The Yellow Shirt and My Poetry

Last Saturday in Siem Reap, I wore a yellow shirt. Tight, a little too tight. It is older than me. This blog post, I write about her, the yellow shirt, and my poetry and the performance.

Photo credit: YENG Chheangly

After three days of cultural leadership with Cambodian Living Arts at Batia Sarem Gallery, I thought to give myself a leisure​ time after hard work. The event was organised by poet YENG Chheangly, my co-founder of Slap Paka Khmer (Collaborative Khmer Writers) and the Mirage Contemporary Arts Space.

Sokhoeun, me, and JB: featured readers (Photo Credit: Pheak Keo)

I chose to read four poems. All are in Khmer. I didn’t really have time to translate them into English. I will try to write a little bit about it here and also will share the story of the yellow shirt.

The first poem is about me who sees myself travelling from Phnom Penh to a province. In the car and along the way, I witness people buying and paying for threads happily. They were singing, dancing, and telling jokes. Lives go on with the thread on their every mouth including mine.

The second one is about someone whose soft hand guiding me toward a direction. I was scared but I could not escape because when I tried the hand turns from soft to rough and scary. The third is about learning to love my self. Growing up, I witnessed two burned scars on my stomach. I felt so embarrassed and disappointed with myself. I explored this with my parents and learned that the scars were a result of life, death, and love. The fourth one was a simple romance poem.

Photo Credit: Yeng Chheangly

I kept thinking about choosing what to wear for the reading and of course how to read. I read my poems many times and try to find a theme. One of the poems especially the third one is about my mother. To save me from death, she brought me to a Kruu Khmer (traditional healer). And I have been in love with one of her traditional shirt. It is yellow. Old. Out of fashion. It is something many girls would not wear out of shame. However, I love it and I want to bring it to life again.

(Photo credit: YENG Chheangly)

I was reading a translation text in English for the award-winning poet Chin Meas. I called him the Fried Noodle Poet since he sells noodles every night in Siem Reap to make a living. Being a poet is tough.

All readers in one shot (Photo credit: Sinath)
Chheangly introduces the event and feature readers! Great job.
One of Sokhoeun’s readings is a letter he wrote to an ex-girlfriend in 2001. (Photo credit: Yeng Chheangly)

When I decided to wear it, I had to face another challenge: self-doubt. I grew unwanted fat on my body. With this, women would hide it because we believe it does not look good and it is not a beauty standard. After thinking for a while and talked to a friend, I made a final decision to wear it. Of course, I was so much conscious about my body. I was afraid that it shows my belly or it does not suit with my age. Turned 41 last week, I believe women are repeatedly told to wear clothes their age. I was all about shy and nervous. However, there is one thing I needed to be clear with myself. As a feminist, should I worry this much? I asked myself. If I don’t love my self, who would? If I don’t embrace my body, who would do? Since I am one of the people who promote body-positive, should I be worried and nervous about my body? I should not. So I wore it and I was completely happy that I did.

Photo credit: Milya

The yellow shirt belongs to my mum. I initially thought that it might be around the 80s because I used to see her wear it when I was a child. However, she told me that it was since 1974. She wore it a few time before the Khmer Rouge time. Since she loves it so much, she carried and hid it with her during the civil war and the genocide. I asked her if she was afraid that she would get caught she said at her village, it is not an issue as long as she does not wear it. I don’t remember since when I started to love the yellow top. I remember that I wore it to a film festival but I was really shy that I wrapped it with a shawl. Not this time. The only thing I felt a little uncomfortable is it is too tight. lol.

Generally, it was a great event. I was glad to hear that the audience loved the readings a lot. Most said it was not their expectation. They expected to hear just the readings but in fact it was a lot more than readings.

Please enjoy a few more photos below. Any familiar faces?

The artworks you have seen on the wall are of a unique artist Khchao Touch currently exhibited at Mirage Gallery, Siem Reap.