It did not look like a cultural exchange, at least not at first. It looked like another boy band, the three members strutting their stuff onstage before an admiring teenage crowd.
Then the traditional flutist and two-stringed dro-sao player joined them for a couple tunes. As the young men paid honor to their elders, it was clear this show was different.
Seasia is a trio of Cambodian-Americans from the town of Lowell in the US state of Massachusetts. In only two weeks, the three young men have achieved near-stardom here, appearing twice on television during their tour.
On Friday, they wowed a crowd of about 200 children at the NGO Friends, which helps street children. After the performance they were surrounded by children at once shy and fascinated. One teenager bent close to whisper in performer Sambath Hy’s ear.
“She’s asking me if I could be her boyfriend,” he said.
During the trip, sponsored and organized by Arn Chorn-Pond, a Cambodian-American who seeks to preserve Cambodian cultural heritage, the trio said they saw some of the best and worst Cambodia has to offer. They were awed by Angkor Wat, and disturbed by the massive Stung Meanchey garbage dump and its army of child scavengers.
Two of the singers left Cambodia when they were very young. The third was in his mother’s womb.
Sambath Hy, 24, met half-brothers and half-sisters for the first time.
Tony Ayeth Roun, 23, met a brother he had not seen since he was five, when the family lost track of the brother during their rush to the Thai border. His brother makes a living collecting bamboo from the forest.
“I met him and hugged him. I didn’t know what to do,” Tony Ayeth Roun said of their meeting at a village in Battambang. “It’s weird not to know who your brother is.
“I wanted to ask him how he feels [being left behind]. He’s very wise, very philosophical. He talks a lot about fate and destiny, ” Ayeth Roun said. “I think he’s at a different level than I am.”