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Published: October 17th 2011
It’s wedding season in Phnom Penh. For the last week we have listened the festivities taking place in celebration of a couple of newly-weds as they pitched a great tent behind our house which has barricaded the whole street this past seven days. These billowing structures have sprouted like weeds around Phnom Penh. Usually florescent, always noisy. Some containing as many as 1,000 guests! We’ve been learning things re: Cambodian Wedding Tradition, in dribs and drabs from our Khmer friends and students. For example, as we passed a “smaller” wedding in the province yesterday Soriya told us how the music playing at that time indicated how the wedding party were acting out the cutting of the bride’s hair.
So, it is early morning as I sit in bed writing this now, sweating and itching sat under mosquito net and fan. (Both the heat and mosquitoes have been unbearable lately!) The chanting has begun again outside and there is no hope of me getting back to sleep...
But then Phnom Penh is noisy regardless of nuptial revelry. At the end of the street we have a karaoke bar from which the whole neighbourhood is treated nightly to the vocal talents
of local party goers. I’ve become accustomed to it now; maybe I’ll even miss it when I’m gone. Maybe. Then there is the "Car-Horn Orchestra of P.P." This I will probably never warm to, but it’s a cultural difference you have to accept. In England we beep and what we are trying to say is “expletive of choice”
, but in Cambodia they are declaring “here I come”
. It’s a driving method
here rather than an aggressive insult as it is in Europe. But no matter the intent, it’s bloody noisy!
The racket and congestion of any city takes its toll in due course, and we all need a little respite from the city. So this weekend we took a bus with friends, both “barang”
and Khmer, to Takeo Province.
Takeo Province is the ancestral home to many of our students (and apparently the birthplace of Cambodia itself), for this reason they will often revisit their “homeland”, either to visit family or to worship at the pagoda, so we had previously heard of how beautiful and “full of natural things” this place is. My students (all adults) were even impressed to learn that Teacher would be visiting Phnom Chiso;
a small mountain with 900 year old ruins, as this place attracts little tourism.
It took just over an hour to reach Phnom Chiso, the final fifteen minutes causing probable dislocation of major joints as we were brutally rattled along a potholed dirtrack. We passed by school children riding push bikes and wearing crisp white shirts, rice fields and stilted homes, the walls of which were made from woven palm leaves rather than boards, for the simple reason that there just aren’t enough trees in the area for timber. Through the windows we saw pink lotus growing out of coffee-coloured water. “The lotus is a symbol of Buddhism,” we were told, “Because the lotus is beautiful and it grows in places where the land is very bad. It grows out of mud”.
On reaching our destination we got out of the hot bus and were greeted only by the hot, hot sun. This side of the mountain was lucky to have escaped the severe flooding that has affected so much of Cambodia, and the whole of South East Asia presently, killing many. Even in Phnom Penh the riverside has been constantly under threat of submersion. From the top
we could see the provisional lake forming on the other side.
At the base of the mountain was a few sellers. The local people we encountered were curious but friendly; posing for photographs, observing, telling us how we have very big noses... The usual. The sellers were mostly preparing food, although there were no potential customers to be seen. I watched as a man killed, plucked and hacked up a chicken, which is a testimony to how far I’ve progressed in “life” generally. Two years ago I’d have been aghast.
The ascent consisted of 500 steps. We sweated, profusely, but again this is something we are slowly becoming accustomed to. I’m sure this will be prove embarrassing back in England when we’re dripping with sweat and don’t think to mop our faces immediately. Then again, we’ll probably freeze back in England anyway... So! Our convoy carried a picnic to the top of Phnom Chiso (“Phnom” meaning mountain in Khmer) where we sat under wooden shelters on straw mats or in hammocks. A considerable sized monkey joined us for lunch, sitting by us casually. He became the mascot of the day, never more than a few meters away (especially
if you happened to be drinking a Coke, thus we came to the conclusion that said monkey must be a coke addict... Oh, how we laughed!). He would even snuggle up beside us.
After lunch we walked around the ruins which date back to the 11th century, around the same time as Ankgor Wat but on a much smaller scale (apparently, though we have still yet to visit). From the hill it was still possible to see the original stairway and a very long road through Takeo Province. The temples consisted of an outer wall, still largely preserved, which created an inner corridor around the front of the complex. Inside, some of the small temples were crumbling but it was possible to go inside two of those that were remaining. First you had to take of your shoes then wash your hands and feet in a small stone trough before entering. Once inside we kneeled before the alter and with incense in our hands, bowed three times before praying or “making a wish”, as we had been previously instructed. Next we spoke to an elderly man who would tell us our fortune. The instrument he used to aid his
clairvoyance was simple; a length of string with a collection of cards attatched to one end and a stick on the other. We placed the cards on our heads and separated them with the stick before passing them back to be interpreted. I went first and our friend Lakhina translated, “because you are good people will help you and anything you want you can have”. Vague. But at least it was positive! I won’t put too much stock into this “prediction” however; as all four of us were told that we could have all we wanted... We’ll see what the future holds.
Afterwards we spent some time relaxing in the shade. The views from the top were spectacular! The landscape was so flat and green, disturbed only by an occasional gathering of four or five timber-framed houses composing a small village. The countryside so quiet it was almost deafening in comparison to raucous Phnom Penh. And still. Slow. Peaceful...
On the way home we drove through a village in which the women spin and weave silk. We stopped at a home and asked if we could come through and observe. The family was happy to show us. The
grandmother’s teeth were dyed black due to ancient ritual and her hands stained blue from years working in the silk trade. She wore her gray hair shaved close to her head and a traditional wrap around skirt. It was a provilledge to be allowed into her home.
After a wonderful day, I was well prepared for another hectic week in the city.
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