Thursday, April 19, 2012

Happy Khmer New Year

Crossing the Mekong River
Happy Khmer New Year  Everyone!  Its the year of the Dragon and the third time I've said Happy New Year since January.  First there was our New Year and I was up in Siem Reap, then a month and a half ago Chinese New Year with dragons  dancing in the street here in Phnom Penh and last week I got powdered pretty heavily out on Koh Rong island. 

Three little entrepreneurs
We have had more than a week off and I've enjoyed the time both here and at the beach.  One day we brought bikes on the ferry across the Mekong River to go exploring.  Not too expensive, only 1000 riel (25cents), for the crossing.  It is a different world over there; we never left sight of the big buildings  of Phnom Penh but gone were paved roads, electricity (many homes have generators), English, ice cream but found out that every family has a cow, all the kids know how to say hello and that when you sweat through your shirt all you really need to say at the little orange cooler roadside stands is "moouy Angkor" and, of course, "akoun".  Three little girls rode along with us for a while and their English was pretty good.  They asked where I was from and thought it was so funny when I said Phnom Penh. I guess don't look Cambodian but I am starting to feel like this is home.  Then they wanted us to stop to look at their silk scarves.  We said we wanted to keep on riding because we needed the exercise, not sure if there is a word for exercise in Khmer.  They pouted a little and I explained to them that the customer is always right, not sure if that translated very well either.  Well we rode and said hello a lot and stopped to replace our electrolytes more than once.  The river was on our right and there were houses and open fields, some motos, a few cars but so different from just across the river.  No fear or apprehension of our comings or goings, just that friendly acceptance that I have come to appreciate so much.  Hours later we were back at the ferry and met our young friends again who now had their scarves all laid out on a table for us to buy.    "Too hot for a scarf." " I don't like scarves."  "No I don't have a wife who would like a scarf." ........ "Well if you bought a nice scarf maybe you could get a wife."   I bought three.  I never really had a chance.

Coming into the beach at Koh Rong
Read to dive
Two days later 13 of us from school went off to the islands for four nights.  Back to Koh Rong again but this time to a big beach with a small Khmer village and a couple of resorts all with bungalows clustered around a restaurant.  Really nice to have choices for lunch and dinner and fun to be near the village. At night there was a lot of music and dancing for the new year, oh and also white powder.  Everyone gets smeared or dusted with baby powder, something about ghosts.  Khmer boys like to dance just as much as the girls and they were fun to watch.  Some of the music was loud discolike but also some Khmer music, all coming from these big speakers set up on the beach.  The Khmer dancing is in a circle, in this case around a pole with a fluorescent light on top.  Reminded me of that Sienfeld episode of Festivus.  Then a disco tune would send everyone to crazy dancing.  There were a couple of really young, but really good, show off dancing boys.  Everyone would gather around and clap and they would just do the nuttiest moves, wish I have video.  On the way back one night we all went swimming and the water was phosphorescent, doesn't get much better than that, except the next day when we took a dive boat out to a reef and snorkeled for a couple of hours.  I think Ringo had it right, no worries or problems on the reef (except sharks), how happy we could be in an Octopus' Garden.
Me with Lena and Angela
    One day we walked across the  island to the beach on the other side.  The trail climbed up into the jungle then flattened out only to be really steep coming down.  There were ropes set out on the steepest parts, but it was worth it because the beach over there went on for six miles; beautiful white sand and only one small resort.  We went for a swim and then got lunch.  The trail from the other side of the island came right to the restaurant so we met some hikers from the other side and we all arranged to go back on a boat later in the afternoon.  Two young girls came across in flip flops and they ended up having lunch with us.  They were volunteering in Sihanouk Ville in a program that tries to keep kids in school.  They saved up to come over here and then will travel for a couple of weeks.  Angela (hope I got your name right) I saw the night before dancing with the little Cambodian boys.  She was really having fun.  Lena is from Germany and just really nice.  We all rented snorkeling gear and spent the afternoon on a reef close to shore.  It was different in that between the rocks and coral was beautiful white sand. It was like a paved road that schools of fish would use to get from one part of the reef to another.  I saw one large fish approach and I kind of blocked his (or her) way.  WTF if think I heard it say as I would not let it pass and it was not about to take an alternate route.   Joey saw a cuttlefish and I spent the rest of the day trying to find it.  Later we all hopped on a boat for the trip around the island and one more night.

Pulling away from Koh Rong
Somehow the last morning came and no more two hour coffees at the restaurant trying to decide what to do with the day.  Said goodbye to playing card at night and walks along the beach and the green water of the Gulf of Thailand.  I will remember the heat lightning storms and seeing he stars and southern cross at night.  It was fun getting to know my friends and collegues from school in a more relaxed atmosphere, akoun for such a nice time. 
Hey I'm always thinking less is more but three new years in four months feels just about right.

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