Tmenh Chey - Komar

Tmenh Chey - The Young Lad

The Dream
Once upon a time, a woman had a vivid dream, that she could pick a whole bunch of coconuts under a full moon. When she woke up in the morning, she wanted to know the meaning of her dream. So, she went to see a fortune-teller.  Unfortunately, he was not at home. So she was then greeted by the fortune-teller’s wife to whom she told her dream. The fortune-teller’s wife thought to herself that this woman would have a baby boy. The child would eventually become a King, but instead of telling her the truth, the fortune teller's wife, told her that she would have a baby boy who would become a slave. 

                 Coconut Tree     Coconut_Tree_and_Fruits_-_thumbnail                    Young  Coconuts   Coconuts_-_Thumbnail

After hearing this bad news, the woman returned home and told her husband about the sad prediction. Her husband consoled her and advised her not to worry . Nine months and ten days later, the woman gave a birth to a lovely baby boy, and named  him THMENH CHEY.

Ambok (Rice flakes)
When Thmenh Chey was 7 years old, as usual he went to play with other kids around and under the Sethei's house (Sethei is a Khmer word for an extremely rich and powerful man).  One day, while Sethei’s wife was weaving in the house upstairs (see photo below - an example of a traditional Khmer house  for the well-off), a shuttle dropped to the ground under the house (please note that a Khmer house is built on stilts - photo below). When she looked down, she saw Thmenh Chey .

    Silk weaving Loom      Weaving_Loom_-_thumbnail                   Khmer House on stilts   House_for_the_Rich_-_thumbnail

- She then asked: ‘Chey, can you pick up the shuttle for me?’
- ‘If I pick it for you, will you give me something? ’ Thmenh Chey  answered with a question.
- ‘I will give you some 'ambok' (rice flakes),’ she replied.
- 'How much?' Thmenh Chey  wanted confirmation.
- 'A lot!' replied Sethei's wife, impatiently.
So, Thmenh Chey  picked the shuttle up and went upstairs to hand it to her. He then sat and waited for his reward from Sethei's wife. She offered him some ambok as promised. But Thmenh Chey refused, ‘That's not a lot.'  Sethei's wife kept topping it up, and still Thmenh Chey  was not satisfied. She finally gave him a 'la-ei' full of ambok (see photo below - la-ei is a rather deep bamboo basket with a diameter of around 40cm / 16 inches).
Thmenh Chey  started crying louder and louder and kept saying: 'that is not a lot !‘ 
Sethei's wife tried to console him by saying: 'There is a lot of ambok in the basket already, please take it.'  But Thmenh Chey still refused and demanded more. This was overheard by Sethei who came in to intervene.

La-ei & Chang-Eh (Bamboo Baskets)
After having been told about what was going on, Sethei said to Thmenh Chey :‘Chey! come here and stop crying, I think I know how to satisfy you’.  He asked to be brought in a shallow basket called chang-eh (photo below - a flat shallow basket with a diameter about 1 metre/1.1 yards) and filled both the deep and the shallow baskets with ambok. He then asked Thmenh Chey which one had more ambok. Thmenh Chey  looked at them and pointed to the shallow basket and agreed to accept the ambok in it.                                        
   La-ei (made of bamboo)   La-ey_-_thumbnail              Chang-Eh (made of bamboo)  Chang-Eh_-_thumbnail

However, Thmenh Chey  was upset when he poured the ambok into the bag to take home and found that it was not as much as it appeared to be. Though he didn't say anything at the time, he realised that he had been tricked by Sethei. He vowed that he would have his revenge on Sethei.

Thmenh Chey  walked home and told his parents, ‘Please take me to Sethy's house and sell me to him as his servant.' His mother could not believe what she'd just heard. She prompted him by saying:
- ‘my dear son, we do not owe Sethei any money, and thus, have no need for you to be Sethei's servant.’
- ‘I want to go and  live there simply to outwit Sethei and to take vengeance for myself.’
Not being able to persuade Thmenh Chey , she agreed to do what he asked.  So, in floods of tears, she walked Thmenh Chey to Sethei's house and sold him to Sethei as his servant.  

Betel Nut Box
Every so often, Sethei had to have an audience with the King.  One morning, he asked Thmenh Chey  to carry the box of slar mlou* and follow him to the royal palace (*Slar mlou is a compound name for a set of areca nuts (photo below), betel leaves (photo below), slaked lime paste, Catechu, and tobacco, which men or women of that era liked to chew perhaps for pleasure, I guess, the same way as people like smoking cigarettes and chewing tobacco in our time - and it is also addictive.)

Thmenh Chey was walking slowly behind Sethei who was riding a horse. Therefore, he could not catch up with his master. Sethei arrived at the palace and could not see any sign of Thmenh Chey . He was annoyed as he was craving for his slar mlou. As soon as Thmenh Chey  appeared, Sethei rebuked him: ‘a-Chey*,  why can’t you catch up with me?’ (* when a name is called with a prefix 'a' pronounced 'ar', it indicates either the traditional derogative term used by a boss to call his junior employees, or a familiar friendly term used between family members or very closed friends).
- ‘Because I was careful not to drop your slar malou.’ Thmenh Chey replied very politely.
- ‘Next time, try your best to catch up with me’ Sethei ordered. 
Thmenh Chey  listened carefully and acknowledged the order. Many days passed, Seithei had to go to the royal palace again. As usual, Sethei was riding a horse with Thmenh Chey  running after him. While running, Thmenh Chey realised that things were dropping out of the box one by one but didn't bother to stop and pick them up. When arriving at the royal palace, Sethei got off the horse and went to meet the royal mandarins of all levels. He then asked Thmenh Chey  to bring the box of slar mlou to him to share with other dignitaries. Thmenh Chey  slowly crawled towards him and handed the box. Sethei opened the box to see that there was nothing in it. He was very embarrassed.  

On the way home that evening, Sethei asked Thmenh Chey: 'a-Chey, I want an explanation as to why my slar mlou box was empty', 
- ‘I was afraid that I could not catch up with you. So, I ran as fast as I could behind you. While running, the bits and pieces in the box started to fall out of the box, and I  did not have time to stop and pick them up.’ Thmenh Chey  explained.  At this point, Sethei appeared to accept that Thmenh Chey only followed his order. Then, he calmly gave Thmenh Chey a new instruction: 
- ‘Next time, if something drops out, you must pick them up whilst trying to catch up with me, is that clear?'
- 'Yes, master, that's very clear' replied Thmenh Chey whilst lowering his head with respect.

A box of horse dung
Many days passed, Sethei and Thmenh Chey set out to the royal palace as usual. Thmenh Chey  was carrying the slar malou box very carefully whilst running behind his master's horse. A little while into the journey,  Sethei's horse started to defecate (to pass droppings). Without a second thought, Thmenh Chey picked all the horse dung along the way and put them into the box on top of Sethei's slar malou. At the royal court meeting room, Sethei beckened Thmenh Chey to bring his slar malou box so he could share it with all the dignitaries. He started to open the box, and to his very unpleasant surprise, it was pack with the horse dung. His face became red with embarrassment and he was, of course, very furious with Thmenh Chey. He could have killed him, but, as it was in front of the King, out of obligation to nobility, and trying to suppress his anger, he said nothing.

Cham-kar (Vegetable Field)
Back at home, after gaining back his composure, Sethei told Thmenh Chey , ‘a-Chey, I don't  need you to follow me to the royal palace any longer. Your new job will be to look after the orchard.’
The next morning, Thmenh Chey  was at the orchard. He took Sethei's word litterally. He just sat there and stared at the cham-kar. He paid no notice to a herd of cows that was grazing the vegetation. The crops were completely destroyed. When Sethei learned about what had happened to his orchard, he scolded Thmenh Chey:
- ‘a-Chey, I asked you to look after the orchard, why did you let the cattle destroy all my crops?’
- ‘I did not  chase the cows away because I understood you had ordered me to guard the Cham-kar and not the crops.’ Thmenh Chey had the last word again . 
Sethei was so angry, he was lost for words. Instead, he said:
- ‘a-Chey, you are so stupid. You are good for nothing. From now on, you will look after the cows.’ Thmenh Chey  replied,
- ‘Yes, master. But, all the cows will be as my wives.’ 
Thmenh Chey started his new task by walking the cows into a field to let them graze. After a little while,  a herd of oxen came to mate with his cows. Thmenh Chey  captured all the oxen and detained them. When their owners came to claim their oxen back, Thmenh Chey did not let them. He argued that:
- ‘Your oxen intended to sleep with my wives. I will not give them back to you unless you pay me a certain amount of money.’ The owners of the oxen were extremely angry. In fact they were so desparate that they complained to Sethei. Sethei couldn't understand Thmenh Chey's behaviour. He summoned Thmenh Chey and tried to find out the truth about the situation by asking him:
-'a-Chey, tell me why you've captured their oxen.'
-' Master, I did inform you that all the cows were my wives. Their oxen wanted to mate with my wives, so I captured them,' Thmenh Chey rightfully explained his action. Having apologised to the villagers, Sethei then ordered Thmenh Chey to release all their oxen.

The Guilty Cooking Stove
Sethei thought to himself: ‘a-Chey, so far, has caused me a lot of trouble. Perhaps, having him work indoors would be better, as my wife could keep an eye on him.' He then said to Thmenh Chey:
- 'a-Chey, from now on I want you to work indoors as a house-boy to my wife,'
- ' Yes, master, as you wish,' Thmenh Chey acknowledged the order.

Thmenh Chey seemed to have got on well working with Sethei's wife. One day, Sethei was having a meeting with his officials in a separate building in the same compound. Thmenh Chey was asked by Sethei’s wife to go and tell her husband that lunch was ready. Thmenh Chey went to the meeting room and shouted at the top of his voice:
- ‘Master, lunch is ready ....! Master, lunch is ready....! Master, lunch is ready....!' and only stopped when Sethei ordered him to.
Sethei was once again very embarrassed.  Whilst suppressing his anger, Sethei tried to kindly give advice to Thmenh Chey: 
- ‘a-Chey, no need to shout. Next time, please come and whisper softly to my ear?’ Thmenh Chey apologised and promised to Sethei that he would remember the advice.

Sometime after, whilst Sethei was attending the home meeting, his house was on fire . His wife was so horrified and sent Thmenh Chey  to go and get her husband urgently in order to get help to put the fire out. Thmenh Chey  rushed to the meeting room and whispered softly in his ear. Sethei couldn't hear a word of what Thmenh Chey was trying to say.
- 'What are you saying, a-Chey, I cannot hear you?' Sethei asked impatiencely. Thmenh Chey continued to whisper in his ear. Some time had passed and at the end of his tether, Sethei shouted out his command:
- 'Speak louder, a-Chey!' - Thmenh Chey then followed the order and shouted:
- 'Your house is on fire, your wife wants you to come and help ....' 
When Sethei finally heard that, before rushing to the house, he quickly told Thmenh Chey (who was still a small boy) to go and try to rescue small light things which hadn’t been damaged by the fire. Thmenh Chey ran quickly to the place and tried his best to bring out more than a few dozens of chicken nests and put them in a safe place. When the fire was put out, Sethei asked Thmenh Chey what he had rescued from the fire.  Thmenh Chey  showed him all the chicken nests. Sethei exclaimed with disbelief:  
- ‘There were a lot of more valuable things that you could have saved. Why did you choose to take chicken nests?’ Thmenh Chey  replied:
- 'Because you had told me to take care of all the small light things.’ once again, Thmenh Chey took his order litterally on purpose. Sethei, although his patience was very tried, accepted Chey's explanation thinking how stupid the boy was. 

             Clay Cooking Stove  Clay_Pot__Changkraan_Aoh_-_thumbnail             Upright Clay Cooking Stove  Cooking_Stove_-_thumbnail

Sethei then changed the subject by giving Thmench Chey another task:
- ‘Go and get what caused the fire for me.’ Thmenh Chey  went to fetch the cooking stove (photos above) and showed it to Sethei by saying:
- ‘Master, this cooking stove is responsible for the fire.’ Thmenh Chey proudly presented this so-called culprit to Sethei.

Royal Slave
Many more similar incidents were happening during a period of around 3 years of Thmenh Chey's employment at Sethei's house. Up to this point, Sethei had now realised that, since the first day, Thmenh Chey had caused him many losses:  in face, prestige, popularity and property. He could not pinpoint what the problem was and why Thmenh Chey had behaved the way he had done. One thing for sure was he could not keep Thmenh Chey as his servant anymore. After a long thought, he decided to take Thminh Chey to serve His Majesty the King as a slave in the royal palace.

Sethei brought Thmenh Chey who was then 11 years old, to the King. He told the King,
- ‘Your Majesty, I have a boy who is very shrewed  and very cunning. His skill in lying has no frontier and no-one can outwit him. I now bring him over to be your servant.’ The King listened and asked Thmenh Chey:
- ‘Chey, you are good at telling lies, aren’t you?’ Thmenh Chey who knew that he wasn't a liar, but could see an opportunity to shine, respectfully responded:
- ‘Yes, I am, Your Majesty.’ Thmenh Chey politely responded
- ‘Now, lie to me!’ The King commanded.
- ‘I have a book which I use to tell lies. It is kept at home.’ Thmenh Chey promptly explained.
So eager to test Thmenh Chey 's ability in lying, the King ordered his servant to go to Chey's house to fetch the book. The royal servant arrived to Chey's house and told his mother that he came to collect Chey's book of lies. Chey's mother denied having such thing in the house. The royal servant returned and told the King what he learned from Chey's mother. The King asked Thmenh Chey:
- ‘Chey, you had told me that you had the book of lies at home, but your mother denied having it.’ Thmenh Chey  replied,
- ‘Your Majesty, that's a lie you had asked me to do.’ The King was baffled but thoughtful, and accepted Thmenh Chey  as his servant.

Kocorico! Cockadoodle-doo!
The King's desire to outwit Thmenh Chey had brought about a few secret plans and tricks. The first one that came to his mind was to secretly tell all the dignitaries except Thmenh chey, to bring one egg each to the royal bathing pond the next morning in order to play a game.  On the morning, each dignitary hid the egg securely in their clothes. At the signal from the King, each person took their turn to dive into the water and resurface with the egg in his/her hand whilst making a 'cluck, cluck' sound as if a hen had just laid an egg and then show it to the King and say: 'cluck ... cluck ... cluck ... I lay an egg.' 
The King then announced that it was Thmenh Chey's turn. Thmenh Chey looked slightly bewildered as he did not have an egg but he dived in the pond just as ordered by the King.  He disappeared for a while, swimming around under the water trying to think of a way to solve the problem. After some time, he emerged to the surface and yelled: 'Kocorico ... Cockadoodle-doo,' sound which Thmenh Chey was imitating a rooster.
The King smiled and asked: 'Boy ... where is your egg?'  
- ‘Your Majesty, I couldn't possibly lay an egg. I am a rooster. And, thanks to me, those hens were able to produce eggs.'
’ The King was amazed at Thmenh Chey's wit . He praised Thmenh Chey and asked how old he was.
- ‘I am 11 years old, Your Majesty!’ replied Thmenh Chey.

                Khmer Rooster     Rooster

A Sailing Elephant 
On one beautiful day, the King decided to go hunting in the forest far from the palace with his ministers, dignitaries, courtiers and concubines. Everyone had their own transportation such as horses, ox-carts or elephants.
In order to test Thmenh Chey's shrewdness, the King ordered that he'd be given an old elephant to carry all the food supplies and to arrive at the designated hunting grounds at the same time as others or he would be punished. With an amazing effort,  the old elephant dragged its frail feet one by one through the forest to try to catch up with the procession ahead, but to no avail. Thmenh Chey  realised that there was no way that his elephant could make it in time at this rate. So, he came up with an idea. He chopped two long bamboo poles. He tied a big piece of cloth at the end of one pole to make a sail and secured it to the elephant's back. He used the other like a punting pole to help push the elephant forward.

The King arrived at the royal camp and did not see Thmenh Chey. So he thought that he would have an excuse to punish him . Moments later, Thmenh Chey  showed up, then the King asked:
- ‘Why are you so late?’ Thmenh Chey  said,
- ‘As Your Majesty can see, the elephant is too old and walks too slowly. I even made a sail and used a pole to help push him forward.’ The King was dumbfounded by this odd but ingenious invention; and thought to himself that Thmenh Chey was a very intelligent boy.

Saved by a Knight 
'What can one do to outwit Thmenh Chey.' the King asked himself. Some time had passed. The King organised a horse riding trip to a far away forest. He told everyone of his entourage except Thmenh Chey to get themselves a horse the night before. He ordered that no-one would lend Thmenh Chey a horse in the morning. 

Just before the procession started, Thmenh Chey received the King's order to find a horse and join the royal procession. Thmenh Chey ran everywhere to try to borrow a horse but to no avail as nobody dared to lend him one.  He was desparate ... suddenly, he had an idea. He remembered seeing a moment ago where two royal officials were playing chess. He run back and grabbed one of the knights - a small wooden horse, from the chess board and put it in his pocket and started running as fast as he possibly could to try to join the royal cortege. Being young and an excellent runner, Thmenh Chey arrived at almost the same time as others.  Seeing Thmenh Chey arriving without a horse, the King asked; 
- ‘Chey, I command you to join me riding a horse, so where is the horse?’ Thmenh Chey pulled the wooden horse out of his pocket and showed it to the King:
- ’Your Majesty, this is the horse.’ The King was once again baffled by Thmenh Chey's astuteness..

Cock Fighting
One day, the King ordered his ministers to organise a cock fight. He asked that they find him the best rooster. In doing so, everyone was instructed not to lend nor sell a rooster to Thmenh Chey.  Thmenh Chey was told at the last minute that he was to compete with the King. 

                                                 Cockfight_-_thumbnail          Cockfight as Bas-relief at Bayon Temples (Angkor Thom) 

Thmenh Chey knew that the King once again was trying to outwit him. He also knew that everyone was forbidden to lend or sell him a rooster. So, not wasting his time running around looking for one, Thmenh Chey went home and grabbed a very young chick that had just hatched. He wrapped it gently and carefully in a cloth and brought it to the playground waiting for his turn.  When the time came, the King released his rooster, and turned to Thmenh Chey:
- ‘Boy, bring your rooster?’ At the King’s command, Thmenh Chey  took out his chick, and place it in front of the King’s rooster. The chick was feeling nervous and needed comfort of his mother. So, as soon as he saw the rooster, thinking that it was his mother, he ran to take cover under the rooster's wings and body. The big rooster felt ticklish, and so ran quickly for its life away from the playground. Thmenh Chey was over-joyed and exclaimed a few phrases such as:
- 'The King's rooster was no good ... the King's rooster was no good ... ' and,
- 'It didn't dare to fight my chick ... I won ... I won...' and  applauded cheefully in front of the King and his entourage (retinue). The King felt embarrassed and offended by Chey's words. He ordered Thmenh Chey  to be banned from entering the Royal Palace. 

Thmenh Chey packed up and returned to his home...

To be continued ...