Cambodian Student Thrives in Beijing

Kim Leng studies Chinese language, hoping to bring his home country and China even closer together


Kim leng in an interview with China Report ASEAN at a cafe on the campus of Beijing Foreign Studies University.

By Wang Fengjuan

On Jan. 10, Beijing Foreign Studies University was closed for the winter holiday. The campus looked a little cold and cheerless during the winter months. At a cafe next to the library, Kim Leng was writing a research paper on how to improve Chinese teaching quality. He is a student from Cambodia who has been studying in China for four years. He is now a postgraduate majoring in international Chinese education.

“Cambodia and China are best buddies,” Kim Leng says, remarking that he has come all the way to Beijing thanks to a profound interest in China he has had since childhood.

Classical Charm and Modern Development

When Kim Leng was little, The Great Emperor Kang Xi, The Prince of Han Dynasty and other historical TV series regularly played in Cambodia aroused his interest in China.

“I learned about a lot of places in Beijing from those TV series,” he explains. “In one play, I remember when a general leading the army returns to Beijing in triumph, he passes Deshengmen, Xizhimen and Xuanwumen [historical city gates], which are now places very familiar to me. I didn’t know Beijing was such a modern and economically soaring metropolis full of high-rise buildings until I came here.”

As Kim continued to learn Chinese, the image of Beijing in his mind has become increasingly enriched. Besides Lao She’s Fall in Beijing and Zhu Ziqing’s The Sight of Father’s Back and Moonlight over the Lotus Pond, masterpiece essays in his textbook, he has also read A Dream of Red Mansions, Water Margin and other classical Chinese novels in his extracurricular time.

“All over this winding stretch of water, what meets the eye is a silken field of leaves, reaching rather high above the surface, like the skirts of dancing girls in all their grace,” he casually recites the classic sentences from Moonlight over the Lotus Pond.

When I tell him this prose is exam-compulsory for Chinese students, who are required to
Kim write it from memory, he looks quite excited.

Kim Leng didn’t go home this winter holiday. At the time I spoke to him, he planned to travel around Chinese cities after finishing his schoolwork.

“I’d like to go to the Lama Temple and the Temple of Longevity during the Spring Festival, and feel the lively atmosphere at the temple fair by Longtan Lake,” he says. In his hometown, people also put up spring couplets and purchase special goods for the Spring Festival.

To learn Chinese and Chinese culture well, Kim Leng has put in a lot of effort. Besides discussing studies with his classmates, he also participates in communication activities held by China and ASEAN countries.

Talking endlessly about his holiday plans, Kim Leng says what he most looks forward to is visiting Suzhou and Hangzhou to enjoy the charms of the cities along the southern Yangtze River.

“Up in heaven, there is paradise; down on earth, there are Suzhou and Hangzhou. I’ve read novels about Qing Emperor Qianlong’s visits to these places and romantic love stories of gifted scholars and beautiful ladies there,” he adds.

Bringing Chinese Culture to Cambodia

“I’m very honored to be an overseas student funded by the government. It is an impetus for me to motivate myself to study harder,” Kim Leng explains, his voice full of gratitude.

As an outstanding student selected by the Chinese government and the Khmer Daily, a major Cambodian newspaper, Kim Leng first studied Chinese at Beijing’s Capital Normal University with tuition and accommodation fees covered by the government. Now, funded by an educational cooperation project between China and Cambodia, he has picked up Chinese again at Beijing Foreign Studies University.

This straightforward young man, who chose international Chinese teaching as his research field, pays special attention to modern classroom teaching methods. He shows that, in Cambodia, the most primitive methods of rote learning are still applied in studying Chinese, and that the textbooks, content and teaching methods are lagging behind those used in China.

To learn Chinese and Chinese culture well, Kim Leng has put in a lot of effort. Besides discussing studies with his classmates, he also participates in communication activities held by China and ASEAN countries, thanks to which he has developed a deeper understanding of the bilateral cooperation between the two. The papers he is writing this winter are all about modern classroom teaching. He hopes to apply a flexible teaching method by guiding students’ class discussion so they can accurately use words and phrases in the right language context. However, it’s easier said than done. To truly master teaching techniques and put them in an academic paper is really not an easy job. During his holiday, Kim Leng has looked up many materials and written two short essays.

“My supervisor asked me to practice my pronunciation. I will have more opportunities if my pronunciation is more standard,” he says. Some of his classmates are from Malaysia, and they have classes together with Chinese students. To the teachers, they are all at the same level, and no overseas students are treated differently. Kim Leng likes this way of teaching. He notices that every student is open and active.

Speaking of learning Chinese, Kim says, “Although the food and culture of Cambodia are close to those of China, the two countries do have differences. I was not adapted to the environment here when I first came to China, but now I’ve gradually gotten used to it.”

During most holidays, Kim Leng returns to Cambodia to do translation work for Chinese businesses operating in Cambodia. He hopes that, one day, he can turn from a fan of China into an old China hand.

Kim Leng says he may stay in China for a while, but he will go back to Cambodia eventually. With his educational experience in Beijing and language advantages, he hopes to teach Chinese at a Cambodian university or help people speaking different languages communicate with each other.

“China is a major developing country,” he says with a strong air of confidence. “Many Chinese enterprises have set up offices in Cambodia, and the two countries have frequent trade cooperation. Teaching Chinese will have great development potential.”

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