Its Khmer New Year this week. I look forward to it with a mixed feelings. On the one hand, Sihanoukville becomes insanely busy for the entire week and I hate it when I have to go into town. On the other hand, we always go to some wats and have a great family day out. Yesterday we went to two wats. Both of them are out near Virh Rienh, where my Cambodian family lived when I met them.
Neither of the wats we went to this year are big ones. They are both tucked away in semi-rural areas and cater primarily to the poorer locals. These are my favourite wats because what they lack in sophistication, they more than make up for in atmosphere. The photo at left is of the first one we went to.
The photo on the right is of an interesting little mini-temple just behind it. The guy with the beard holding the staff is some sort of saint who lives in the jungle. He has the power to heal and is said to even be able to raise the dead. This guy is fascinating to me because of a story Sopheak told me about when she was living alone in the jungle. She slashed the back of her ankle on a piece of shrapnel. A “nyetah” (hard to define – sort of like a shaman) came and taught her how to treat it. It was a fairly complicated procedure involving mud, spider’s webs and bird eggs. When I mentioned how lucky she was to have met such a wise man, she looked at me like I was crazy: “Him only come. Then go away.” He was an “hallucination” as we rational Westerners like to say. When I visualize her “hallucination,” he looks a lot like this guy.
The next wat we went to was one we had been to before. I love it because it is on top of a hill and has great views. The big Buddha faces the main road and the rice fields. At his back, where the wat itself is located is just beautiful rolling hills. There is a waterfall and plunge pool somewhere nearby, but doesn’t have water until the rainy season set in.
After going to the wat, we went to the family’s former home in Khmeng Watt, a poor village near Virh Rienh. It was nice to see that the roads had been improved in the village and that many of the houses are quite a bit better than they used to be. I often wonder if taking the family in here in crazy Sihanoukville was a good idea. Yesterday I really thought it was not. Many of the family members have changed since they’ve had a taste of the city and not for the better. I’ll cover that in my upcoming book, tentatively titled, This Could be Heaven, or . . .. For now, I’ll just say that while the day went well, the evening went badly after Papa went out and drank whiskey with some locals.
I don’t want to spoil the New Year cheer with the details. Cambodia can be heaven and it can be hell. It seems to fluctuate wildly between both extremes.