Thursday, October 2, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Sometimes it takes more than words to say hello

MarionFranckW

By
From page A14 | April 21, 2013 |

It is hard to write a column about a gesture, in this case a gesture that lasts two seconds, but this gesture is one of the most important things to come out of my visit to Cambodia, so I’ll try.

The gesture is called sampeah. It consists of placing your hands together in a prayer-like position and bowing slightly. Used as both a greeting and a gesture of farewell, sampeah resembles gestures from other far-eastern cultures but, as our guide explained, it has Cambodian rules.

The pressure between the hands is softer in Cambodia than what I’ve seen in photos from other countries, and the fingers slightly relaxed. The resulting gesture simulates the shape of the budding lotus, a flower associated with peace, harmony and sacred practice in Cambodia.

To greet people of your own age and rank, you place your palms together at chest level, but as respect rises, so do your hands.

Elders should be greeted with your fingertips at mouth level, parents and teachers at nose level, and the king and monks at eyebrow level. Prayer to God or sacred statues should be preceded with sampeah at forehead level and a deeper bow.

When someone greets you with sampeah, you respond with sampeah, too.

————

I first regularly encountered sampeah in Siem Reap, the third largest city of Cambodia, which we visited in order to see the giant ancient temples at Angkor Wat.

Our hotel, the Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra, was contemporary and met upscale tourist expectations. It had food to please the western palate, staff who spoke our language and accommodations that anyone would call comfortable.

But it was the detail about sampeah that fascinated me. Someone had clearly chosen to instruct the staff, all Cambodian, to greet us using their national gesture, not ours. Every time we approached the restaurant, met a waiter, or had a staff member hold a door open for us, that person would begin with sampeah.

Although I quickly learned to wait an extra second before saying “hello,” I didn’t copy the gesture at first. I was afraid I’d get my hands wrong. I know there are many Americans who make a sampeah-like gesture when greeting each other, perhaps learned from Buddhism, but I had never done it.

By the second day, however, I tried.

I found it magical. The two seconds it takes to put your hands together and nod also give you time to focus on the person you are greeting. It is impossible to be pre-emptory, dismissive or curt when you’re looking into someone’s eyes. Instead, you become mindful of the other person.

I would take the person in, see their smile and smile back. Most of the time I probably got the height of my hands wrong (I was older than everyone on staff. Where was I supposed to hold my hands?) but it didn’t matter. We had a moment of connection, and I liked it.

With time, I noticed subtleties, such as the fact that the gesture is performed more slowly in conditions of high respect (such as sampeah to a monk). I also observed that each person’s sampeah has subtle personal characteristics, meaning that sampeahs vary just like handshakes do.

When our group was taken to a temple for a blessing by Buddhist monks, we were instructed to use the most respectful level of sampeah and to sit, heads lowered, on the floor for several minutes. This felt surprisingly comfortable, not as if I were violating my own religious practice, but rather as if I was trying something new.

Three monks sat in front of us, chanting. At the end, when they showered us with handfuls of tiny jasmine buds, I indeed felt blessed.

————

Cambodia itself, however, has not been blessed. On the contrary, its recent history is horrifying, especially the genocide of 1975-79 that wiped out more than a quarter of the population. In recent years, Cambodia has begun to rise economically, despite a repressive government, as exemplified by our hotel.

Almost every staff member was younger than 30. These young people were born after the genocide and they are starting over, changing everything. They have learned English (and often French), and they know how to please tourists. They preserve their national gesture of greeting and teach it by example to us.

Every time I entered the hotel, I felt as if we were watching a people arise and take care of themselves. Their gesture of sampeah became emblematic for me of their grace and spirit.

I felt peace each time I put my hands gently together. I also picked up a sense of the pride of the person I was acknowledging. I felt welcomed and, at the same time, called to show respect. All that from two hands together.

————

A couple of weeks after I got home, I went to a memorial event in Davis attended by many elderly people. One of them was Pat Allen, a dear friend in her late 80s, a person I respect enormously but see infrequently.

When Pat walked in, we couldn’t talk because the ceremony was in progress, so we greeted each other with a smile, a nod and a silent mouthing of “hello.” And then, to my astonishment, my hands came together and I leaned forward in sampeah.

It just felt right.

— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at marionf2@gmail.com

Comments

comments

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

     
    Sunder wants to expand opportunities for all

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A1

     
    At Davis intersections, let’s be careful out there

    By Kim Orendor | From Page: C2 | Gallery

     
    Sunder supporters gather on Sunday

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

    Trokanski discusses new project on ‘Davisville’

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

     
    Learn more about Boy Scouts during upcoming events

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A3

    Third-graders face high-stakes reading targets

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A3

     
    Learn how to ride a bike in Davis

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Feinstein, Boxer depend on red-leaning Senate races

    By San Francisco Chronicle | From Page: A3

     
    Gallery hosts poetry night

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

    Oktoberfest features Grand Isle Fire Brigade

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Archer event set for Sunday

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Per Capita: Tales from the back burner

    By John Mott-Smith | From Page: A4

     
    Sunflower power at the Winters Community Library

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Tour gives opportunity to watch moonrise in the bypass

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4 | Gallery

     
    UC campuses aim to be more inclusive to LGBT students

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Check out Soroptimists at info night

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Register to vote by Oct. 20

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Helping disabled ag workers stay in agriculture

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Parenting advice on radio show

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Unitrans persists through changing times

    By Lily Holmes | From Page: C6 | Gallery

     
    Up for a fun day trip? Take a bike to Bike Dog

    By Elizabeth Case | From Page: C8 | Gallery

    Volunteers are trained to help with train questions

    By Bob Schultz | From Page: A10 | Gallery

     
    There are plenty of fun activities around town

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: C13 | Gallery

    Getting from here to there by buses, planes and trains

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: C14 | Gallery

     
    .

    Forum

    Feeling shunned after tragedy

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

     
    A true vision for peace

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    Drivers, just follow the rules

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

     
    Let’s fix the park deck

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    ‘Maupin’s Law’ 2.0: Prevention is better than punishment

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

     
    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6

    Choose Archer, Sunder, Adams

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

     
    Barbara Archer for school board

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    Vote for change on board

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

     
    Poppenga considers all students

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    Climate change is coming for you

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

     
    .

    Sports

    Despite 168 points allowed, PSU defense may not be lousy

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Bumgarner, Crawford help Giants slam Bucs

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Cheung paces Devils past Pacers on the pitch

    By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    DHS JV runners shine in varsity events

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2

     
    Youth roundup: Diamonds swing to victories at Vineyard Classic

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery

     
    Sports briefs: DHS girls tennis goes three for three

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B8

    .

    Features

    Davis robotics team pays it forward

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A7 | Gallery

     
    .

    Arts

    Natsoulas to host mural conference

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9

     
    Wineaux: Picking the last rosé of summer

    By Susan Leonardi | From Page: A9

    Odd Fellows to screen classic Westerns

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

     
    Robbie Fulks will visit ‘Live in the Loam’ on KDRT

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

    Old Macs get new life at art exhibit

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

     
    Woodland Opera House rounds up cowboy poetry, music

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

    Music for brass, choir and organ set at DCC

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

     
    .

    Business

    .

    Obituaries

    .

    Comics

    Comics: Thursday, October 2, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: B6