This is a conference on inclusive education for children with disabilities sponsored by the NGO Education Program. It brought together this past week a lot of civil society and non-government organizations to look at the situation in Cambodia.
It looks like a normal organization meeting in any hotel in any major city anywhere, but this one had its Cambodian characteristics. Cambodians thrive on noise–loud noise–and they always turn the PA systems up very high–and leave them at that setting. Their technicians do not adjust the volume for each speaker as he or she comes to the podium. The volume stays on high all the time. And then speakers come up and yell into the microphones. If we were in the United States, OSHA would require ear protection for everyone in the room. Here the locals just consider it normal—and it is in this culture. We foreigners consider it painful.
Cambodia is 94% Buddhist and especially outside of the cities there is little understanding of Christianity, and Christmas—which people will have heard of–will be seen as just a western holiday where the foreigners wear Santa Claus costumes and decorate their homes with evergreen trees and lots of ornaments and lights. Christmas is not celebrated throughout the culture at all but most western families and groups will mark the birth of Christ with church services and parties at Christian-based NGOs. Click here to see how the English Catholic community began its Christmas season.
I had an unexpected trip back to the waterfront area today and encountered more preparations for the upcoming Water Festival. Click here to see what’s going on.
Every year the Water Festival takes place at the full moon in November. Approximately two million people come from the provinces to Phnom Penh to race and watch their local boats in the three days of boat races. The festival starts on Thursday but today, Sunday, many people were out preparing for the celebration to come. Click here to see the scenes along the Tonle Sap River.
Last Sunday, before the Pchum Ben holiday began, these people were waiting under the Japanese bridge for vans and trucks to take them to their home provinces. Today is the last day of the official holiday. Do you think all these people will be back at work tomorrow, Friday? Nooooooo….not by a long shot. This year Pchum Ben had the makings of a perfect holiday, with the official celebration on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Well….NO ONE could expect someone to work on Monday before the holiday, could they? And certainly not on Friday after the holiday. So everyone was off Saturday and Sunday before the holidays, the full work week of the holidays, and the Saturday and Sunday after the holidays–nine days off work for a three-day holiday! Not bad, huh?
Last Sunday it was double parking, lots of vendors, and hundreds of people crowding the big wats in Phnom Penh in anticipation of the Pchum Ben rituals.
Now, in the middle of the three-day holiday for Pchum Ben, the wats in Phnom Penh are devoid of people. The locals are, for these days, in their homes and in the wats in the provinces where they grew up. Phnom Penh is largely deserted.
Today is the first of the three days of the official Pchum Ben holiday. Most people have already left town, but there are always some whose departure is delayed by their jobs or other circumstances. This morning here were some of the late-departers cramming themselves and their belongings into an overcrowded van for a trip that can’t be too enjoyable but is just part of life for the majority of the populace who depend on this kind of transport.
Tomorrow is the first day of the three-day public celebration of the Pchum Ben Festival honoring deceased relatives, but prayers and various activities started a week and a half ago. This past Sunday many Cambodian people took the opportunity to visit a wat to make offerings and say prayers for their family who have gone before them in death.