Khmer New Year

For all its drive to be a UN-named “moderate income”country and despite all the high-rise buildings and new international airports, Cambodia is still an old-style rural homeland. 85% of the people are farmers and even the city dwellers all went back to their home provinces this week for the Khmer New Year. And there they played the traditional new year games and had the traditional new year dances just like they have for centuries. In that regard, not much has changed. [Photos are from the Khmer Times.]

This is a game similar to duck-duck-goose. Can you imagine your neighborhood getting together for a game like this on January 1st? Can you even imagine your neighbors getting together?
A tug-0-war is a traditional new year game!
And so is the Cambodian version of the pinata.

Khmer New Year

Today was the last day of the Khmer New Year holiday, an extra day added to the official three days because they fell on a weekend. I was surprised that almost everything remained closed.

This is the ABA bank which is probably the most used bank in Cambodia because they so aggressively got stores to accept smartphone payments. Every place you go has an ABA QR code on display. I went by this branch today just to check to see if they were open because they are a bit different from other banks. They don’t keep banking hours! They are open 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM six days a week! Unheard of, in my experience! (Note table with red cover holding food and drink offerings for the spirits on this holiday.)

Khmer New Year

As with any major national celebration in any country, the Khmer New Year has several practices and rituals that are considered part of the event. One practice in Cambodia for the new year is the erecting of some sort of traditional rural display that harkens back to the kingdom’s ancient roots.

This financial institution has a rather prominent display outside their main office. Featured items are traditional music instruments, fish traps, straw hats, wooden tools.
Outside a resort hotel in Phnom Penh is this display focused on hats worn by field workers and different types of woven baskets.
The girls vocational school where I have mass on Monday mornings went for a scaled-down display with just a few sections of the knotted palm branches that are used to make roofs.

Khmer New Year

The Khmer New Year will be celebrated April 13, 14, and 15, and so today is New Year’s Eve. It’s a bit late to be shopping for your roast pig for the new year dinner, but if you don’t have it yet, you better get moving.

What? Me, hot?

The last few days have seen the temperature at 100ºF. It is really hot in the deaf offices where we don’t have air conditioning. Heat is a relative entity for people here, though. Notice these two young women dressed in moderately heavy jackets, long pants, even gloves–and never even thinking that it’s hot!

Aesthetics–not yet

Cambodia likes to promote itself as an emerging mid-level income country rather than a least developed country, but the indications of development here are to a large degree a facade or veneer. Not much has changed for most of the country although the cities seem to bustle. In this environment, survival still takes precedence over artistic and cultural skills and values. If it works is much more important than how it looks.

An example of this is the wi-fi installation in the main corridor of our new building. The router, power supply, splitters, and the cables are all out in public view rather than hidden away or covered.

Still around…

The Lunar New Year (aka Chinese New Year) was February 10th but many homes and businesses still have their decorations on display.

These chrysanthemums are still holding up pretty well.

This store went for a more formal display and maybe they’re keeping the decorations up to feel they’re getting their money’s worth out of them.
Many smaller shops still have some decorations but for many of them I suspect it is due to inertia; no one has told the staff to take them down.

Untidy is OK

Aesthetics is not a prominent concern in Cambodia. Much of daily life is still focused on survival and so details like cleanliness, order, discipline get ignored. An example is this installation of our wi-fi router at the Deaf Development Programme. This was a new building and the installation could have been placed anywhere and taken any shape. The final result on the main corridor of our building is what is easiest and most accessible rather than might look best.