In today’s Phnom Penh Post Ms. Mu Suchua’s lawsuit against the Prime Minister got more coverage. It was reported that the words ‘cheung klang’ were part of the bone of contention, no pun intended, as ‘cheung’ means ‘bone’. ‘Cheung klang’ can be literally translated as ‘strong bones’ but is to be interpreted with slight variations depending on which context the words were said in. It can mean ‘fearless person’ or, implying both fearless and lawless, ‘gangster’, as applied to gang boss (‘bong thom’) or similar. ‘Cheung’ is used in Khmer much in the same way as in English, like in ‘my old or weary bones’, etc. Similarly, ‘cheung chas’ means ‘old bones’ in the sense of experienced, meaning somebody is an old hand at something.
It was also reported that the government is preparing a counter-lawsuit, without any details given on what basis that might happen.
Ms. Suchua took umbrage at those words and the context in which they were said. According to the PPP she found those words especially demeaning for a woman. I spoke with several Khmer people about this because as a Westerner I somehow failed to understand the deeper implications of her ‘beef’ with Hun Sen. Now one has to understand Khmer culture in order to understand this as an outsider. Despite their increasing role in both public and private life women are still supposed to be subservient to men, never raise their voices; generally be of a gentle demeanor. Consequently, if a woman is called ‘cheung klang’, it implies both fearlessness, indicating a will-power to win and to dominate – both undesirable qualities in a Khmer woman - but also possibly the character of a person of questionable background and dealings. Therefore, in other words, if applied to men it is both positive and negative, but if applied to women it is considered negative.
The Khmer people I asked about this concurred that it was not nice to refer to Ms. Suchua this way but in general was not considered court material. In normal life, this would end in a shouting match with most likely profanities hurled at each other.
It was also surmised that Ms. Sochua is probably a little in over her head, and possibly also a little too full of herself in this. She may be a fighter for women’s rights in Cambodia and her recent meeting with the U. S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have given her the impression of a higher stature on the world stage than she actually has.
Both Sam Rainsy and Ms. Sochua seem to suffer from the same misconception shared by many returning overseas Khmer – the homeland Khmer nomenclature is by and large uneducated, uncivilized, unscrupulous, immoral, and wont to use direct or indirect force.
Needless to say, this doesn’t sit well with the powers-that-be. So, whenever they see a chance to teach those people a lesson they gladly take the opportunity to do so. In that vein, one has to see the government’s tactic of a counter-lawsuit with a possible lifting of the deputy’s parliamentary immunity. As mentioned before, one has to question the prudence of Ms. Suchua’s step simply based on the premise for it. It is widely believed to be for P. R purposes only. Many people just regard her, like Sam Rainsy and others, as someone who doesn’t really understand present-day Khmer homeland thinking. They dismiss her as a bothersome gnat.
Should the Khmer readers of this post disagree or have a different interpretation of the context I would welcome your comments.