PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Nguon Sivngim is not afraid of ghosts and neither should many Cambodians be. At least that is what she wrote about in her first children’s book focusing on the Cambodian holiday Pchum Ben.
Breaking the Rules
Born in Kandal province, Ms. Sivngim moved to Phnom Penh at the age of five with her family. She is the eldest of four and is currently an executive secretary as well as a writer.
At a young age, Ms. Sivngim loved reading and would often scrounge for books, newspapers and random magazines to read. Respecting her parent’s wishes, she finished her bachelor’s degree in business management.
She left the path her parents set her on to pursue her passions of the written word, and has published her first story through Sipar Books. To this day, Ms. Sivngim’s father has never read any of her written work.
“I am disappointed in him, but I never regret the choices I made in becoming a writer,” she said.
“Reading made me find myself and my dreams,” Ms. Sivngim said firmly. “I believe reading books has a great impact to get someone’s life to change, I wanted to write a book that can make someone smile and to give them hope and purpose.”
She challenged herself with a short story training workshop provided by the Nou Hach Literary Association, where she encountered the support and enthusiasm she needed to continue being a writer.
Image of Women
At 35 years old, Ms. Sivngim has faced disrespect from her peers as a woman in the work force.
“I find it’s difficult to express my points to some male superiors and colleagues,” she explained. “It can be a challenge to get to the top position.”
Concerned about how women as mothers, daughters and equals in the workforce are seen as unequal to their male counterparts, Ms. Sivngim found that the disrespect fueled her passion to write.
She said, “I respect our traditions and culture, but in order for myself to grow and walk equally, I need to break some rules.”
Becoming the Hero
Hoping to become a writer who can inspire others, she has always felt that traditional Khmer stories have portrayed women as feeble creatures.
“Even now, I think that Khmer stories are typecasting women in a pathetic way – crying over love, enduring violence in silence, issues of family values over wealth,” she said. Although Ms. Sivngim can understand the basis of such stories, to her, it is not inspiring for today’s modern women.
At the moment, her written works only include short stories and children’s stories, but she has plans to change the image of women in Cambodian society.
“I want to create my characters that may look weak outside, but definitely show their real strength inside,” she said.
Inspired by strong heroes in books and films, she feels that more images of strong women can change the perspective of people and their situations by having them believe in themselves.
The beginning of that change is what led her to write about dispelling the fear many people have of ghosts in Cambodia. She published “Not Afraid of Ghosts” in 2011 about Pchum Ben.
Busy working on another publication for Sipar Books, Ms. Sivngim is optimistic, and hopes Cambodians today can feel connected to her strong characters. Grinning brightly, she said, “I want to leave my legacy as an inspired writer.”
“ Not afraid of Ghost” or (រឿង មិនខ្ចីខ្លាចប្រេត) is available at most Cambodian bookstores and Sipar Books outlets.