The Enforcer

A few days ago, we attended a performance of Cambodian folk dance. The organization that runs the performances seems very worthwhile, with a very interesting story.1 We went to the Monday night performance, which featured traditional dances done to ask for water, during cardamom picking, at the end of the harvest, Apsara Dancingand several more. The costumes were brightly-colored, the dances were fun and easy to follow, and the dancers were skilled and in sync. In short, I was pretty riveted. This is especially notable since the performance was in an outdoor amphitheatre. Those kinds of venues usually make me pre-emptively itchy, since I can see and hear the mosquitos buzzing around to bite me. However, I was bug-ignorant and dancer-focused throughout the show.

B, on the other hand, had a different experience. When we first sat down, I had inadvertently eavesdropped on the conversations around us – hearing lots of English, French, one Cambodian family, and even an older Russian couple. They were in the row behind us and were debating which seats would offer the best possible vantage point. Having made up their minds, they relocated to the lower right part of the theatre; we stayed in the middle center. Soon after, the show began. The show managers thanked us for attending and asked us to turn off all cell phones and to only take non-Flash photography – in English. Then, the first dance commenced.

A few minutes into the second or third dance, all of a sudden, B jumped up violently and rushed to climb over me to the aisle. Once free, he ran around the back of the right-side seats down to the front, disappearing from my view. Having pressed rewind in my mind on the moment before B’s mad dash to the right, I tried to remember if someone down there had been loud. After all, B’s actions had been too violent to be motivated by the need for a restroom break. Then, I recalled a Flash having gone off, and wondered if this had been the impetus. I also recalled the Russian couple’s move to the lower right and wondered if they were the offenders. Perhaps they didn’t understand the warnings to not use Flash because they don’t speak English, I thought. Maybe I should have told B how to say ‘camera Flash’ in Russian, so he could translate? In a few minutes, B quietly returned to his seat, not saying anything about his outburst, so as not to disturb the audience. We enjoyed the remainder of the show in peace.

Cambodian Dancing

On our way back to the apartment, I asked him what had prompted the rush. B says that almost immediately after the show started, someone in the lower right hand section of seats began taking Flash photos. One of the lighting/tech employees of the show came over and asked this person to stop using Flash. A few minutes later, B says, this person had again begun taking Flash pictures. At this point, an usher/show manager came over and asked the individual to stop. The moment that this woman walked away, this spectator immediately took another photo with Flash, in a move so blatantly disrespectful that my husband immediately jumped up.

I wondered aloud if the offender had been the Russian man I overheard, sharing my theory about the potential language barrier. (However, we agreed that hand motions from the two employees should have solved that issue.) ‘Maybe I should have taught you the word for Flash in Russian,’ I mused, ‘so you could have made sure that the man understood.’ And then B said, ‘Oh, well I figured that if I needed to, I could just say жопа (zhopa), and he would get what I meant.’ (Zhopa means ass[hole] in Russian.)

I have clearly taught him the most important words.


1 The head of the organization is a man who acted quickly to save Cambodian culture. During the genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge, 90% of the country’s artists were killed. Realizing that the remainder may well die out before passing on this history and national treasure, he got the remaining artists together. These few then taught a new generation of kids how to perform a variety of traditional dances, thereby allowing the tradition to continue on. The kids being taught, by the way, were from poor areas and disadvantaged backgrounds, so they also managed to improve these kids’ opportunities.Dance Troupe Bio


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2 thoughts on “The Enforcer

  1. Pingback: What We Saw in Phnom Penh - Novelty Buffs

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