Cambodians, especially in the rural areas, are a rather superstitious lot. Their world is full of spirits good and bad and there are certain omens and charms to be called upon. Some of these ideas come from the Chinese. Often the number 168 is displayed in shops and situations calling for good luck and good fortune. This practice comes from the Cantonese language. If the numbers one, six, eight are pronounced in Cantonese, they sound like the sentence “One path to prosperity” so the number is posted quite prominently on vehicles, buildings, etc.
I made a mistake yesterday. I was thinking tomorrow (Friday) is New Year’s Day, but it is actually today, Thursday. Going to church for Holy Week there are few people on the streets. They have all gone to their home provinces. The stores are closed with just their new year decorations and signs still up–and a couple ladies arranging lotus blossoms.
There is a special flower arrangement that is a required part of the decorating for the Khmer New Year, April 14-16 this year. Click here to see the sellers and buyers along a busy Phnom Penh street.
This is the curse of Cambodia—tents set up in the street, blocking the street–for a funeral or wedding celebration. It’s a carry over from previous generations when everyone lived in the rural areas, and for large gatherings, tents were set up for the ceremony and accompanying meal. Loudspeakers were used to broadcast the goings-on to literally everyone within a half-mile radius.
When the tent was set up in a field next to the rural family home, no problem. But the tent and loudspeaker custom was brought to the city. This morning the neighbor’s dogs started barking at 7:00 AM, continuously. When I left to go to mass at 8:30 AM, I found the dogs were barking at the crew setting up this wedding tent in front of the dogs’ home.
When I got home and ate lunch, the party started. The Buddhist monks were chanting at full volume, continuously. Our Maryknoll office is the building behind the rounded gate, at the front of the tent, so we were able to hear every word even without the speaker system which enabled the whole neighborhood to hear it.
Do I think anyone wanted to hear the monks chanting their prayers? No. It’s just noise. Neighbors here are not neighborly. Our neighbors have never said one word to us. We have no idea who got married. It is extremely rare that any of us at Maryknoll go out our gate when neighbors are coming or going through their gates. The result is amplified noise (holy noise) blasting throughout the afternoon in addition to a tent blocking traffic in increasingly congested streets. Not a good scenario.
[I recorded the Buddhist chanting because it’s so distinctive but my phone hides the audio files–they’re not where the manual says they are–and I could not upload the chant here.]
Cambodia has a strong relationship with its trees. Most of the population still cooks using charcoal in open pottery braziers. Heavy wooden stylized furniture is an affirmation of a family’s status or the viability of a company. In the colonial days beautiful tree-lined boulevards graced Phnom Penh. Today much of the urban glory provided by the trees is gone but there are still glimpses in some parts of the city.