While much of the writing in this issue represents rural life, Kham Pun Kimny’s essays and “flash fiction” describe urban culture and city life in Phnom Penh in the 1960s and 1970s, before the fall of the country to the Khmer Rouge. “Crazy for Wandering” comes from the 1971 collection Control Yourself: Don’t Cry, Don’t Laugh—Philosophies of the Strange and Absurd. In some ways, Kham Pun’s work is absurdist and surreal. It is similar to Soth Polin’s work in its existential nature, though also very different. In fact, some of Kham Pun Kimny’s writing was first published in Soth Polin’s newspaper, Nokor Thom. In the collection’s forward, Kham Pun Kimny addresses the nature of his work:
I wrote these short stories in an era that made us laugh as well as cry. They are only summaries of delirious thoughts. They are not at all realist essays. Even the spellings of certain words, I have made take on a surreal state so that they can follow the delirious thoughts found in the essays.
Therefore, ladies and gentlemen who are educated and who like to think, please forgive me. In particular, please give me permission to speak “wrong,” think “wrong” and behave “wrong.” I beg for your allowance.
Phnom Penh, 22 September 1971
Kham Pun Kimny
Some of my friends call me the president of the boulevard, while others call me the president of the streets, because everyone finds me there all the time. If you look for me at home, you will not encounter me. Instead, you will see me in the streets idly walking, wandering up and down, around and around, like a flying predator crisscrossing the seas in search of fish.
In my own mind, I don’t consider myself to be at all like those flying predators. I’m only walking to cast my gaze over all those dazzling dishes floating about the streets that seek to enchant with their inspired beauty. These images excite and please me. The worries found in life’s difficulties disappear. Not only this, but the images are medicine that excavates and purifies the miseries stuck inside my monkey brain. My brain becomes refreshed and clear so that I can study and easily remember.
The reason they say I have a monkey’s brain is because my friend believes my brain is stranger than others. When it comes to this, I’m also puzzled. One day, I confounded even myself. I felt ashamed, alone in the middle of the city. Truthfully, I was not embarrassed by my friends or the police officers. I was not mortified by the vendors with their repulsive pot bellies hanging out and their shirtless bodies encased in tiny shorts that offered glimpses of their balls. It was the road that made me self-conscious! I was humiliated by the poles and posts found along the streets! I even felt ashamed when confronted by common street trash!
If some of my friends were to discover my feelings of shame, they would absolutely say I am disoriented and have truly turned mad. They would call a psychiatrist to examine my brain or lock me in a mental ward at once. They would do this because they believe it is right. More specifically, they believe that they are accumulating merit toward their next life. Yet, in my opinion, I am not crazy. Why is it that I’m not shamed by those whose eyes are like mine? Because they don’t care about me. They only care about selling, scavenging pockets for money. As for objects without a soul, they don’t care about those things. So, what they see is me aimlessly walking up and down the streets.
No matter what, I still doubt I’m not actually crazy because people say that there are three kinds of madness: crazy for women, crazy for alcohol, and crazy for gambling. As for me, perhaps I am crazy for wandering.
—Khmer Ekareach, Monday, September 22, 1969
Translation © 2015 by Siti Keo. All rights reserved.