Friday, November 11, 2011

Water Festival

Since this past Wednesday, we have had a three day holiday in Cambodia although I was working for the past two days. These 3 days are the annual water festival (known locally as Bon Om Touk) where many tourists and people from the countryside come to the city to watch the boat races along the Tonle Sap river. However, as many of you know there has been a lot of flooding especially in Thailand but Cambodia has had its share. As a result, the Cambodian government decided to cancel the boat races this year and use the funds that were designated for the Water Festival to help those who have experienced losses as a result of the floods. The festival is also known as the reversing current. It is a celebration each year of the river reversing from its course upward towards the Tonle Sap Lake to flow downstream allowing the Tonle Sap lake to empty its waters to the Mekong river leaving behind fish in abundance.  

Nonetheless, the three day holiday is still on and as I live near the downtown core, close to the Independence Monument and a 15 to 20 minute walk down to the waterfront, the streets are buzzing with traffic and many people. Some of the main streets have been closed off as many people head down to the water to just hang out with their friends and families. It really is a beautiful site to see all the different little street vendors that appear from nowhere suddenly selling their food items. Others were selling fake designer handbags in the middle of the sidewalks not far from the police station. Its like an outdoor  market as you walk along the parks. There are the street photographers who will take your photo at the park. There is an outdoor concert where there are a variety of cultural dances. Many families bring their mats and camp out in the park or alongside the boardwalks having what appears to be a picnic. All of this creates a carnival atmosphere.

Tonight some of my 'Khmer Family' from Svay Pak came to visit me so that we could hang out together and walk down to the waterfront. I was trying to figure out what I could feed them and thankfully my friend Catherine came over to help me go shopping at the New Market (Psah Thamie) so that I could buy some local treats. One of the vendors we went to made some stir fried noodles with beef so we ordered 21 packets each costing just over $1.00.

 The 'Noodle Shop'

'BBQ squid and shrimp'

I wanted to buy some BBQ squid but the price was a bit high so we ended up buying some other deep fried rice and onion cakes and for dessert a coconut rice cake wrapped in banana leaves. Anyway, my entire meal for 20 people came up to $1.60 per person. It pays to shop locally and to eat locally!

Some of Pastor Chantha's disciples eating in the living room

 Night Concert
 Vendors selling green mangoes with a hot sauce---a local treat
Traffic on one of the main streets

After our meal we went for a walk down to the park and were headed to the local 'Disneyland' called "Dreamland'but there was quite a crowd to get in and decided that it was too much of a hassle so we opted to walk around but there were people every where.

Typically during the annual water festival, about 4 million people come to Phnom Penh ---either locals coming from the province or tourists. Well tonight as I walked around, I had never seen it so busy. The city really comes alive at night.  One of the things I am getting to enjoy is crossing the street. That in itself seems like such a silly comment to make but in this environment, on a busy day the streets look like the photo above and crossing them is like trying to navigate yourself through a traffic puzzle as you walk in between the motos and cars. It is actually quite a lot of fun trying to figure out what path you are going to take. In some ways its actually better being a pedestrian as the vehicles literally drive around you. But you have to be willing to jump into the fray of the traffic otherwise you will never cross the street. Tonight is the end of the water festival and tomorrow its business as usual. 

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