Thai, Cambodian youths explore shared culture

Siem Reap (The Nation/ANN) - Students from the two countries bond during trip to Siem Reap

Dozens of Thai and Cambodian students participating in a joint research project discovered that they share cultural roots.

Though a clear border separates their countries, these young Asean citizens have learned that the borderline is for official reasons only.

"We have many similar beliefs and rituals. We just call them by different names," a Thai student said during a recent trip to Siem Reap.

Nattaphong Kliangkoksung, a Mathayom 4 student from Nakhon Ratchasima of Thailand, said it was only when he met his Cambodian peers that he found the similarities between the two cultures.

Wipa Phutthong, who hails from the Tuppraya Pittaya School in Sa Kaew's Khok Sung district, said for instance the praying-for-rain ritual in Thailand is called "Nang Maew Khor Fon", while in Cambodia it is "Hae Pla Zon Puea Khor Fon".

This Thai student speaks fluent Cambodian because she grew up in a border village where people speak both languages.

"For people living in border zones, there is no borderline. They cross borders all the time," Tej Bunnag, a former Thai foreign minister, said.

Tej also sits in the Thailand Research Fund (TRF) policy board.

The youngsters, Wipa and Nattapong, were part of the Asean Youth Research Programme (Thai-Khmer), which comes under the Heritage Education Programme for Students: Khmer-Thai Students Seminar Siem Reap Angkor project.

Financed by the TRF, the project aims to engage youngsters in learning the history of both countries, in the hope that shared cultural roots will enhance ties between the two nations, especially since the recent quarrel over the ancient Preah Vihear Temple.

"This journey into a shared cultural root will foster good understanding," Tej said about the TRF-financed project. He expects the project to cover Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar very soon.

Dr Surat Lertlam, who led Asean Youth Research Programme, said the activities had been designed to allow Thai and Cambodian children to share their knowledge and experience.

"Their exchange will strengthen the ties between the two nations," he said.

He believes the programme will be good for the young participants, as they will not just learn about the research methodology but also experience many amazing things along the way.

For instance, he said, Cambodian students had discovered an ancient cemetery in their country.

"With the knowledge of history and all, they have learned to cherish and protect their heritage. When they found out about illegal grave diggers, they alerted their team leader," Surat said.

"We have successfully inculcated a love for natural heritage and cultural roots in the children. But more than that, they have also developed good ties. Instead of talking about fighting, they now talk about how they have come from the same roots," Silaporn Buasai, TRF's deputy director, said.

The Cambodian students are under the supervision of Im Sokrithy, chief of Cambodia's Department of Communication and co-director of the Living Angkor Road Project.

"We tell them how to get information from local people - how to interview them, how to go on a survey and talk to various people in the communities. This is what we've trained them to do, to research on their own," Sokrithy said.

Sophie, a Cambodian student, said she had joined the research programme only as an observer.

"It's fun playing a part in the programme. I have learned a lot of new things and it feels so good to see Thais speak the Cambodian language," she said.

Khuon Khun Neay, deputy director of the Apsara National Authority, said the programme was in the best interest of the Asean region.

"Our ancestors have created our heritage and it's our children's duty to protect it," he said.

"For the next generation, students and people in the communities should get involved in taking care of their own culture and properties in their communities. I'm happy and impressed with the work done by the students so far. I'm sure they are all very happy to deliver their knowledge.

"It is also good for Thai students to go out and talk to old people and gather information for themselves instead of just studying in classrooms. This gives the students a new ability and I hope they will share this experience with their peers.

"We aim to spread the idea of getting everybody in the community to participate in the conservation of properties. Of course, we have the government, the ministries and departments to do this, but if people take care as well, then it will become easier to preserve our heritage," he said.

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