, there were very few local audience.
I asked about 10 Cambodian people about whether or not they know or hear about KWRF. Only one lady who owns a little charming Cafe said yes. The rest responded with a very short and lazy “Don’t Know”. It became an inspiration behind my new short story called “Don’t Know”.

Last but not least, there are so many good quality of coffee in the town.