Our Khmer New Year

Khmer New Year is a holiday I dread and look forward to in equal measures. I dread it because our neighbour starts celebrating about a week early and plays loud music for about 12 hours straight. I look forward to it because we always go to at least one wat and have a big family dinner or two.

First stop: inside the temple at Wat Samathi

First stop: inside the temple at Wat Samathi

I never really knew why Khmer New Year falls at this time of year. Fortunately, a friend filled me in on Facebook.

It is the end of harvest and it lasts officially 3 days, but 5 days is more common practice. One of the rituals is washing Buddha statues and (grand)parents. That ritual is the origin of the water throwing. Thailand and Laos also celebrate new year (Songkran in Thailand), so it is not a specific “Khmer thing”.

He went on to say that “Bonn Chrot Preah Nangkol (Royal Plowing Ceremony) in May marks the start of the rainy season (or end of dry season).

We often go to more than one wat (temple) over Khmer New Year, but I only went to one this year. It happens to be my favourite wat, Wat Samathi. Wat Samathi (same as Samadhi) is near Ream. I like it because it has a trail around a mountain. After we pay our respects in the temple, the kids fortify themselves with ice cream and we start on the short walk around the mountain.

Reclining Buddha

Reclining Buddha

The kids take along a stack of 100 riel notes as offerings along the way. For them, the walk is an opportunity to pay their respects to Buddha and play. They couldn’t resist climbing these tree roots they discovered behind a Buddha statue nestled inside a big rock.

WatSamathi1If you’re in a hurry, you can do the walk in about 10 or 15 minutes, but we took over an hour. The kids found plenty to do and I was content to just enjoy the scenery. Except for the path and the paved areas, they’ve left nature intact and the views are wonderful.

I occasionally go to Wat Samathi just to get out of town. Doing the circuit on a weekday between festivals is wonderful because I’m the only one there. Then I’ll ride out to a restaurant overlooking the water in Ream. It’s a great escape from the city and now I can take a motorbike lane all the way to Ream and not have to worry about getting run off the road by a Lexus or big truck.

Our sojourn was over by about noon. Instead of going home, I took the new road down to Otres and had lunch at Papa Pippo’s. He’s not sure when the bulldozer’s will come (or if), but is continuing as normal until the day arrives. As I enjoyed my meal and the cool sea breezes, Bob Marley’s One Love was playing in the background. It seemed like the perfect song to finish off the day.

I got home at about 2:00 p.m. and had to catch up on some work. Miraculously, the music wasn’t blaring next door. It was a good day.

WatSamathi2

The roots the kids were climbing are behind this Buddha

Easter Sihanoukville Writing Workshop and Visit to Ream

Amazingly, given the fact that we weren’t able to publicise Jan Cornall’s Writing Workshop as well as we would have liked, 12 people turned up for her mini writing workshop and luncheon at Q&A Bookshop in Sihanoukville. Six local Khmers turned up, including a philosophy professor and a poetry prize winning student. A mixed bag of expats and tourists made up the barang contingent. It was a great group and a great workshop.

One of Jan’s reasons for visiting Sihanoukville was to go to the location sets of the 2008 film version of Marguerite Duras’ fascinating biography, The Sea Wall. Fortunately, Erika, of the Starfish Project, knew where it was, since she played as an extra in the film. The French produced film starred Isabelle Huppert and was directed by Cambodian Rithy Panh. I haven’t seen it, but the story sounds amazing. It’s about Duras’ mother’s attempts to grow rice in, I believe, the late 1920s. The problem was that her fields were flooded by sea water every year, ruining her crops. She then borrowed money from Indian lone sharks and hired Chinese labourers to build a sea wall. After a couple of failed attempts, she finally got a crop, only to have it stolen by her workers.

Anyway, check it out yourself or better yet, read the book. The house and restaurant that featured prominently in the film are located in Ream, only about an hour’s drive outside of Sihanoukville. We rented our neighbour’s car after the workshop and took her out there. It was a magical world: so close to Sihanoukville, but so isolated. Sopheak and I have been fantasising about getting the caretaker’s job at the house ever since.

As if that wasn’t enough for one day, afterwards, we went just up the road to Tuk Sap for our evening meal. It was perfect. We were the only customers and as the sun began to set, the gentle breeze, which had been keeping us cool, dropped and the water became as smooth as glass. It was the perfect ending to a great day.

I got so many great pictures yesterday, I think I’ll make a photo album of them.

We also talked with Jan about “my” book and how best to write it. She had the brilliant idea to let Sopheak tell the story in her own words and have me just write it down. I felt kind of dumb for not thinking of that myself, but like all good ideas, they are only obvious after they’re expressed. Having Sopheak be the author solves a lot of problems that have prevented me from getting started, one of them being the lack of authenticity of a third person account.

Now it’s time to get to work.