It was Chinese New Year yesterday. Today, mingled with the usual traffic of rickshaws, motos, cars, bicycles and the occasional crazy white Barang like ourselves who choses to walk (imagine!) there are sporadic bursts of Chinese dragon-action in the side streets.
Y. told me yesterday that Cambodia has more public holidays than any other country. In another couple of months it is Cambodian New Year, and more holidays.
Thieu and I have been here for a week now and I'm ready to leave the city and see some of the countryside. It's been a jam-packed week, as they say and there has been much diversity:
-The S-21 prison camp with its displays of torture tools and accompanying photos of the kind of damage they exert.
-The solid silver floors of the Silver Pagoda.
-Riot Police in the main streets
-A solid gold Buddha weighing 90 kilos on display in the Royal Palace
-The dust-covered days walking along the streets and buying pineapple for 15 cents that have ended up in the ex-pat hangouts drinking lime spritzers during happy hour-- locals distinctly not present... (not welcome, not interested or unable to afford it? Maybe all of these.)
Last night I watched with admiration as the geckos trawled up and down the walls of The Globe, vaccuming up the insects that had foolishly decided to hang out by the lights.
Y's house, the Pink Palace, has become something of a half-way house for NGOs and Youth Ambassadors visiting from their country employment. Last night with chatted with the latest arrivals- three young Australians who are working at the Maharashi Vedic University, teaching English through song.
"What have you taught them so far?" we wanted to know.
"Under the Bridge" they told us, "By Red Hot Chili Peppers".
"Oh" we said "What do they make of that?"
"They love it. But we don't have the heart to tell them that it's actually about heroin addiction."
Just to let you know: I'm not able to access any comments that have been marked as "private" while over here.
However, I'm checking the grumpygirl991@hotmail email every few days (and reading the non-private comments).
So, a couple of days ago it was reported in the local Khmer papers that a very popular Thai actress/singer had said some nasty things about Cambodia. Dumb things. Things like "I'd rather come back as a dog in the next life than as a Cambodian" and "I'll never tour Cambodia until the Khmer give Ankor Watt back to the Thais."
This upset the Cambodians considerably.
They decided to show their anger by burning down the Thai embassy.
Cut to Thieu and MCB, inside our friends' home on Mao Tse Tung bvd.
MCB: Carn Thieu, I'm bored, let's go for a walk around the block.
Thieu: Ok, ok.
So we headed off around the block and what do you know, we are staying within stones throw of the Thai embassy. As we walked past it a crowd was beginning to build and a bonfire was being lit. We hadn't heard any of the news and we thought it we were witnessing a small protest. We watched from the sidelines for a little while before heading home.
By later on that evening things had escalated. People had broken into the embassy and were destroying the contents- throwing things out, setting everything on fire. The Thai ambassador had to climb out a back window and be whisked away. But this was not all. Mobs of teenagers on motos were tearing around the city pulling down any advertising material related to Thai products. They were also attacking any Thai-owned businesses. A telecommunications company called Shinawatra was pummelled with rocks and looted, the Royal Phemon Penh hotel was raized to the ground. We drove past its smouldering remains the next day.
The Thai popstar has been on cable tv, protesting that she didn't say anything. "We've even looked through all the tapes of my show to see if there was anything my character said that might have been misconstrued, but we found nothing."
She looked scared, and with good cause. We saw bonfires fueled by her image and her records in the mainstreets- when some one through on a new item, everyone would cheer.
Y said "She could never come to Cambodia now- she'd be killed."
The oddest thing was that the next day it was as if nothing had ever happened. The were more police about and some of the streets were blocked off. But nothing else. The only other evidence of an event is that all Thai tv stations have been cut, leaving ominous black blanks when you flick through the channels.
Two more days or so in Phenom Penh then off to Angkor Wat.
Stand of Unknown Origin for Indetermined Purpose
It is so much easier arriving when you have someone there to meet you. When you leave the brand new, bright yellow Phenom Phen airport there is a barage of taxi drivers jostling for your fare. How wonderful it is to see a familiar face to lead you away! Y. has been here for 4 months and is perfectly settled. She quickly arranges transport and points out the features of the city along the way.
Everyone here rides motorbikes- motos. Whole families on the one bike- the record we've seen so far is seven passengers on one bike. Y. tells us that "The children learn to hold on at a very young age."" And it's true.
I saw one toddler today riding behind her mother gripping on determinedly. She didn't look old enough to walk.
Y. shares a house with some other Youth Ambassadors off Mao Tse Tung Boulevard and we have our own room, with toilet and shower. A dark, cool room. It's great.
Today Thieu and I went to the National Cambodian Museum and spent 4 hours there, wandering around. The building has a magnificent, bat-infested roof. As we sat in the grounds at 5 pm we could hear the roof begin to squeak as the bats started to wake up.
The collection inside is extensive and it's very pleasant wandering around the cool, tiled rooms. The guards sleep on benches, near the fans. Outside the landmine victims beg for alms from us corpulant Westerners. It is hard not to make parallels between these people and the plundered limbs of Shiva and Vishnu inside the museum.
Towards the end of the exibition it seems as if the curators have tired of the wearisome task of putting a date and purpose to the slivers and shards in their possession- many of these have therefore been relegated to the '"unknown"" period. One caught our eye in particular- a dragon-headed rod that was labelled :
Stand of Unknown Origin for Indetermined Purpose.
I like this a lot. So much more eloquent than saying ""we really don't know.'"
It's winter for the Khmer. They wear big coats and jumpers. For us, its perfect gin and tonic weather. ""Tonic helps keep the mozzies at bay"", I confidently tell Thieu.