These past few days we have been celebrating Khmer New Year (April 13 to April 17th) . It’s the equivalent of the time we in the West celebrate Christmas and New years in December. Cambodian New Year or Chaul Chnam Thmey typically falls on April 13th or April 14th which is actually the beginning of the harvesting season when farmers enjoy the fruits of their labors before the rainy season.
In my neighborhood, one home owner had decorated his house with a slew of lights to celebrate the new year.
There are also a lot of sales on as people are busy buying clothes or all sorts of items either for themselves or for their loved ones. One of our staff said that even though things are discounted 70% it may not always be a true discount as the stores some times mark up prices and then advertise massive discount to give the impression that you are actually getting a good discount. Nonetheless, I found some factory outlets here that give a new meaning to discount. Quite a few of the American stores have their factories here ----for example: Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, Levi Strauss, J.C Penny to name a few, and for my Canadian friends, clothes from Joe Fresh are also made here. The clothing deals that one can find here are incredible and all of these are exported to North America where we pay a huge mark up. But here, I am finding clothes that are about 10% of the price that I would pay at home for the same brands. It gives new meaning to shopping at factory outlets!
Stores selling Gift baskets for Khmer New Year
Anyway, as part of Khmer New Year, one will see many stories selling all sorts of gift baskets to give away. On Monivong street, not too far from our office, there was a slew of stores selling all sorts of gift baskets which have an assortment of food items and alcohol. I got one of our staff to get a fruit basket made to give to our landlord as they seem to have taken a liking to me---perhaps its because I am living alone, as every few weeks I end up receiving a bag of fruits. They have discovered that I like mangoes and since its mango season, well I get my mango supply from them. But also on our property, we have a tree that grows Champoo---not sure what this is called in English but its another fruit that is red in color and white inside like an apple. So now and then the landlord gets their helpers to pick a bunch off the tree and sends me a bag. Suffice to say, I will not starve!
During this time everyone heads out of the cities and goes back to their provinces or home towns to spend the 4 or 5 day holiday with their families so I thought I would take advantage of the mini break and head down to the coast to meet a friend who was already there. Enroute, I couldn’t help but snap a few photos.
One of the local markets I drove buy, had a section selling meat. Knowing my carnivore appetites, I couldn’t resist taking a picture of all the meat hanging at the local stalls! What a wonderful sight that was J
Another common sight that one tends to witness on the roads is groups of people hanging out at the back of trucks as they head home. This gives a whole new meaning to road safety. Along the way, I noticed mini buses packed to the hilt with people jammed in like sardines all making their way home for the holidays with all sorts of items. One guy had 4 cases of beer on a moto bike. Some of the women were dressed up in their traditional Khmer outfits as they were either heading to the Wat or Pagoda or returning home. This is the time when Buddhists will go to the temple to make an offering. It’s also a time however when people get drunk in the midst of their New Year’s celebration and according to one of my Khmer staff, there can be a lot of violence as youth from Phnom Penh go to the provinces and may stir up trouble showing off all that they have.
I arrived in Kep, a place that used to be known as the Cambodian version of the French Riviera before the Khmer Rouge period. It is a quaint and quiet seaside town and if you are a seafood lover this is the place to be. They don't really have a beach per se but do have a wonderful walking path along the water.
Lunch with Christine
I met up with Christine who is a Country Director of another NGO here in Cambodia involved in helping former trafficking victims. She is the female equivalent of my boss Brian McConaghy as she was a former police investigator in Australia working in forensics dealing with violent crimes and child sexual assaults. Her stories about different crime scenes and her gathering of forensic evidence reminded me of the TV series CSI. My life as a banker is so boring compared to one who is worked in law enforcement as I had a wonderful opportunity to learn much about psychopathic behavior, assessing perpetrators, and hearing about some horrendous crimes and crime scenes.
We stayed at this newly opened hotel called Rock Royal Resort that has a beautiful view of the ocean. Unfortunately the hotel is still sorting out its teething problems so we had no internet access which was probably a good thing for me as I think the Lord wanted me to rest from technology! One of the interesting encounters we had was at breakfast time as Christine asked for some milk with her coffee. It’s interesting how things get translated, but the waitress asked her if she wanted sweet milk or breast milk! Sweet milk of course is condensed milk. It took us both a few seconds and then I asked the waitress in Khmer if the breast milk is another name for ‘animal milk.’’ She quickly said yes and was on her way to fulfill the order. Phew! We had to laugh and of course I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the ‘’breast milk’’ which was served in its original packaging! J
Coffee with 'breast milk' :-)
One of the unexpected surprises was bumping into a pastor and his family who was visiting Kep and staying at this hotel with his family. He happens to be the pastor who discipled our new operations manager so its quite a small world.
Pastor Vannak and his family
During this time in Kep we took the opportunity to go Kayaking along the coast and then on Sunday as part of our sabbath rest we discovered a hotel nearby that offered a 25% discount on massages and the use of their pool and facilities. Given our desire to just rest we discovered a wonderful outdoor canopy that looks onto the water.
View of the pool
A view of the sea from the canopy
It was great to spend the whole day sitting in the canopy reading, napping, eating, chatting and just relaxing. This gives a whole new meaning to member care. There is something to be said about sitting near the water and enjoying God's creation. It really does refill and renew one's spirit.
Today our final day in Kep, we decided to go hiking up one of the mountain trails. The scenery from the higher elevation is amazing but so too is the vegetation.
Cactus Flower in Kep
The hiking trail was a bit confusing and an 8km hike turned out to be a 15km hike as the signs were not clear. Nonetheless, when one is hiking with a former cop who has trained to be observant I learned the importance of walking through a forest with one person looking down at the path and the other looking up towards the trees for possible snakes. Sure enough, on one of our pit stops, we saw a large snake hanging from a branch and a wild monkey nearby. They seemed to have marked out their territory so we stayed far away and I found myself praying all the way down the hiking path:-).
Khmer New Year is now about to end as people are heading back into the city. It was great to get away for this mini break and to enjoy some of the beautiful places in this country.