‘Wats’ in Cambodia Day 124: Khmer New Year Celebration

Today I finally slept in. I slept in like a forty year old guy living in his mom’s basement without the slightest emphasis to get up and moving. What an incredible feeling for the first time in I can’t even remember. From there I got a fancy lunch of veggies and bean curd aka tofu at White Rose (how proper can a place get with a name like that) for $3. Within the restaurant I began my siesta to avoid the midday strokes of heat, before hunting down a bus ticket to Phnom Penh for tomorrow afternoon. Legitimately I lucked out with the limited options on hand thanks to the three day holiday. Knowing that I couldn’t sit around and be a bum all day despite the appeal, I began walking to tour Battambang beyond the familiar central market. With its heritage and history as a French colonial town, the city has enough sites worth viewing if you care to dig deep. I strolled the entirety of 2.5 street known for its two level French shophouses on both sides of the street. Despite the spooky silence during the dead of the afternoon, I felt like I was going down a side street in New Orleans (maybe with the trash on the ground it seemed like the morning after a poor man’s Mardi Gras) with the similarly lined architecture and second floor balconies. In one modern temple all too myself, I found some neat artwork worth admiring on the inner walls as it detailed some stories of Buddha during his life before and during his time as Buddha himself. At the far dead end of 2.5 street I found a scene I still need pictures and videos to believe and attempt to explain. On the grounds with in a temple complex, a festival was occurring but that word doesn’t justify it quite right. Before I delve into all this, let me first begin with food as all truly good stories begin. For the first time in my life, I ate grilled eggs. In sets of three, eggs were bludgeoned from top to bottom with a thin wooden kebab-style stick and grilled whole. Upon removing all the bits of shell, the egg looks like a boiled egg with char marks but the flavors are not so simply done. With some hot chili and garlic sauce at my side to dip, I ate these oblong delicacies with the smokiness only a grill could create. Now back to the festival. Although not as large as the Songkran Featival in Thailand, kids were having a water fight using tied up bags of water and tiny water guns. More than anything else, the sound that reverberated from the speakers could not be mistaken. They played funky electronic remix music with lyrics that I swear said f$&@ over and over again. Clearly either I am deaf or they have no idea what this probable American music is saying. Since next to no white people were around, I enjoyed the exclusivity of that moment. Sure enough, my lazy Sunday could not be helped as I went back to the guesthouse for some more R n R until the day edged closer to sunset. Once again I walked around the market (as a foodie, I can’t get enough of it) and after completing my ritualistic lap around I stopped by the night market in its early stages of prepping for the night and what seemed like a concert stage. I ate a dirt cheap bowl of noodle soup before grabbing myself an avocado mango shake. After taking a prime photo of the sun setting just over the city skyline and the market itself, I walked over to the other side of the river to explore more street stalls and generally broadened my wings to delve further into the city. The city is indeed large but with it being so spread out it has never felt too crowded or overwhelming. Walking across the street is like an amateur Frogger game but then again who knows the pace and energy of the city outside the New Year time frame. Back on the other side of the river, I saw the ‘concert’ really starting to rev up. I am not sure who taught the Asian people how to dance but it looks a bit awkward to the Western eye. Their movements are simple with a little shuffling of the feet while the hands spin and wave as if they are ready to morph into a bird ready to fly. It is traditional dance for them but when you see twenty year old girls doing it on stage it feels kind of out of place. My eyes were glued to the stage as my ears heard the woman singer squawk to the masses (sorry, no disrespect to Asian woman but in their native language it simply sounds dreadful to pull a Simon Cowell). Out of nowhere amidst dedicated attention to whatever you might call was occurring on stage, a woman slapped me on the arm to get my attention to have me take the open seat next to her. With an ‘aw khon’ I joined her and her cute little daughter dressed in her pretty purple dress. This girl took a liking to me as I smiled, waved, and even winked in her direction while she peeked around the shadow of her mother with the cutest sly smile radiating despite her shyness. Fireworks burst and cracked above us to add to the spectacle. A fair number of people were ‘dancing’ in the open space in front of us so I couldn’t exactly avoid joining them. After a few laps of trying to convince the six or seven year old girl to join me, I got focused and set my sights on dazzling the crowd with my Made in America dance moves. We all danced like the women on stage waving our hands around while shuffling our feet in a forward progressing motion. However, I had to put my own label on the dance by using some exaggerated hand motions and throwing a little more hip into the ensemble. Eventually my talent got noticed as an elderly woman with the spunk of someone a third of her age joined me for a little dance as some of the people around us hooped and hollered on reaction. After the two of us made our audition tape for the next season of ‘Dancing with the Stars’, a middle aged woman wanted to tangle with me as I continued to bust out whatever trick I had left available in the bag. Sadly the song ended with a dance my legs and body weren’t meant for as I was totally out of sync. No matter, making a fool of myself is my operandi. No better fun can be hand when you act a little weird not caring what others think so that you can be yourself. In between broken moves, I tried reeling the purple dressed girl but she clearly wanted to sit back and watch this goofy American from a distance. During the dancing and especially as I put my dancing shoes back into the locker for another day, floating lanterns were being lit before getting pushed off into the sky to join the rest of them that quickly dotted the sky overhead like a bright starry sky. With all the dancing and whatnot I had been getting tired yet chose to complete one more lap around the market. A poor crippled man in a wheelchair that I had passed earlier while toting my avocado shake again begged for me. I have been avoiding giving people money and I will continue to do so but I felt bad knowing how lucky I am to simply be born in America let alone the family and talents I grew up with. Seeing the continued sight of poverty in which people live even those who work hard day in day out for scraps (because they have limited options with their social and economical background) can be downright degrading to the emotional outlook. I passed the man once more but continued thinking about him. As luck or irony would have it, I passed another man in a wheelchair down a side street asking for money by way of his extended cap. I wasn’t going to give him money but a meal felt right. I signaled with the scooping motion up to my mouth to ask him if he wanted to eat and then pointed out down the road to have him lead me to where he would like to eat. He rolled and eventually I pushed him to the market where I paid just $1.50 for a good sized chicken leg for my friend. He couldn’t speak much but he raised his hands together in gratitude. I don’t mean to write this to make myself out as a great person but rather tell a story and reveal how simple of a task it is to make someone’s day. The problem hadn’t been solved and I certainly can’t buy a meal for everyone I see but a little helping hand every once in awhile by each of us can possibly bridge the gap. I left the area a bit better about myself but still with a twinge of sadness at the same time. After winding down for the night from my not so Lazy Sunday, the sandman closed the curtains on yet another full day.

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4 thoughts on “‘Wats’ in Cambodia Day 124: Khmer New Year Celebration

  1. The kindness of breaking bread with your fellow man went much further than if you had just given him the money alone. You fed his soul as well as his body. Life is so much more about who we experience on our journey rather than what we experience.

    “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. …”

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