Whilst living in Phnom Penh I employed a young woman, Sivin, to care for my son when I was at work. I feel I ought to add here that she was great with my son and a lovely woman and that I had no qualms about leaving my son in her care. When he was about three years old he started to tell me he was frightened of ‘bongdir’. Having no idea who or what ‘bongdir’ was I asked Sivin but could never get a straight answer. Most people I asked claimed not to know of any such thing but a friend eventually told me that bongdir was the Khmer equivalent of the bogeyman. I still don’t know how true this is but it would make sense – a story told to keep children in line. My son went through a phase of worrying about bongdir but soon forgot about him and has no recollection now at all. I don’t believe any real harm was caused at the time and it could have been a neighbour or anyone who told my son stories of bongdir in the first place, not necessarily Sivin but it was disturbing as a parent, not being able to understand what it was that frightened my son and therefore finding it difficult to provide adequate comfort.
teukei – also known as a tokay gecko, I’ve always seen it spelt ‘teukei’ in Cambodia when written in Latin script.
jinja – a small lizard. I’m pretty sure these are the same as the cicak, a small house lizard that eats mosquitoes and the like. They are extremely common throughout Asia.
krama – Cambodian scarf used as clothing, baby sling or twisted and wound around the head to balance baskets when carried on heads.
Nor naa – a question form though the speaker is not certain that she uses it correctly.
s’lahp, s’lahp heuy – dead, dead already
ot mean – don’t have, negative form
K’nyom dtoh salarian – I go to school
taup mouy – asking for a kiss
lea heuy – goodbye
side-on – side saddle
moto-dop – moto-taxi driver