Sunday, April 13, 2008

Happy New Year

Sur sdei chhnam thmei (pronounced: soosdie chnam t’my)

It’s New Years over here. The Khmer new year starts today, 13 April and the celebration lasts for 3 days. Actually it’s going to last all week. All the schools are out, many of the stores and restaurants are closed and the banks closed early yesterday (Saturday) and won’t open again until Thursday. I was warned to hit the ATM yesterday ‘cause they’ll all be out of money by Tuesday. So I stocked up on $50s and settled back to see how this compares to New Years in the West.

Very, very different.

First of all it lasts for three days. Each has a particular name and activities involved. The holiday revolves around family and friends. On Friday I went out to the Museum and on the way back there must have been a dozen buses headed out of town. All full of Khmers headed for the countryside, back to their home villages.

Moha Songkran is the first day. It celebrates the ending of the old year and the beginning of the new. People dress up and light candles and incense. They pay homage to the Buddha’s teachings and wash with holy water, their face in the morning, their chest in the afternoon and their feet at night before they go to bed.

(They also shoot off a whole bunch of fireworks. I sat on the balcony of the Soup Dragon Restaurant and had my soup and salad and wtched fireworks go off every half hour for two or three hours. Pretty neat.)

Wanabat is the second day of the celebrations. It’s a day of charity. People give to the poor, and the less fortunate. They also attend ceremonies at a monestary honoring their ancestors.

The last day of the celebrations is called Tngai Laeung Saka, when people bathe the Buddha statues and elders with perfumed water. It is looked on as a good deed that brings longevity, good luck and prosperity.

There are parties like in the west. There was a costume ball night, to which I was invited. But I really didn’t want to dress up and hang out with a bunch of foreigners (berangs). And besides, I was really tired. So I hung out downtown until I realized it was darn near empty, grabbed a tuk tuk and headed back to the Green Town.

I had a meeting this morning with a Khmer friend who is in town for the holidays and then I headed for a 5-star hotel, paid my $8 and hung around the pool for the day.

It’s interesting to watch the Khmers celebrate the new year by paying tribute to their heritage, family, and celebrating together the coming year. It certainly is different from the crowds, screaming and foolishness we see at home.

Well, that’s it for now. We’ll see what Wanabat brings.

More from the jungle as it happens.


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