The third day of the new year traditionally is focused on honoring statues of Buddha but there was not much sign of that in Phnom Penh. Maybe it was taking place in the provinces. Probably later tonight we will see real traffic jams as the hundreds of thousands of people start returning to the city.
This new year celebration is not like most through the years because two of the three days fall on a weekend. In the past the government would give an extra day for that but they have abolished that practice. One aspect that is the same as previous years is the much emptied city. Here are some pictures of Phnom Penh today.
It’s not only the local Cambodians who have abandoned Phnom Penh. Many, many of the expatriates here have followed the locals on to the highways for a long holiday weekend for the Khmer New Year. Today, the first day of the new year, we saw attendance at our Saturday evening mass down a great deal.
The official new year celebration starts tomorrow but many (most?) people have already taken off from work and the city has largely emptied out. Still there was plenty to do for the people who stayed behind. Click here to see some of the new year’s eve scenes.
April13-15 is the official Khmer New Year but the deaf people will go to their home provinces then so there was a new year celebration today at the Deaf Development Programme office in Phnom Penh. Click here to see the activities.
Yesterday it was 93ºF in Phnom Penh, I believe, and this young woman was waiting at the light beside me. Notice the sweatshirt with the hood up under the helmet, the gloves, even socks with her sandals. And all the other women are like her, all bundled up to avoid the sun and dark skin.
Cambodia is a mix of cultures in some ways. Look at this street sign. First of all, the modern-type of highway sign for controlled access roads contrasts mightily with the chaos of Phnom Penh streets with their thousands of motorbikes, cars, food carts, bicycles, and pedestrians, each going his own way and doing his own thing. Then there is a mixture of languages on the sign: Khmer script and English language script. And beyond the Charles de Gaulle Blvd name, there is the French spelling of “Tchecoslovaquie” for Czechoslovakia. And then there is the KFC culture imposed over everything else. The Kingdom of Wonder….
Mobile noise is a nuisance but at least it moves on, out of range. Some established stores also set up speakers at the front of the store, but again it’s only a short-term irritation because usually the people are moving past the stores. Click here to see some examples of the stores with speakers.
Cambodia is a very noisy place, hard for many expats to adjust to. Click here to see one form of noise pollution, the sound trucks that cruise the streets.
There are about 125 killing fields in Cambodia, actual fields where the Khmer Rouge took people to execute and bury them in mass graves. There is a large killing field near Phnom Penh and it is a place that the tour groups all go–and they should.
Many skulls of the victims are stacked in a large memorial stupa on the grounds of the killing fields. Around the stupa are large, weathered pits were the bones were dug up.
Some of the clothing of the victims has also been collected and is displayed on a wooden platform on one level of the stupa. It looks like it was probably washed but is otherwise just in a pile as part of the permanent display. And along the paths among the burial pits, more bones and articles of clothing keep working their way up to the surface.
Only a small portion of the clothing from those executed is on display. Much more is kept in a warehouse and up to now has just remained there untended. Now, though, through a program funded by the US Ambassador, Julia Brennan (R) from Textile Conservation Services, assisted by Jackie, a graduate student from the University of Delaware, will sort, analyze, and preserve the stored clothing for posterity as another reminder of the Khmer Rouge era.
Today Julia and Jackie were part of the weekly Maryknoll Cambodia gathering in Phnom Penh.