A few months before his coronation in 2004, King Norodom Sihamoni resigned from his post of Cambodian ambassador to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, a role he had been playing since August 1993 at Unesco’s headquarters in Paris.
Since then, the King has still kept contact with the organization.
Two to three times a year, he meets with Unesco staff to be kept abreast of their activities, said Teruo Jinnai, Unesco’s representative to Cambodia.
“It’s an open discussion,” he said. “Each time we talk, I’m impressed with his profound knowledge of the arts and culture, and of religion. You don’t have to explain: he knows.”
In addition, Jinnai said, “If we have some significant events, I invite King Sihamoni and he comes. I think this is exceptional.”
In January, the King attended a performance given by the China Disabled Persons’ Performing Art Troupe for the delegates of 12 countries who were attending in Phnom Penh the Regional Workshop on Inclusive Education in Asia—the troupe had been invited by Unesco.
But the extent of King Sihamoni’s support for the arts and culture was especially apparent on a rainy day two years ago at a ceremony for Unesco’s Buddhist Sangha project.
“We have this project to support young [Buddhist] monks,” Jinnai said. “Many Cambodians become monks when they are 15 or 16 years old as they are poor and don’t go to school. After one or two years of monkhood, they have no place to go, no jobs. So we have created this project to give vocational and literacy training to those young monks while they are at pagodas.”
The training, which is offered in Siem Reap town and in Phnom Penh, includes pagoda mural painting and wood carving.
The official inauguration of the project in Phnom Penh took place in May 2006. “I invited the King,” Jinnai said. “The King came and it was pouring rain: He was soaking wet.” But the King kept on with the ceremony, smiling and shaking hands while rainwater dropped from his suit in spite of the umbrella an attendant was trying to keep him dry with, Jinnai said.
Unesco’s responsibilities also include managing the secretariat of the International Coordinating Committee of Angkor, the committee of international donor and government representatives overseeing the Angkor archeological park.
King Sihamoni sends his representative Oum Weachiravuth to all the ICC meetings, Jinnai said.
After the meetings, an ICC delegation presents its report to the King during an audience, he said.
“After the report has been presented, the King replies,” Jinnai said, adding that his informed comments make it obvious that he is being briefed by his ICC representative.
“[The King] is well aware…He picks up some examples and will mention, ‘I understand there is such and such things that you may be working on.’ So it’s a very polite way of, maybe, asking questions,” he added.
Jinnai recalls then-Prince Sihamoni’s visit to Unesco’s office in Phnom Penh in 2003. A village silk weaver from a project supported by Unesco happened to be at the office and spontaneously presented the prince with one of her silk kramas.
“The way he talked to her, so natural, with a smile,” Jinnai said.
“The way the King talks to people, without ulterior motives—to me, this is very impressive,” he added.
The Cambodia daily