Mei Bi & Me: Re-writing Ethnography, Bringing the Ethnographer Back In

Recently I had to bring a little bit more of my very own self into the ethnography, through a seminar on Writing Ethnography and its genres, and the auto-ethnography model of Zora Hurston ‘’Mules and Men’’. I took up the challenge by revisiting an old piece from the Clichés Chams column that I was, back then, writing for the online news media Kaset. The article was all about Mei Bi, a character completely real, gone complete legend over Cham-landia. At the time, and within the journalistic frame, it would have been irrelevant and out of place to bring my own experience in the foreground of the story. But as the tale unfolds, as I was following up all through the years – all through the roads – all through the legends – the life of Mei Bi, it became more and more personal. Until the end revealed to be nothing else but a close up on this entirely personal quest, without me even knowing about it… Continue reading

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The Notebooks’ Diaries Day 3: When all we need is Love & Memory

An intro first? Here. | Also: Day 1 & Day 2.

 In a very beautiful text entitled in all simplicity – and then again all beauty – ‘’Par coeur’’[1] (‘’by heart’’), Charles Malamoud talks about the inseparability of love and memory in the vedic concept of Smara. From poetry to classical foundational texts, from theatre to the actual learning process, ‘’what is present in Love, is the memory and the consequence of its destruction, and therefore its absence. Its own body denied, it is nothing but the very flame that consumed it’’ (299)[2]. I thought about that text today and how much I remembered loving it, back when it was assigned in my université days. Of course. I had to remember and love it. Again. The multiple references to flames, fires, combustions, burnings, made me also look back to yesterday’s reflections on Mysore Narasimhachar Srinivas’ ‘’Remembered Village’’[3], and the loss of his field notes in a fire. The ethnography was finally forged in the burning memory of Srinivas. From the ashes of his notebooks. Reading my own notebook today (the third one), with ‘’Par Coeur’’ on the side, I thought about just that: love and memory, and the love and memory that the notebooks are made of. Continue reading

Inseperable Genres: Of a Few Stories & Many Gender Possibilities

Act 3, Scene 3.

‘’You know he is not really a man in fact…’’. Ong-Always-Cranky (for he is always cranky) says. There has been a silence before that. Not a usual thing with Ong-Always-Cranky. The silence followed the departure of the couple from the hill, as they left the little ascetic community covered up by the forest and the stupas of the former Cambodian royal capital of Udong. The couple had been living here for a week or so. That’s what they did, in life. Going from one hill to another, one monastery to another, one retreat refuge to another, mapping all the country’s unworldly world, together, hand in hand. Continue reading

Chams Clichés (5) – A Franco-Cham Romance from Cambodia

Read the Pdf: English | French

Cambodia, circa 1960’s-70’s, Gabrielle Pianette, known as "Mei Bi" 
© Mousar family.

Cambodia, circa 1960’s-70’s, Gabrielle Pianette, known as “Mei Bi” 
© Mousar family.

‘’Once upon a time, there was a young and beautiful lady, scared and breathless, running by the Mekong bank in Kampong Cham. She was a French woman, trying to escape the Japanese invader on her heels. She was tracked, alone and without her parents, remembered as prosperous rubber planters. The sad heroine found herself facing the river, with no way out. All hope seemed lost… when suddenly, a Cham fisherman, young and handsome, appeared. Driving the light craft towards the bank, he saved her from the enemy. Carried away by the smooth rhythm of water and love, the young couple berthed alongside the other bay, in the village of Phum Trea. There, they got married, had many children and lived happily ever after.” Continue reading