I wasn’t a big fan of Valentine’s Day when I came to Cambodia, but wasn’t dumb enough to let my prejudice stand in the way of buying Sophie flowers and a card when the day rolled around a month after my arrival. I was dumb enough, though, to commit the unpardonable sin of throwing the flowers out two weeks later when I got sick of seeing wilted flowers sitting in a vase on our coffee table.
As far as Sophie was concerned, throwing the flowers in the rubbish bin was tantamount to throwing the sentiments behind them in the bin as well. I learned my lesson well. The flowers I bought her this year are standing next to the flowers I gave her last year on the Valentine’s Day display Sophie put together.
I didn’t give her all those gifts. Neither did my male rivals for Sophie’s affection. She and her girlfriends exchange gifts on Valentine’s Day. Cambodians love holidays in general and don’t seem to care where they originate. I’m sure Sophie and her friends don’t know it’s called Valentine’s Day because of a Catholic saint and they certainly don’t know about the day’s origins in ancient Rome. All they know is that it’s a day to celebrate love. They get that it’s about romantic love, but that doesn’t stop them from spreading the love to their friends and family. Yes, even the kids score chocolates and other treats on Valentine’s Day in Cambodia — at least in our little corner of the country they do.
Sophie doesn’t like to wait for gifts she knows she’s going to get anyway, so I went to Psar Leu early yesterday to buy her flowers. Not early enough, apparently, because I had to wait half an hour for the flower vendor to get to my bouquet. By the time I got home, Sophie was already out buying and distributing gifts to her friends, who don’t like waiting any more than she does.
I did something unprecedented last week and reserved a table at Olive & Olive. In the past, reserving a table for dinner at a nice restaurant in Sihanoukville would have been ridiculous even in the high season. Hardly anybody went to them. It’s a good thing I reserved one this year, though. Ours was the only available table when we got there a little after 7 p.m. When we asked for our bill an hour and a half or so later, the owner told us to hang around a little while because a belly dancer was going to perform. I now have the privilege of being one of the few to have watched a Ukrainian belly dancer perform in Sihanoukville, Cambodia on a Valentine’s Day that only comes around once every 100 years (14 Feb 14). Not much to brag about, I know, but I wanted to throw that in somewhere.
Judging from Facebook and Twitter, Valentine’s Day was a big day in Phnom Penh as well as Sihanoukville. One guy posted a bunch of photos on Facebook of the celebrations on the streets of Phnom Penh and someone on Twitter told about the hundreds of college students who donated blood on the day.
More Twitter and Facebook posts from Westerners were against Valentine’s Day than for it. Abby Martin, my favourite news personality and probable recipient of thousands of Valentine’s Day sentiments, wrote: “Happy corporate mass-produced money venture that makes you feel bad for being single aka Valentine’s Day™” and dedicated a segment of her show to the sadomasochistic origins of Valentine’s Day. I shared her sentiments 8 years ago and still would if I lived in the U.S., where it’s just another consumerist orgy, but Cambodia has changed my perspective in a lot of ways.