Old culture, young people
on Phnom Penh Pal (Cambodia), 13/Aug/2014 15:32, 34 days ago
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Men in Cambodia, and throughout Asia, like to dye their hair to hide any grey hairs. I may be a little odd having youthful face matched with grey hair, but the dyeing of hair could also be considered a little strange given the respect for age in Cambodia and throughout Asia.Respect for elders is probably something that many people would associate with Asian culture more than Western culture. However, one hundred years ago, Western culture was also marked by a deference to age but we have changed over time and there are signs that the same changes will happen in Asia too.At the time of the Cambodian census in 2008, 58% of the population was aged 25 or under. In the UK, it's 32%. In Asia, people are talking about a youth bulge where there are lots of young people about to enter the market place for jobs, for love and for their future. And as they begin to seek these things, they will begin to assume roles in society that may disrupt traditional hierarchies of age.Education is still very poor here, but there are more opportunities for young people leaving school and university now to have learnt skills and knowledge that their predecessors growing up in the 1980's and'90s would not have had. It is not just a gap between older people in their 60s and young 20 year olds, but even people in their 30s and 40s are feeling as though they are being left behind.One Cambodian woman in her early 30s who has studied abroad (a very big thing to have done), told me that she feels that she is having to run just to keep ahead of the youngsters coming at her back. She sees their ability to question and to speak in front of audiences and recognises the difference from her day. This is how one of the most educated people of her age feels and behind her are many, many more people. In Cambodia, once you've passed school age, there is very little support for you to catch the train of progress as it whistles past taking the young ahead of you.Last year during the elections, colleagues told me that it was no longer the father or older man of the house who influenced how people should vote. They told me that it was often an adult child who had gone to work in Phnom Penh and was sending money back home who could be the most influential. As well as money, they would bring back a smart phone and use it access to information that the elderly, with high levels of illiteracy, could not access. I think everybody believes that the influence of young voters was what caused country-changing shifts at the last election.The rise of the youth are not just affecting places of work and politics, but they are also affecting places of home. After a few months here, my Cambodian boss (mid-40s) said something that made me ask whether he, his wife and their daughter still lived with his wife's parents. With a slightly bemused look he answered that of course he did - that is the tradition. Last Sunday, he showed me the house that he will live in with his wife and daughter only. Of two other colleagues who recently married, one couple has their own house already and another couple are building their's.As these young people move out of their parent's house, they will also move out of their control. Parents will no longer be able to instruct young people that as long as they are under their roof, they have to follow their rules. Young people will be making their own rules in their own house.These changes are happening more in Phnom Penh, but the rural provinces are being affected as young people leave to come to Phnom Penh and work. Not only are they outside of their parents'house, they are outside of their parents'sight. The future will be determined by what young people do when out of sight, even if not out of mind. The times, they are a changin'.Youthfully yoursGordon