One of the pioneer bloggers in the Kingdom, Kounila Keo is the author of blueladyblog.com. Seth Emmanuel Rinoza finds out what motivates Keo to write. Photo by Conor Wall.
Kounila Keo was born with a mindset to share her opinions. With a passion for education, politics, press freedom and culture, the 23-year-old pursues a mission to address her fellow Cambodians, with honest intentions of using her words to help her homeland. According to Keo, blueladyblog.com is also her way of showing Cambodia to the world.
Besides running the blog, Keo serves as a reporter for Agence France Presse and a senior writer for LIFT, a supplement produced by the Phnom Penh Post. She has been a participant in numerous writing conferences and workshops all over the world, including a recent two-month workshop on Multimedia and Online Journalism in Germany.
Keo talks about the roots of her writing crusade and how she wants her writing to impact Cambodian society.
What triggered you to start writing? Why is blogging your medium of choice?
I attended journalism school in 2006 and fell in love with writing to inform people. Then, I tried to find a personal medium that would allow me to express my feelings and opinions on certain things. I started to blog in late 2006 because I had so many things in mind that I needed to let other people know. When you live in a quite-conservative society like Cambodia, all you want to do is talk out loud.
[Blogging] gives us freedom to talk or express ourselves, which we can’t easily do in reality.
Besides, blogging makes you a self-publisher because every time you blog a certain post, you become an author. Who says that we have to go to any publishing house or media these days to publish our words?
Why do you write in English?
That’s a good question. When I started blogging, Khmer Unicode wasn’t widely available. And just writing a short post in Khmer Unicode for the first time was time-consuming, so I decided to write in English. However, now if I were to be given a choice whether to write in English or Khmer, I’d go for English because I want my words to reach a larger audience. Not just in Cambodia but the world over. This is my personal choice, and lately I’ve seen a lot of Khmer blogs that delight me. Many young Cambodians read and write more and that’s all that counts now. When they feel they want their voice to be heard by more people, English or any other dominant language will help.
What do you think is the current state of the blog culture in Cambodia? What are some other Khmer-run blogs you know of?
It’s a growing trend, though only those who have access to the Internet [can] write and read blogs. There are many kinds of blogs in Cambodia: personal, political, and travelling blogs. Now I can see that there’s a trend among Cambodian youth to blog in Khmer. Some main blogs are tharum.com/blog (known for being the first to blog in Cambodia) and rainnamail.wordpress.com, owned by a female Khmer blogger who also publishes her own short stories.
How do you choose what to write about?
I write when I feel sad or happy about a certain thing. The reason I want to write about my feelings is that my living environment isn’t friendly enough for me to express them in person. Right now I’ve focused more on my travelling experience and work, so most of the things that have been posted lately are about my travel and journalism articles. I want to make my friends believe that travel enriches one’s mind, and to inspire them to travel as well. I’ve received a lot of comments through my blog, email and Facebook from friends who say, “I want to travel like you, and I will do so.”
Why do you think writing is important? What impact do you want your writing to have on Khmer society?
Writing lets you know the depths of your thoughts. I’ve heard from friends and my family members that Cambodians rarely question themselves about what they do or think. I want to think more, write more and speak more. I don’t want Cambodians to be considered “subservient” or “submissive” to other people. From my personal experience, when we write more, we tend to think more. And when we think enormously, our society becomes more intellectual and starts to question its ability and status quo.
There are often risks involved in voicing out opinions. Have you had to take any risks?
Yes, there will always be certain risks involved because as always, there are groups of elites who want to suppress the majority and keep them under their control. I don’t think I have had to take any risks at all because expressing one’s opinions should be a right, not a privilege, in Cambodian society.
What have you learned from attending regional and international blogger conventions and workshops?
I’ve been exposed to the technical skills [of blogging] and a huge network of bloggers from all around the world at those workshops/conventions. I’ve learnt that, anywhere, the need to speak out is shared among humankind.
What is your message to Cambodian youth who aspire to be writers?
Keep reading and writing. Find your own voice in any medium of choice. It can be a blog or a diary, a newspaper or a book. More importantly, never accept the status quo.