Friday, August 19, 2011

Exercising Khmer Style!

These past few days I've been a bit house bound for a variety of reasons. One of which is that we are in rainy season and when it rains, it rains hard and the roads are slightly flooded. By late afternoon the clouds set in and the downpour comes. It actually is a welcome relief from the midday heat. However, today was one of those days when the clouds came but there was no rain and so I took the opportunity to go for a late afternoon walk. One of the things I would like to do here is to go on prayer walks on a daily basis while listening to sermons or worship music on my Ipod. Its a good way to get exercise and at the same time provides a good form of decompression for one's spirit. I used to do this at lunch time during my work day or in the evening when I got home from work and so this afternoon, I decided to go and scout out what the possible routes are. Of course in Cambodia we have no such things as sidewalks you are part of the 'traffic' on the road.
The road outside my apartment

Heading towards the Independence Monument

Not too far from my apartment is a huge roundabout where the Independence Monument is located. It was built in 1958 and is in the centre of the city. It is in the form of a lotus shaped stupa, of the style seen at the great Khmer temple at Angkor Wat and other Khmer historical sites. During national celebrations, The Independence Monument is the center of activity.

The Independence Monument

Near The Independence Monument are large boardwalks where many Cambodians hang out with their families and friends. To get there is itself a challenge as one has to navigate through the traffic. Here you cannot hesitate when you walk as you will confuse the motorcyclists and the cars. You literally have to wait for a small clearing and then go forward. It may seem crazy to do this but its amazing how the cars and motos simply weave they way around you.


Along the boardwalk there are many interesting sites to see. For those who want to walk, this is the place to come. It's like one huge track and everyone is orderly going in a counterclockwise direction. You will see families walking with their kids or young people just hanging out sitting on the benches nearby. No kids playing video games here. You will see men playing a ball game which I believe we call 'batchi' ball. That in itself is an art to keep a ball in the air with your feet. Further along the route are women playing badminton.

Men playing 'batchi ball'

Badminton anyone?

However one of the most common sites that you will see in Phnom Penh around these boardwalks is large groups of people, mainly women who are doing some low impact aerobic exercises to dance music. It is a very cute sight to see. In recent times, Cambodians are becoming more health conscience. Part of the reason is that Type 1 and type 2 diabetes is on the rise here. Rice is the staple food here and is usually eaten in large quantities for breakfast, lunch and dinner as it is the cheapest food available for the average Cambodian. As such, the lack of exercise and increase carbohydrate intake has resulted in a rise in diabetes. So in these open air boardwalks, many women are seen exercising in the later afternoon when the temperature is much cooler and the sun is going down. Am not sure where the men are. It seems they are more inclined to play ball games with their male buddies or head to a gym. Below is a video clip I took that will give you an idea of the kind of music they work out to!

Exercising Khmer style!

Perhaps one day I will have the courage to join these ladies but I hear a small fee is required to participate in this open air aerobics. For now, I'll stick to my walks and people watching from the sidelines!

All this to say, now that I have figured out my walking route, the trick is to find the right rhythm between work, play and exercise. This is all part of the intentionality of caring for my soul in this environment, it requires finding the time to rest and to rejuvenate and to slow down the frenetic lifestyle that so easily those of us with Type A personalities tend to default to. But in addition to this, the purpose of these walks is more than an aerobic workout, but  rather it is an exercise to work out what's embedded in the soul.  For just as God walked with Enoch, Noah and others (Genesis 5:24, 6:9) so too Jesus walks with us as our souls' companions whether we are walking along the dusty, polluted roads of Phnom Penh or the paved roads and sidewalks of North America. These walks are in essence a 'soul exercise' that allows one to focus on Christ, to be still, to be quiet, to be contemplative, reflect, pray and hear God's voice. It's another way to experience Immanuel - God with us, to become not only aware of His presence but to enjoy the presence of the One who calls us His beloved!

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