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I used to watch Cambodian films from the 1950s to mid-1970s and it always tickled my fancy whenever characters break into songs (not unlike Bollywood but without the dancing). Sometimes, characters would belt out a cheery song in a cheerful scene and a sad song in a sad scene. But when it comes time for the male character to woo the female, he always, and I mean always, breaks into song. One can find the same thing repeated all over Khmer traditional literature such as plays, lyrics, and especially the verse-novels written between the 17th to early 20th centuries. If there is a flirting scene, then there is a song. It even appears in a few epic poems, though curiously enough, only the supporting characters sing.
The most famous scene in Khmer literature is a flirting scene from the verse-novel Tum Teav, where the main characters sing a lengthy duet in their first scene together. You can read the duet near the end of my post here. My all-time favorite comes from The Yaksha with the Magic Finger, a chapter from the epic Ramakerti II (2nd version of the Khmer Ramayana), where the male character upon seeing a woman so beautiful, he bursts into song. She, of course, replies. Here is how the duet goes:
Come, O dearest treasure! Approach beloved.
I would like a talk with you.
Where are you going? And where have you come from?
I look at you and I want us to be friends.
You have asked me a question;
I must reply – with warmth, with eagerness, with desire.
I am here to look for a husband. If one pleases me, I will take him on.
Dear lady, blessed with beauty, you are here looking for a husband, to live together in harmony.
What kind of a man are you looking for, precious love?
Does a man like me please you?
O handsome young man, I am searching for a husband who can dance.
If you can dance well, I can like you, love you and take you as my husband.
My treasure, your beauty excels that of all others.
As for dancing the Rae Dance*, whatever the measure, I can perform it.
What’s the difficulty? Dance on my lady.
I shall then follow you and so dance correctly.
Being a man of intelligence, I shall learn all the rules from you, my dear teacher.
Please dance, beautiful lady!
If you are one of those who can’t spontaneously sing or you’re too shy and like to limit your singing to the shower, here is tried-and-true advice to follow when you want to catch her attention: make eye contact and smile.
*Rae Dance is a dance from the Phnong, the indigenous ethnic groups of Mon-Khmer people living in the highlands of Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos.Published in