At the end of 2015, our team heard that there was an old man who knew how to play the “Phloy” in the Areng area of Koh Kong province. I always heard what my friends kept telling me. We believed it was true because we often heard people talking about it. About three days later, we decided to go to Areng to find him. At that time, the road was very bad and the area was not developed yet. We could not bring the car all the way to the village because the road was slippery and very muddy, causing a lot of damage to our car. When we reached Thmar Bang, the last town we could reach by car, we continued to Areng by motorbike taxi, even though it was raining. However, once we arrived, we still struggled to get to see the old man who played phloy. The road was very dangerous, but we finally got there at 9 or 9:30 at night without having eaten anything.
Our journey at that time seemed very risky because we didn’t know in advance what the situation was like. We questioned the villagers about the old man, and the villagers always told us, “I know, I know…”. For me, I was hopeful we would find him, but it seemed increasingly unlikely as I only saw hand drums and “Tro Sor” in the community, which were not the instruments we were looking for.
I waited there for two nights and three days. I did not know where to go next, because it was all forest and we only heard the sound of animals crying. Also, it was the rainy season and there were lots of forest leeches. I still couldn’t find him. I was desperate and thought I wouldn’t be able to meet him before we had to leave. I told the team that if we still could not find him that night and no villagers could bring him to meet us or bring us to see him, I would decide to return to Phnom Penh immediately.
However, it seemed like the most coincidental thing when I was riding the motorbike taxi back, I kept talking to the driver who lived in the area and asked him about the “Phloy”. He replied, “It may be that instrument I know… I will take you to that place.” At that time, I had no hope at all, because it was time for us to be heading back. The village where we stayed was about 30 kilometers from the Areng River. Upon returning to the Areng River, we decided to cross the river on a boat towed by a rope. In my heart I had no hope, but we’d gotten this far, so we needed to keep going.
Upon arriving, I met his wife first. I was even more hopeless because I did not see the old man, but only his wife. She spoke to me in the Chong indigenous language, calling me up to her house. At that time, I told her, “I am an artist. I want to listen to music, and I am from Phnom Penh…”. Suddenly, Duong Nhek, the old man, came out and said that he did not know the “Phloy” and did not know how to play it. He spoke very slowly, and I talked to him about why we were there. I noticed that he did not seem to trust us at all, because in his eyes, we were outsiders—people from the city. In this midst of this seemingly desperate situation, his wife suddenly said to me, “Yes! 5,000 riels per song.” When I heard this, I immediately got my hope back and knew that he knew how to play it for sure. I immediately agreed to her request and said, “Then please play me two or three songs … I will give you the money.” Then he walked into the house and came out with an instrument. It was at that moment that everyone saw the “Phloy” musical instrument with their own eyes.
When I realized that it was the “Phloy”, I was so excited. I was practically floating I was so happy because we had been in the forest for two nights and had lost all hope of meeting him. Especially when we saw the instrument in his house through the door frame… I was really delighted. His wife told him to play the instrument for us… The whole team was very happy because it was the last day before we had to go back to Phnom Penh, but we had finally met him at last.
The feeling of hearing the sound of the “Phloy” in my ears for the first time seemed to be a magical remedy to cure us of all the tiredness and bad weather of those last few days, and we couldn’t stop smiling the at the sound of the instrument.
When he finished playing for us, he told us that he did not know how to make this instrument. But we told him, “Now we’re sure you can really play and can even make this instrument.” Finally, he confessed to us that he really knew how to play and also make the “phloy”. In return for his song, I sang for him, and he smiled at us…
When it was time to go back, we said goodbye to him, not forgetting to tell him, “We will be back to see you again.” But he didn’t believe it. He told us, “I don’t believe people from the city! They tell me they will come back, but I’ve never seen anyone come back.” I also told him, “Please don’t believe me right now, but I will show you the truth when I return…”
We said goodbye to him and crossed back over the river. On the way, we got stuck again on the road, about an hour before reaching the national highway. We had to push and drag the car… until our car finally was able to clear that area of the road. When we returned, our car was badly damaged. When I reached an area where phone service was available, I immediately called my mother. She was very angry with me because I had been missing for 2 nights and 3 days. She had no clue where I was going and she couldn’t reach me by phone. Beforehand, I hadn’t known that there was no phone service in the area. That journey was really risky, but fruitful.
• Chapter 2. The “Phloy” class started »
• Chapter 3. The “Phloy” in the village »
• Chapter 4. The “Phloy” outside the village »
• Chapter 5. Sound of “Phloy” »
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