Since graduating the Sarus Exchange Program of 2014, Seng Porchhay has trained as a monk, moved to Bangkok to spread inner peace with Peace Revolution and returned to Phnom Penh to work on a project combining theatre and meditation. I got to know Porchhay over steamed snails, witnessing his motorbike (almost) disappear and hearing ghost stories from his childhood. Having just arrived in Phnom Penh as a social media intern for Sarus, I was very grateful to befriend an incredibly kind, calmly disposed and humorous member of the Sarus family. Porchhay, Vithiea, Thuy (old friends) and myself got together for multiple food tours and recce trips to Prek Chrey before SFSC2016. Here are some snapshots from our conversations, written as one interview.
Q: Porchhay, what was one of your greatest takeaways from your exchange experience in 2014?
A: Working with people who have very different personalities.
Q: To follow-up on that, were there challenges to interacting with a group with different cultures?
A: Not really. But when there were misunderstandings, circle meetings helped us to communicate, so often they were very intense. Otherwise, there were more humorous language misinterpretations. At Peace Revolution, I work with people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, so my Sarus experience helped prepare me for this environment.
Q: Do you have tips for navigating inter-cultural environments such as Sarus and Peace Revolution?
A: I would say, accept what others believe. By doing so we can show we are open-minded and respectful to their ideas. Never debate with their cultural or religious beliefs, instead, listen. Listen, and then exchange your own beliefs and perspectives.
Q: Tell me a fun fact about yourself that not many people know.
A: I think people know me well, so there is nothing to say.
*Porchhay gives me his characteristic sly smile and sips his tea. After a long pause he finally adds;
I like to watch alien documentaries.
There were no further comments on this.
Q: Tell us about your experience as a monk.
A: I was a monk twice. The first time was in Cambodia, as a novice monk for three months. My fellow monks were all younger boys so some people in the village would laugh when they saw me following the small novice monks I was learning with - it was unusual to see the older monk following behind to collect alms in the morning. I was always at the back because I didn’t know the road. The second time was this January in Thailand, which was a proper program for Cambodian monks which was very intense.
Q: Why did you eventually decide to leave monkhood?
A: First because I didn’t plan to stay forever. I became a monk because I wanted to learn something. I still enjoy normal life more.
Q: What advice might you give to those contemplating the path of monkhood?
A: There is no need to be afraid, being a monk is just like going on a high level self-development training program. You will learn so much about life and how to live life in the proper way.
Q: Your description reminds me of how some of my friends reflected on their experience in the military, after fulfilling National Service requirements in Singapore. In Singapore the requirement is two years. Some of my friends have told me that it helped them build a sense of discipline, and that they felt thankful for the experience though it was very difficult. What do you think about this comparison?
A: Being a monk you commit to your own self-discipline…there is no one there to watch over you. In the military you are held accountable to others, as a monk only you can hold yourself responsible for the choices that are made.
Q: Porchhay, tell us about your work at Peace Revolution and why you are back in Phnom Penh
A: At peace revolution we try to create sustainable world peace through the inner peace that comes with meditation. It is non-religious and meant to be accessible for all. I came back to Cambodia to work on a project that incorporates theatre with inner peace practice. We worked with a theatre group that created a play called “The Courageous Turtle” which reflects on the Khmer rouge regime and encourages sustainable conflict prevention. We travel from high school to high school performing the play, and after this we conduct meditation sessions. Many students were very emotional and sad after watching the play, especially the parts about Pol Pot’s regime. The meditation is meant to address this by offering a non-violent, constructive tool in order to heal, learn, remember and think about painful historical and social memories, and how to prevent it from happening again.
Q: Could you explain how inner peace building relates to peace-building between individuals and between nations?
A: Inner peace means being happy and gentle from inside out, being contained with their own life, with what they do and what they have. Imagine a person with these characteristics, for sure he or she would be a nice person that everyone wants to be friends with. And then imagine a community or nation that is full of these kinds of people. Conflict is normally derived from anger and greed within people’s minds, thus inner peace is dealing with this root cause.
*Since SFSC2016 Porchhay has moved to Siem Reap to further his work in the World Peace Initiative (WPI), building peace through meditation and community engagement. I’m looking forward to seeing what initiatives Porchhay gets up to! In the meantime, you can also follow Porchhay’s beautifully curated Instagram page “stilluniverse_chhay”.
Written by Annette Wu, Sarus Social Media Manager 2016