Sunday, 4 May 2008

Pupils glimpse Cambodian life

The Republican
Sunday, May 04, 2008

NORTHAMPTON - Jasmine Chea stood before her fellow first-graders and proudly made the introduction: "This is my Dad and his name is Roeun Chea."
The firsthand lesson on Cambodian culture had formally begun at the Robert K. Finn Ryan Road School.

Born in Cambodia, the elder Chea came to the United States as a 14-year-old orphan in 1982 and was raised by a family in Amherst. He was at the school recently as it prepared to celebrate the Cambodian New Year with food and dance.

Chea began his computer presentation with a few images - the flag of Cambodia, street scenes - and some basic facts. The capital of Cambodia is Phnom Penh. Its neighbors include Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Ninety percent of the country's people are called Khmer; 95 percent are Buddhist.

Chea did not talk in detail about his own story, but he did confess to some dietary changes after moving to the U.S. Primarily, he eats more meat.

"We don't eat that much meat in Cambodia because we don't have that much meat," he said.

Instead, the diet consists mainly of rice, fish and vegetables. In one of the highlights of his presentation, Chea had students oohing and aahing as he displayed photographs of some of the exotic fruit in Cambodia. He explained that the Cambodian New Year, April 13-15, coincides with the completion of the hardest farm work.

"People travel from town-to-town to celebrate," he said.

The Robert K. Finn Ryan Road School's celebration sought to imitate that festival as closely as possible. First-graders Cherilyn K. Strader and Jay G. Duffie said they planned to join Chea's daughter Jasmine in full costume for a traditional dance. They all said they enjoyed her father's presentation.

"It's a very beautiful country," said Strader.

Duffie said he liked the fruit, and fellow first-grader Marissa L. Badorin agreed.

"I thought the fruit looked really good," she said.

Jasmine Chea said her father left out some of the culinary delights of Cambodia: insects.

"I don't eat bugs," she said. "But some people do."

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