The movement of the Khmer people before they came to Cambodia is not clear. By 800 A.D., there were large numbers of Cambodians living in the area surrounding the Tonle Sap or "Great Lake." They lived on the rice and fish of the area. There were probably more Khmers there at that time then there are people in all of Cambodia today. They were hardworking and clever and their rulers became very powerful.
The years 802-1431 A.D. in Cambodian history were called the Angkor Period. During that time, the Khmer kings ruled over one of the largest regions in all of Southeast Asia. Many different kings ruled during the Angkor Period, and most of them were very religious. Their Hindu religious rituals were very important to the people and to the culture, and it was these beliefs that made the Khmer kingdom so powerful.
A Khmer king could associate himself with a particular Hindu god, and then, construct a huge, pyramid-like temple to honor the god, and himself. Eventually this would serve as the king's tomb. So Angkor, therefore, can be described as a succession of "king-cities" where each king built his own monument, and then moved the capital there.
These temples were built by the forced manual labor of the people (i.e. slaves.) It is unclear whether the slaves were honored to do this work for their kings. At that time, there were more than 17 different ranks of slaves, and those who built the temples were of a higher rank than those who worked in the fields. It is likely that these slaves saw their work as part of their religious beliefs, and hoped that by working hard for their god kings during their lifetime they would be rewarded in "heaven" or in the next life.
Most of the temples of Angkor were built by stone, and have many myths and stories carved into their walls. The Khmer people see the Angkor period as the greatest time in their history, and they consider the temples the highest symbol of their culture. Cambodians, as well as people from all over the world, visit the temples year round and remember the glory and achievements of that time.
Gradually the predominant religion of the Khmer kings shifted to Buddhism, and the belief in building huge monuments was no longer as strong. The capital of Cambodia was eventually moved to Phnom Penh, closer to the sea, and Cambodia became more of a maritime society than an agricultural society and therefore, Cambodians traded, traveled and interacted with the world via the ocean. Some of the neighboring kingdoms were becoming very powerful at that time. In 1431, an army from Thailand came and invaded one of the temples and carried away some treasures. Later, other enemies came, and the Khmers lost control of their capital.
Even though the location of the government changed, life for the slaves and peasants -- which was most of the population -- didn't change a lot over the next 400 years. They grew rice, lived simple lives in the rural areas, and sought protection from those in power.
Chhun Ly: 1948 - 1975:
Cambodia was a French protectorate state for about one hundred years (1863-1953). During that time, town life in Cambodia had a French flavor. Children studied French language in schools, and city people knew about French trends in fashion, hairstyles, and modern music.
Norodom Sihanouk was the grandson of the last king of Cambodia, King Monivong. In 1941, when he was only 19 years old, the French decided to help the young prince succeed his grandfather to the throne and become a king. After Cambodia achieved independence in 1953, King Sihanouk wanted to become a real political leader of the country, not just a royal, religious leader. Therefore two years after he became king, he stepped down from the throne and became a politician.
It was during the time of this transition from French involvement to Cambodian independence that Mr. Chhun Ly was a child and a young man. Now in his fifties, Chhun Ly has to try hard to recall what he thought about Sihanouk and his country's government during that period. In his home village, a rural province of central Cambodia, the royal and political affairs of the capital seemed a long way away. All he can say is that he thinks people preferred having Sihanouk as their prince rather than their political leader.
Chhun Ly's life didn't change much when Cambodia became independent from France. His parents, two sisters, and three brothers continued to cultivate rice and vegetables, and when he started school at age seven, he attended classes taught by Buddhist monks with other boys and girls in a nearby pagoda (temple). After three years at the pagoda school, he went to a government primary school, where he started studying French, Khmer, and reading, writing, mathematics, and science.
He doesn't remember hearing about Sihanouk until he was twelve or thirteen years old. By that time, he was attending junior high school in the district capital. The school system was still based on the French model; all of Chhun Ly's classes were taught in French except Khmer language and literature, and four hours a week of English language. Chhun Ly was 19 years old when he got his secondary school diploma in 1968. He went to the Teacher Training College for one year, and then became a primary school teacher in a rural province not far from his home town.
Chhun Ly taught there until 1970, the year that Sihanouk's government was overthrown by one his generals, Lon Nol. Although Chhun Ly's life didn't change much in the transition from French rule to Sihanouk's rule, his life changed dramatically under Lon Nol's government. The French system of education was changed and a process of "khmerization" started. This meant that the French language was no longer the language of instruction in schools, and teachers from France were no longer employed. Many people in the countryside where Chhun Ly was teaching were loyal to Sihanouk, and didn't want to cooperate with the Lon Nol government. There was also a war going on in the neighboring country of Vietnam, and some of the fighting was spilled over into Cambodia. Chhun Ly became afraid that he could be in a difficult situation in the countryside, so he and his family moved to Phnom Penh, and he started teaching at a primary school there.
Phnom Penh was surrounded by Lon Nol's soldiers at that time, and although there was a lot of fighting going on in the rural areas, Phnom Penh was mostly war-free. Still, life in Phnom Penh was not easy. People in the city could not travel by car to the surrounding areas; they could only go from the capital to other parts of the country by helicopter. It was also difficult to get food to the city from the rural areas. Chhun Ly says that some of the rice in the markets was flown in from the United States. There were no working phones at this time, and there was no real postal system. Chhun Ly remembers how low teachers salaries were, and how he had to work as a motorcycle taxi driver most of the day to get enough money to feed his family.
Although Cambodia was at war with both itself, and with neighboring countries, for most of Chhun Ly's life as a young man, however, he never became a soldier. When asked why, he answered simply "I don't like war; I never wanted to fight." Like so many other Cambodians, he has always hoped for peace in his country, and wonders, even today, when that time will come."
Chhun Ly's Story in Historical Context
It's interesting that Mr Chhun Ly has memories of the French education system because the French deliberately neglected building schools. On the economic front, the French were interested mostly in encouraging the production of rice, corn, and rubber for export. They built several roads and a railroad to move the crops to market. They also built administrative buildings and installed electricity in Phnom Penh. The French, however, deliberately neglected building schools to educate the Khmers because they did not want to develop potential future rebels against their rule. As a result, as recently as 1940, there was only one high school, one hospital and three trained doctors in all of Cambodia.
When Sihanouk was crowned in 1953, he only remained king for two years before he gave up the throne in favor of his father. Sihanouk however, did not give up political power. In fact, quite the contrary happened. He instead established a national political movement called the People's Socialist Community. Although it was supposed to just be a political party like the other ones, many Cambodians considered Sihanouk to be semi-divine and therefore, it was their duty to vote for him. Therefore, when elections were held for the National Assembly in September, in 1955, Sihanouk's party won every seat. The existing political parties soon disappeared and Sihanouk ran the country as both Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.
In some ways Sihanouk did try to make life better for Cambodians. Elementary schools and hospitals were built in rural areas and both a medical and a nursing school were established in Phnom Penh. The government, however, was still rather corrupt and many people who benefited from business opportunities were Sihanouk's friends, who got special favors from the government.
In the 1960s, Sihanouk began to run into trouble. Ever since the end of World War II a cold war had been raging between the United States and its allies on one side and the Soviet Union and its allies on the other side. Both sides wanted Cambodia's support. Sihanouk, however, felt that "when the elephants fight, the grass is trampled." He believed that Cambodia's safest course was to try to remain neutral. This was, nevertheless, impossible due to Cambodia's border with Vietnam. In addition, it seemed to Sihanouk that North Vietnam would eventually defeat South Vietnam. So, in 1963, Sihanouk decided to tilt toward the communist side. He declared he would no longer accept economic and military aid from the United States and gave the Vietminh the right to set up bases in Cambodia, from which to aid their soldiers in South Vietnam.
Pol Meanith: 1975 - 1979:
In the early 70s in Cambodia, war was raging throughout the countryside, and the capital, Phnom Penh was fortified by the soldiers of Marshal Lon Nol, who was then in power. Life was difficult for everyone throughout the country and what people wanted most of all was peace. When the rebel group, known as the "Khmer Rouge," finally broke through Lon Nol's barriers, and took control of the government in April 1975, many people believed it was the end of the war and ran into the streets of Phnom Penh cheering and laughing.
Pol Meanith was then a boy of eleven who lived with his mother and his sisters in Phnom Penh. As the Khmer Rouge army swept through the city, he remembers following his friends into the streets shouting and raising their arms in signs of victory. He didn't really understand what people were celebrating, he just knew that people were really happy and he wanted to join in. A tear gas grenade went off near him during the festivities, making his skin, eyes and throat burn painfully. An old man carried him from the scene and used pounded garlic as smelling salts to clear the chemicals from his throat and lungs.
The next thing he knew, soldiers were moving through the streets with megaphones, announcing a plan to move everyone out of the city, as American planes, they said, would be bombing. Meanith's family didn't want to leave, but within two days, they had packed a change of clothes and locked their house. Thinking that they'd be back soon, they started walking out of the city with thousands of other Cambodians. Along the way, they saw many dead bodies on the side of the road, mostly soldiers from the Lon Nol army who had been executed in the final days of battle with the approaching Khmer Rouge.
After traveling for about two weeks, Meanith's family finally stopped in a village about 50 miles from Phnom Penh. They were helping to build a thatched hut lived in by local people, and were put to work as farmers. Meanith was given a job tending the cattle. He was too young to look after a large number of cattle, and had no experience tending animals, so he was given only two calves to work with. This was a big job, as they refused to graze where he put them or wandered in the wrong direction when it was time to take them back to the village.
Meanith's mother worked in the rice fields and his grandmother looked after other people's children when their parents worked. The family was given rice and food to eat, but they found that it, sometimes, wasn't enough. Meanith learned to catch fish in the rivers from the local boys, and his grandmother, who had been a farmer when she was young, planted a vegetable garden near the family's hut. There were many rules and regulations in the village, but the head of the village liked Meanith's mother, so he wasn't too strict with their family.
After living and working in this village for about one year, the authorities decided to move some of the villagers to another province where more workers were needed. People believed that life would be better there because it was Cambodia's greatest rice-growing area, (Battambang Province). Meanith's family rode an ox-cart for many days before arriving in their new village. Again the local people helped the newcomers find a place to live, but they found that life was much more strict.
Work began for the family at 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning, and didn't end until well after dark. There was actually less food given to the people, sometimes only a thin rice soup. Meanith says that if you drank all the liquid from the bowl you might find only ten grains of rice at the bottom. Many people became sick and died. When people did something wrong -- disobeying the rules or questioning the leader of the village -- they might be taken away from the village and beaten, or they might disappear altogether.
During this time Meanith was chosen to join a team of youth in order to build a dam far from the village. The children -- about 1000 boys and girls aged 12-16 years old -- were driven to a remote location on the river and instructed to build a huge dam. Meanith carried heavy loads of soil from the river bank to the dam for more than ten hours every day and sometimes even at night. During his little spare time, he fished for eels, crabs, and water vegetables in the river. The children were not given enough to eat, so it was important that they find some food on their own. At night, they slept on the ground under a tree to protect themselves from the rain. They had no tents or sleeping bags, so they used their clothing and some blankets to keep the rats, snakes, and mosquitoes away. Meanith said they could hear wolves howling, making it very difficult to sleep. Therefore he was frequently exhausted during the day. Sometimes the other children would ask permission to go to the toilet during the day just so they could wander off into the jungle and sleep for 20 or 30 minutes. If they were caught, they were severely beaten.
Meanith missed his mother a lot during this time and often thought about running away. But he was in an unfamiliar place, and didn't even know what direction in which to run. The dam was finished after six or seven months, and the children were transported back to their village. Meanith's mother cried with relief when she saw her son; she was afraid he had died of disease or been killed. He was nothing more than skin or bones at that time.
Life for Meanith's family got even worse after that, and the whole family became weak as a result of malnutrition. As there were very few clinics or modern medicine at that time, it was fortunate that Meanith's grandmother knew about traditional medicines and could use certain leaves, roots, and barks to make medication for fever, malaria, diarrhea, etc. The children especially liked the diarrhea medicine because it contained sugar, which they craved more than anything.
When the Vietnamese Army came and liberated the people from this terrible situation, many were too tired and weak to rejoice. Meanith guesses that if they had been forced to live that way for one more month, he might have died. Unlike many other families, none of Meanith's immediate family died, which he attributes to his grandmother's knowledge of traditional medicine. But he still recalls those years with great difficulty. Now, at age 28, Meanith is married and has a good job, enough food to eat, and lives near his mother and sisters. When he reflects about his life under the Khmer Rouge, he feels rage and sadness and wonders "can anyone from another country believe that my story is true?"
Pol Meanith's Story in Historical Context
Just as Meanith said in his story, when the Khmer Rouge took control of Phnom Penh in 1975, they evacuated everyone from the cities into the countryside by telling them that the Americans were going to bomb Cambodia. During the Vietnam War, the United States had secretly been bombing the north of Cambodia where they suspected the North Vietnamese had set up camps (over the border). When Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge on April 17th, 1975, its population numbered more than two million. However, within three days, the city was nearly deserted and so was nearly every other city and town in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge, did this because it looked upon these people as enemies. According to the Khmer Rouge the only reliable people were the "old people"- the poor farmers who had remained in the countryside. The "new people" lived in urban areas and the Khmer Rouge thought that they were infected with capitalist ideas. Also, because Cambodia had been at war for the last five years, the Khmer Rouge wanted everyone to help grow more rice.
As Meanith explained, when the people reached the village or collective farms where they were going to be placed, they were put to work in different work groups. Children were separated from their parents and put into work groups with other children on projects for the Khmer Rouge. Many of these jobs involved much work, yet the children only got a small amount of food to eat. The Khmer Rouge hoped that they could double Cambodia's rice production. Then, it planned to sell grain and buy agricultural machinery to grow more rice and raise the standard of living. It was to be a "super leap forward." However, this was too ambitious of a plan for the Khmers because the U.S. bombing had destroyed most of the country's transportation system. Further, most city dwellers knew nothing about farming. Meanith was very lucky to have a grandmother who knew a lot about rural life.
Also, when we read the stories of the people who survived this terrible period in Cambodia, we must remember that every single person's story is different. Often how brutal the regime was towards one depended on what area of Cambodia one was sent to. For example, Meanith also stated that life was easier for his family in the first village because the chief there liked his mother and for this reason, they did not endure such harsh treatment.
For another personal narrative of the Khmer Rouge regime read "To Destroy You is No Loss: The Odyssey of a Cambodian Family," by Teeda Butt Mam and Joan D. Criddle.
The children of the intellectuals and people with "foreign ideas" were especially disliked by the Khmer Rouge. People who wore glasses or spoke English or French were beaten. Religion was banned. Almost every book in the National Library was burned and the building was used to house pigs instead.
The Khmer Rouge did not stop there because it was necessary to educate the people to think properly, as they did. So everyone had to attend a political meeting and listen to lectures about the Revolution at least once a week. The Khmer Rouge killed people for many different offenses, including wearing jewelry, keeping food to eat or grieving over the death of someone in your family.
However, things started to go badly for the Khmer Rouge and it started to blame its own members for the fact that rice production was not as high as they wanted it to be. As the Khmer Rouge could not blame their own policies for being wrong, they blamed their own people instead. "They were microbes" who needed to be burnt in the fire said Pol Pot. And indeed that's what happened. More than 20,000 party members were questioned and tortured at the former high school of Tuol Sleng, a suburb of Phnom Penh. Then they were clubbed to death because there was a shortage of bullets.
Also, the Khmer Rouge became increasingly hostile towards Cambodia's ancient enemy - Vietnam. Pol Pot had a dream of rebuilding a present-day Angkorian Empire, which included the reconquest of the Mekong delta. So border clashes between Cambodian and Vietnam, which had occurred since 1970, got much worse and resulted in the two nations engaging in major battles. The Khmer Rouge killed thousands of Vietnamese living in Cambodia.
Finally, on Christmas Day 1978, a large Vietnamese army together with a smaller force of Cambodian exiles, invaded Democratic Kampuchea. On January 7, 1979 they invaded Phnom Penh. The following day the Vietnamese set up a puppet government called the People's Republic of Kampuchea. However, the Khmer Rouge did not surrender. Pol Pot left by helicopter for Thailand, and other Khmer Rouge leaders sought refuge in Cambodia's northwestern region. They set up guerrilla bases there and called on the Cambodians to throw out the Vietnamese. Consequently, the fighting continued.
Khorn Dinravy: 1975 -
In the years following the regime of Democratic Kampuchea (Pol Pot), the new government tried to reconstruct the country, while people tried to reconstruct their lives. Many people had lost their homes, their families, and were severely malnourished in 1979 when the Vietnamese army drove Pol Pot's forces from Phnom Penh. Many people from the rural areas simply continued their lives as rice farmers, but for the former inhabitants of the cities, especially Phnom Penh, it was a matter of starting over from scratch.
Khorn Dinravy, or "Ravy" was just sixteen years old when the Pol Pot years ended in 1979. She had survived with her mother, sister, and two brothers. Her father and two other brothers had died of malnutrition. Ravy was physically stronger than the others when it came time to make the long journey back to Phnom Penh from Battambang Province where they had been placed. Offering the limited seats on Vietnamese transport vehicles to her sick mother and brothers, Ravy walked nearly the whole distance back to Phnom Penh (about 300 miles). Many problems awaited her family in the capital. The city was still officially closed to its former inhabitants, so Ravy and her family lived under a tree about seven miles outside of Phnom Penh for the first month. Food was scarce. Ravy's family survived by scavenging rice from fields about 20 miles from where they were staying, fishing in rivers and lakes, and occasionally sneaking into the city to find food, household items, and clothing in the abandoned buildings.
Having been forced to abandon her schooling four years earlier when she was still in primary school, Ravy immediately looked for ways to continue her education. When she heard about a school that had opened to teach 6th and 7th grades, Ravy enrolled at age 17. She walked an hour and a half each way to school. She doesn't know where the schools got pens, paper and books, but she had those things and she began studying to make up for lost time.
Things in Ravy's family were difficult, though. Her mother and brother were still sick. Her older brother was working in a garage, but the family was just scraping by. At that time, people were paid in food rather than money; for example rice, fish, milk, salt, and sugar. To supplement these few supplies, Ravy's family got additional rice from generous strangers who pilfered rice from the government supply and shared some of their proceeds with Ravy's family.
Ravy's mother asked her to quit school after only six months so that she could find a job and help support her family. With the help of her neighbors, she enrolled in a training course for assistant nurses. After six months, she was employed at a military dispensary near Phnom Penh. After a year, she was transferred to a military training base farther from Phnom Penh. But Ravy's mother, afraid of losing her daughter after surviving Pol Pot, told her daughter to quit her job and come home.
Ravy couldn't return to school because by then she was nineteen years old, too old to go back to sixth grade. So she stayed home while her mother worked, and her sister and brother went to school. Although Ravy was the right age to be married at this time she wanted to wait until she met someone that she could really love.
Shortly after this, in 1982, Ravy was unexpectedly offered a job in the government's Women's Association as an office worker. Her first salary was 50 riels per month (about enough to buy 3 kilos of beef or one meter of cloth for a dress) which wasn't a very large salary. She liked her job though, so she persevered and was making a professional salary of 250 riels within two years. The government, headed by Heng Samrin, was supported by the Vietnamese and every government office had a Vietnamese expert or advisor, of some kind, on its staff. Ravy describes the Vietnamese woman who worked with the Women's Association as a very kind and knowledgeable person who helped Ravy a lot.
Ravy remembers other things that the Heng Samrin government did at the time to help people put their lives back together, such as opening a free hospital, distributing rice to poor families, and giving many people jobs in the new government. In 1980, the government currency, the riel, stabilized and people stopped buying goods with rice.
In 1984, the government made evening classes available for adults who wanted to go back to school and continue their education. Ravy had to pay her own school fees, but she says that it was not expensive. She enrolled in the seventh grade and continued studying until 1988, when, at age 26, she received her high school diploma.
In 1992, when the forces of the United Nations Transitional Authority (UNTAC) arrived in Cambodia, Ravy was still working with the Women's Association, and was earning 22,000 riels/month (about $20). With her work experience, high school education, ability to speak English, and courageous personality, many foreign development agencies offered Ravy jobs. She decided to accept a job with OXFAM in the hopes that she could assist in her country's reconstruction. Now many opportunities have opened up for Ravy and in October 1995, she will begin a year course in development finance at the University of Birmingham in England.
The film "Samsara" depicts some of the problems of reconstructing Cambodia after the destruction of the Khmer Rouge regime.
The Cambodian Elections of May 1993
The monsoon rains came early to Cambodia in May 1993. Voters got soaking wet as they waited patiently outside the United Nations polling stations. They were choosing a National Assembly that would be responsible for writing a new constitution and were able to participate in the first elections in over twenty five years.
Many voters were also frightened. The Khmer Rouge had pulled out of the 1991 peace process and had refused to surrender their weapons. During the months before the election, they had killed several dozen members of the UN peacekeeping force and they had urged Cambodians not to vote. The election, they said, would mean the "death of the Cambodian nation and people, leaving the Vietnamese aggressors to occupy Cambodia forever."
Nevertheless, between May 23rd and May 28th, an amazing ninety percent of Cambodia's 4.7 million registered voters went to the polls. Before the elections, everyone who wanted to vote had to register their names at the United Nations polling station. They lined up hours ahead of time and were searched by metal detectors. They carefully dipped their fingers into invisible ink and held them in front of ultraviolet detectors to show that they had not voted before. (Their fingers would have turned purple if they had.) As seventy year old Theuk Pha, a widowed farmer voting for the first time in her life said: "After I voted it felt very good and I felt very powerful. "
After the votes were counted, they found that the winner was a party called FUNCINPEC, which was led by Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the son of King Sihanouk. The name FUNCINPEC is derived from the French words meaning "The National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia." FUNCINPEC received about 45% of the total vote. In second place was the Cambodian People's Party, which was the party of the former government from 1979 to 1993, whose leader was called Hun Sen. It won about 39% of the vote. There were twenty-four other parties and only one of those got a seat in the National Assembly.
What surprised many people was that in the last two days of the six-day election, the Khmer Rouge trucked thousands of farmers to the polls. "We oppose the election, but we don't want to stop the Cambodian people from going to vote." Many people were confused about why the Khmer Rouge would suddenly change their minds. People give different explanations for why this happened. One suggested that the Khmer Rouge decided that it was outgunned by the Cambodian army and therefore, it couldn't sabotage the vote nationally. Another explanation was that they thought that if FUNCINPEC won the elections they would be able to play a bigger role in the government. However, since the elections, the new government has outlawed the Khmer Rouge and has tried to regain all the territory the Khmer Rouge was once in control of.
The United Nations Involvement
The United Nation's largest operation took place in Cambodia. It cost $2 billion dollars and involved an international personnel of 22,000 people. The U.N.'s main objectives were to arrange and supervise the elections of May, 1993 (which we described above) and to conduct the repatriation of the Cambodian refugees from Thailand to Cambodia. When the Cambodian peace treaty was signed in October 1991, there were still approximately 360,000 Cambodians living in refugee camps on the Thai-Cambodian border. Cambodians would always joke that after Phnom Penh, Site 2 (the biggest of the refugee camps) was the biggest city in Cambodia. Getting to these refugee camps had often involved passing through very dangerous areas and risking their lives: many of the refugees were killed along the way by bandits, land mines, and border guards. The Thai-Cambodian border was especially heavily mined to try and prevent people from fleeing Cambodia. The conditions in the camps were often very precarious. Although the refugees had access to a constant food supply and possible skills training in the camp education projects, they were still in a very confined situation. During the day, when there were international organizations in the camps, they were not afraid, but at night the Thai military would often raid the camps to rob the residents of any valuables which they might still be carrying. Also, soldiers from the three different factions, who were situated on the border would often raid the camps in order to try to find new recruits to participate in the fighting - whether those recruits were willing or not.
The refugees were hoping to settle in another country - mainly in France or the United States. The process for applying for resettlement, however, was long and difficult and people often became very frustrated at being so confined. However, by the end of 1992, nearly all the Cambodian refugees had returned to Cambodia.
The film "Rebuilding the Temple" depicts some of the problems that Cambodian refugees have encountered in the United States.
There is very little financial security for Cambodians today. In the past, Cambodia was able to earn foreign exchange to pay for imported goods by selling agricultural surpluses, rice and corn for example, or plantation crops, such as pepper, rubber, and cotton. Its normal trade patterns were broken up in the wars of the 1970's. However, even in the 1960's, Cambodia was one of poorest countries in Southeast Asia, at least in terms of individual income. It is hard for even a relatively poor Westerner to imagine just how poor, in terms of cash, choices about the future, and possessions a Cambodian farmer or laborer has always been.
It is difficult for many Westerners to comprehend just how poor an annual salary of two hundred dollars would leave most Cambodian families. Being poor in Cambodia means eating less than a pound of meat a month and a family earning less than six hundred dollars from a rice crop that has occupied most of its labor intensively for the equivalent of three months. For most Cambodians new clothes, gadgets, and vacations, are out of the question. The money from the rice crops has to last all year, unless the husband or wife gets another job to help supplement the income, perhaps by selling something at the market. If disaster occurs, there is no one for Cambodians to lean on, there is no State welfare system and no way to receive good medical attention unless you are very wealthy. Therefore, life for most Cambodians is precarious in such a way that it may be difficult for us to understand.