One Wedding and a Funeral

Phnom Penh Travel Blog

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What’s more awkward than walking through someone’s dining room every time you leave or enter the house?  Walking through someone’s wedding to do the same!

On Saturday a huge marquee was set up at our front gate.  It is about 3 apartments long, takes up the footpath and half of the width of a rather wide street.  It has sheets of pink and white fabric on the outside and yellow chair covers on the inside.  There is also a big sort of shrine area where people sit on the floor.  I haven’t had a great look around
because when I open the gate I am standing in a very narrow gap between two chairs at opposite tables.  I then have to squeeze through a bunch more tables, trying desperately to not step on an unsuspecting guest or get caught on a 
table cloth only to overthrow an entire group of people and their fine China all just to get to the front door of the marquee so I can finally be out on the street,  which is jam packed with cars trying their best not to drive straight into the shop fronts, each other, the marquee or that girl juggling cameras who has just burst through the door of that bloody marquee that is in EVERYONE’S WAY!!!!  Goodness me!

I gave myself Saturday off to read a book, get all sorts of waxed and massaged, go for smoothies with the girls and not do any sightseeing whatsoever.  I simply lived my day like any local with $30 to spare would.  That meant that Sunday was the day to don my walking shoes, sling my camera over my neck and head off with all of the energy of a backpacker in her mid (ish *cough*) 20s!  Turns out that isn’t a particularly high level of energy when it is so hot and humid and sightseeing is one of said mid (ish) 20s girl’s least favourite pastimes when traveling.  Thankfully I had to head off to the markets to buy long sleeved tops so my sexy arms don’t distract all the boys at Vipassana and there just happened to be a sight to see along the way!  Two birds, one stone, boo yeah!

Wat Tuol Thom Poung was the sight to see.  I had been here on my first afternoon in PP when I did or didn’t get lost.  My first experience there was just awkward.  A man out the front said I could go into the grounds and have a look around.  I was in a singlet and I wasn’t sure of the dress code or if it would apply because I wasn’t in an actual building but he insisted I go inside.  I wasn’t sure if he’d understood my query about the sleeves.  So I spent my whole time on the inside of the gates asking people who don’t speak English or sign language and who clearly suck at charades if it was ok that I was there with no sleeves.  I’m touching my shoulders and shaking their sleeves and they’re just letting out polite laughs and shaking their heads!  Finally a monk says ‘market’ and points around the corner of one of the
buildings.  I’m like ‘maybe they sell more appropriate clothes here; weird’ but there were no stalls just people and
chairs.  Feeling guilty, inadequate and embarrassed I fled wondering if I would ever return with sleeves!  And I did, fully armed with sleeves, a long stride and the confidence to ask questions and learn heaps.  This would be a completely different experience and that first afternoon would never have to be thought of again!  I took my time taking photos of the gate of the main building then walked around and noticed yet another shrine but this
one had stairs and big smoke billowing from it.  I went up to a man and brightly asked him if he spoke English.  He didn’t but nor did he need to.  I looked up and my eyes finally climbed the staircase to a box sitting on a table. 
The box looked way too much like a coffin for me to be smiling and brightly asking questions!  My eyes moved
around to the right and I turned my head to see a bit behind me and there was a large framed photo of a woman who I think I am safe to assume is the deceased.  Gah!  There were people milling around and although I didn’t see anyone crying I said to the man, putting my hand over my heart then on his shoulder ‘I…um…this…um…I’m going…*nervous laugh*…thank you.’   Then I turned on one heel, hung my head in shame and fled once again vowing this time to never return.  Ever!

I went on to the Russian markets, which apparently are frequented more by tourists than Phsar Orasey, the ones I visited after the killing fields.  I didn’t like the Russian Markets though.  They are messy and crowded and not as interesting as Phsar Orasey.  I am surprised that they are popular with tourists actually.  The most interesting thing I saw there was a fish flapping around awaiting its pretty unfortunate fate.  Phsar Orasey was messy and crowded too but it was truly a local market and that’s what I had expected.  Outside there were millions of zips, buttons and rolls of fabric.  Inside on the ground level were stalls and stalls full of dehydrated fish, squid and prawns/shrimp and people were curing the meat as I walked through.  The other floors were dedicated to piles of shoes, Asian-sized clothes and tacky, blingy accessories.  As I was leaving there was a woman maneuvering live chickens that had been grouped together by tying them at the legs.  Any vego or anmal rights activist probably would have freaked but it’s just one of those things, like the litter, that I guess you can’t really judge by Western standards.

Later that afternoon Wat Ounalom offered me a third chance at entering a Wat without offending anyone and I succeeded :D  Yay!  This is a more auspicious place for me as it is the meeting place for the bus to take me up to Battambang to start Vipassana tomorrow(!!!!!!) When I arrived there was a man at the gate who I assumed to be a tuk tuk driver but after I stood inside for a minute deciding where to go he came in and told me a few things about the place.  Apparently a King and his monks are buried in one of the stupas.  Lonely Planet doesn’t mention that for this
Wat but says something similar for another one so I’m not sure if it’s a common story for Wat’s or if someone (other than me!) is confused.

I went into the main building and was looking at their displays.  One was of Buddha being given water from an elephant and honey from a monkey; the other was a room full of Buddha statues with incense and things but I couldn’t help but laugh to myself because framing each display was a line of flashing neon lights!  Haha!  So tacky but I guess it’s their way of brightening things up!  I was getting my camera out when one of the monks approached me and explained the display of Buddha receiving the gifts.  He said Buddha went to the forest in the mountains (possibly to make the people appreciate his teachings more, like absence makes the heart grow fonder, I guess) and because he treated every
animal as an equal they did things for him like bring gifts everyday, which is something they would never do for the average person who sees animals as being followers.

After this story and a few more details about Buddha the lovely monk proceeded to ask me if I have a boyfriend!?  Call it blasphemous but I have taken to lying to monks and tuk tuk drivers (a little less blasphemous lol) about my marital
status.  According to every one of them Troy is my boyfriend and I am visiting him ‘Will you move here?  No? And you are happy just visiting?’ Haha, um, yeah, pretty happy with that situation lol.  It’s a heartbreaking tale to tell but they all accept it and make gestures and comments that imply they won’t have a crack knowing I’m taken.  Riiiiight…Anyway, I find it strange that monks ask this but Troy said that the Khmer (and all my Filipino friend’s mums) find it strange that people our age are single.  He also said that many monks in this country become monks not because they are willing to give up everything to reach enlightenment but rather because it’s a way for them to get an education and
food.   So they join out of desperation, which would explain why so many of them smoke! There have been cases of monks raping women too because they simply aren’t in it for the right reasons so they aren’t ‘true’ monks.

As I was about to leave the building I remembered that my monk in the park in Singapore had said something about having my bracelets cleansed or something because he had recognised them as being Buddhist.  I asked the monk who’d been talking to me and he sent me to another monk who picked up a bright red woolen bracelet, stirred it around in water while chanting then a Khmer woman and 2 kids came over so he threw in a few for them.  He would stir and chant then splash us with water and did this multiple times.  At the end the lady and kids (we were kneeling on the floor at this woman’s instruction as I’d been sitting cross legged) would have their hands together with their thumbs touching their face and bowed down to the ground.  Somehow the lady also managed to count my bows and told me I had to do one more to make it four.  Then the monk tied my bracelet on and I had to bow again three times I think…Anyway, it was super helpful having that lady come along and I am now protected against bad spirits and bad energy.  My monk friend repeated multiple times that it would bring me luck with my boyfriend; pretty sure he was totes jealous ;)

I moved on to Wat Phnom, which is located on Phnom Penh’s only hill (Phnom  = hill).  It’s actually quite a nice place to visit; a splash of leafy green in the city.  Troy had just got back from the weekend away in Bangkok so we caught up and went on a micro bar hop.  I felt disgusting; I’d walked all day, had an emotionally exhausting afternoon with beggars (see my last blog), was wearing my walking shoes and was sweating in places that I didn’t even think have sweat glands, like my cuticles…somehow this beautiful picture of a woman got let into this sickeningly Colonial building, which houses a massively laa-dee-daa hotel and cocktail lounge with a piano man.  It’s so ritzy that they serve complimentary peanuts and banana and taro chips with salsa without you having to ask.  BUT they do a 4 or 5 hr happy hr with 50% off cocktails so I had a crack at a rusty nail, which is whiskey and drambuie with the zest of a lemon!  Somehow I found it sweet…probs ‘cos I’m totes hardcore ;)

That is all.

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Phnom Penh
photo by: terminalfunk