Khmer New Year–Day 2

On the way to a hospital to get our first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine, the Maryknoll group passed Wat Phnom, the spiritual center of Cambodia. It was decorated for the new year but no one was there because yesterday afternoon the government imposed a lockdown on Phnom Penh with just five or six hours notice.
The government rarely does things simply and clearly. Yesterday they announced that the lockdown would start at midnight. Today the papers said it started at 12:00 April 15th. Was that yesterday midnight or tonight midnight? The police apparently thought it was yesterday midnight because they had streets blocked off when we finished getting the vaccine.

Will the spirits be offended?

Many times over the years Catholics have come to me wondering what to do with old, sometimes damaged, religious objects they no longer want. Maybe it’s just old palm from last year’s Palm Sunday, or maybe it’s a rosary broken into three pieces, or maybe it’s a saint’s statue with the head broken off. All of these things, what the church calls sacramentals, become part of our religious environment. And sometimes they take on a much bigger role, almost like something magical.

For Catholics I’d say just be respectful in a minimalist way. If it’s an old statue, wrap it in an old rag and smash it with a hammer and then put it in the rubbish. That’s better than throwing it out with old watermelon rinds and beer cans after a summer picnic.

The Buddhists seem to have similar qualms and anxieties about disposing of old objects used in Buddhist spirituality, e.g., old spirit houses or holders of various kinds of offerings. Near many wats (Buddhist pagodas), especially on the back side, people dump old spirit houses, household shrines for ancestors, and other devotional objects–not wanting to offend the ancestors or spirits but also wanting to get rid of no longer useful objects.

Language Student’s Nightmare

Quite a few superlatives can be written about Cambodia. One of them is the bane of anyone trying to learn to read and write the Khmer language: The written script has 74 letters and is officially the longest alphabet in the world. Above are some of the letters

The Old New Year

The Lunar (Chinese) New Year was February 12th but there are still plenty of remnants of the holiday decorations still around Phnom Penh. Many stores and other establishments still have their doorway decorations.

The colorful new year flower arrangements are the most perishable of the decorations and many have found their way to the trash, but a surprising number still grace the fronts of stores and homes.

Reunion dinner

Today is New Year’s Eve in the lunar calendar and for the people in the chopsticks countries, the reunion dinner this evening is one of the most important happenings of the year. In non-pandemic times, everyone MUST return home for the meal together.

This is a Khmer-Chinese family next door to the DDP office compound. They are well-to-do by Cambodian standards. As I was going home this afternoon, they were arranging parts of their dinner (the roast pig) and offerings to their ancestors (the paper houses and car and the beer and soft drinks and fruit and incense). And they were well decked out in their traditional red outfits for this glorious night!