Club President Amreth (LeGrand) Phirun, a senior from Cambodia studying communications, said there are currently only two Cambodians on BYU–Hawaii’s campus, him and his wife. The rest of their 12-member club performers are from countries like the Philippines, the United States, Myanmar and Mongolia.
For this year’s Culture Night, Phirun said they used four different songs for their performance: two ancient classical songs, one traditional popular dance song and one modern pop song.
Choice of music
The two ancient classical songs, called the blessing dance and apsara (angelic women) dance, were the first part of their performance, Phirun explained. These dances used to only be performed at the royal palace but are now performed for the tourists of their country, he said. The apsara dance is also performed during various occasions like weddings, birthday parties or the Cambodian new year, he explained.
“The apsara dance [is an] ancient one, and was forgotten for decades.” Luckily, he said, the dance was brought back to life in the 1960s when their king’s daughter discovered engraved gestures of the dance on the wall at the Angkor Wat temple.
The second part of their performance is called the ken dance. “Ken is a musical instrument played and used by the Northwest Cambodian folk of the country,” he said. During their performance, they used a ken instrument made out of cardboard.
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The Cambodian classical dance, the apsara (angelic women) dance.
Photo by Ulziibayar Badamdorj
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Cambodian classic dance, the blessing dance.
Photo by Ulziibayar Badamdorj
Phirun said a modern pop song called, “Love of preserving our ancestral legacy,” was the last part of their presentation.
The dances were difficult to perform because every hand gesture represents something, such as a flower. He said the performers had a difficult time learning to make a perfect hand gesture with power.
Phirun said their club joined Culture Night this year because it only happens once a year and, with the cancellation of last year’s event, they wanted to take this chance to participate. He said it was a good opportunity to share their culture with others.
This year, he said, virtual performances were allowed along with the in-person performance because only 25 dancers were allowed to be on stage at once. The Cambodia Club introduction performance included videos of members dancing from the United States, Cambodia and Korea, who are not currently on campus.
In addition to the costumes they already had, he said they shipped some costumes from Cambodia. He also bought beads, sprayed them with gold and made them into bracelets.
Phirun said it has been a challenge for him to lead the Cambodia Club because he is the only Cambodian student on campus. He said he is grateful for his wife’s support, although she is not eligible to be part of the club presidency because she is not a student.
He said he worked together with Lkhagvajargal (Happy) Dalaichuluun to prepare for Culture Night because most of the club’s presidency are on the U.S. mainland.
Dalaichuluun, a junior from Mongolia majoring in business management, is the first vice president of the club. She said she worked with Phirun for two years at the Polynesian Cultural Center.
Even though she is not from Cambodia, she said the most important thing to do when you make friends from other countries is support them.
Dalaichuluun said she did that by accepting Phirun’s offer to become the first vice president of the Cambodia Club. She said she just wants to offer support and help the club operate even though they only have a few members at this time.
Dalaichuluun said she has been part of the Cambodia Club every semester since she came to the university about two and a half years ago. Her very first roommate, Samedy Meas, is from Cambodia, which is why she initially joined the chapter.
She said she supports the club so they can have enough members to continue and because she has learned a lot about Cambodia. “All of the countries are very beautiful and each is unique in terms of their culture and language,” she said.
Another reason she joined the club is it is very different from Mongolia and its culture, she said. Since learning about Cambodia, she said she hopes to visit the country after she graduates.
Naw (Cindy) Eh Htoo Shee, a sophomore from Myanmar studying social work, is also a member of Cambodia Club. She said she wanted to experience performing in Culture Night and to participate with other students from different countries. She is grateful she was able to participate this year after last year’s cancellation of Culture Night.
When she was a freshman, her friend invited her to be part of the Cambodia Club, she said. “I joined the club. … They were so welcoming and very friendly to me.” Because she felt welcomed, safe and happy in the club, she decided to join this year.
She said they did not have a lot of time to practice this year, but she noticed how everyone sacrificed their time and attended practice on time. “Everyone was very helpful, and we taught each other.”
She said Cambodia is a neighboring country to her own and she felt close to the place even though they have a different culture and language. She said she thinks because the two places are both in Asia she can relate and connect with them well, which is another reason why she participated.
See more photos on Ke Alaka’i’s Facebook page.