Water Festival Week 22 - 28 Nov '15
Sangkat Svay Dangkum, Cambodia
It has been another very busy week in Temple Town, of which three days have been a public holiday. I have had many different experiences this week: an art exhibition opening with free wine and canapes at a very nice hotel, four major cycle rides, two days work, two days Water Festival and Bon om Tuek, a sunset at Tonle Sap, a party for all volunteers and Khmer staff at Bridget and Alan's house, plus the normal market visits and eating at local spots. So you can see from this that life in the UK will be very quiet in comparison, and one cannot forget the difference in the weather too. The temperature range this week has been from 40 degrees to a low of 26 during the night. For the majority of time it has been glorious sun and cloudless blue sky, but we have had a few torrential storms, although very wetting when they occur the water soon evaporates, after it has laid the dust for a short time. Unfortunately, it is very dusty and unpleasant both walking and cycling, but as yet, I cannot bring myself to wear a mask.
Last Saturday, I went to the opening night of Sasha Constable's new art exhibition - she is a great, great... granddaughter of John Constable and has lived here for the last 15 years. I have met her a few times before, and enjoy her work, mainly she is a sculptor in stone, but has created major sculptures from metals and other detritus of the war that occurred here. I have still to see her lithoprints as they are at another venue in town. There were nine sculptures on display, two of which I really liked for their fluidity, touch and the way the different light changed them. The evening was very pleasant as the good wine flowed, and delicate, but delicious canapes were served, and it was a catch up time with people I have met over the years but only see occasionally, and the meeting of new ones. Also, it a was a very cheap evening out in air conditioning, with excellent service - this is very different to how I live the rest of the time. Luckily, Marjan from Bruges had been with me, so we were able to wobble home together!
To counteract the alcohol and over indulgence of Saturday I led a 35 km cycle ride with the G H students to the West Baray, (Angkor Thom reservoir) on Sunday. That soon brings me back to earth - the rattling bikes the kids ride, two on a bike, their dress - covering them from head to toe so that their skin does not get any darker, (me in shorts and bare arms), and the sights and sounds we see en route, and the food for sale once we arrive. For the first time none of the students wanted to swim whilst we were there, but they all enjoyed buying and eating snails, different insects and sour mango. We were extremely lucky as we seemed to follow the clouds and only be on the edge of a shower, and were able to continue without using rainwear, so I was shocked when we got back to town to see the water lying everywhere. Carmel had hired a bike from my lady, so I went with her to return it, and whilst we were there the clouds gathered. Luckily, we were able to cycle very quickly to where we had decided to have a drink and something to eat, and arrived as the heavens opened. We had to move three times in the place to avoid the heavy, wind blown rain that was driving in and soaking everyone and thing, and for the first time, I actually felt cold for a while. Surprisingly, an Angkor draft soon sorted us out and we were able to watch the chaos outside, as everyone was trying to find shelter and paddle, drive, cycle through the raging river of water which used to be a road. After a while Nicki appeared like a drowned rat, she had been walking and unable to find aomewhere to shelter at the beginning of the storm, and so had walked through it. Once the cloud was empty, blue sky appeared and and we were back to normal, although it took a long time for the water to drain away, and so the roads were flooded. My journey home was slow because of it, and the congestion which ensued.
Monday was a working day, but all the children didn't turn up, as they knew the next 3 were holidays, and their families were preparing to sell food at the different events. Marjan from Bruges, who supports a different project, 'Angkor Tree' in Trang village came out to G H with me to see it, and to gather ideas for the one her family supports. She was particularly interested in the Special Needs section, as she has a twenty two year old Down's Syndrome daughter who has been through mainstream education and is now doing a degree in dance. G H has three Down's children who attend daily, but as yet are not integrated into the main school. Going home was very interesting, as many workers were frantically putting the finishing touches to the electric lights that adorned the riverside and streets, stalls were being set up, food sellers hoping that if they grabbed a good spot they'dbe allowed to stay there, pontoons being built for the monks to watch the races, and people everywhere watching the frantic activity. However, as it was due to start on Tuesday I could see that there were going to be less stalls than the previous year, and a shorter stretch of the river was to be used. It is very difficult to find out anything here, but I assume and gather from others that it was due to the drought and water management system used here since the major floods.
The Water Festival was great fun, great to see so many locals, many of whom had come in from the countryside, much darker skins than the locals, and strange clothes - bought tenth hand, but to them the height of fashion. It is impossible to describe the smells, sounds and sights that one is constantlyexposed to, - loud music from mobile phone/internet providers, free samples of revolting sugary drinks, new electrical appliances being promoted that more people can afford, a range of washing powders, shampoos mixed up with stalls selling second hand clothes and seconds from facoties here and in China, but I find it fascinating and exciting. All this is 38 - 40 degrees of heat! The food stalls are cooking and selling very local food - chillied garden snails, cockroaches, beetles, locusts, grasshoppers, snakes, frogs alonside chicken and pork on skewers, a local type of sausage made form goodness knows which bit of the animal, 19 day old chicken and duck foetuses boiled and sold in their shells - such a delicacy, snakes all being cooked over a charcoal fire on the stall or moto it is being served from. Forty boats participated in the two days of races, each one had 24/26 oarsmen and four contained women only crews. In virtually 40 degrees the province dignitaries held a 90 minute opening ceremony of speeches prior to the races beginning, Nicki and I struggled in the heat, so had to visit Rosy's for a beer and something to eat whilst waiting for all to begin. Two boats compete over the 1 km distance, and for 3 hrs there were constant races, how the crew maintained their energy and stamina I'll never know. Unfortunately, we didn't know who was in the boats, unless it was written in English on their tee shirts - FCC, Shinta Mani Hotel, all boats were crewed by Khmers. By sunset we were exhausted so retreated to Palate's rooftop to watch the fireworks and sunset under the magnificent, cloudless sky. Watching everyone walking, eating and spending time with their family was great, but we retreated to our different abode after 9 hrs of being out and were not intereted in joining the throng of people heading for the live music that was to be played during the evening. After a shower I lay on my bed to listen to it, but fortunately muted by distance. I was amazed that I saw so few 'barangs' or foreigners during the day, it is very much a Khmer event, but so enjoyable. The following day, 'Bon om Teuk' is when everyone thanks the moon for the rice harvest, the flooded ground enriched by the silt and the beginning of their winter. This is now the wedding sason, as traditionally people has made some money from selling rice and the harvesting of fish - this year oh so different, but the wedding tents are appearing and three day celebrations happening. Anyway, the second was much of a repeat of the first, except that the interminable speeches happened at sunset, and with the results ceremony. However, just as the races were due to begin a furious storm began, so people were scuttlling for shelter, and stall holders frantically trying to protect their wares. Nicki and I smartly jumped into a tuk for shelter and then had to decide where to go, so it was Rosy's again - their egg and chips go down really well occasionally! The afternoon was very humid and uncomfortable, so standing around watching and moving through crowds eexhausting, so each time we met someone we knew it was time for a sit down and refreshment. Although one shouldn't be amused it was good fun to see boats capsize as they made a determined dash for the finishing line - I'm not sure how anyone survives a dip in the Steung Siem Reap! By dusk the races were completed and the fireworks team were setting up the next lot to set off, minus health and safety. It was a shock to see very many powerful ones standing in the middle of a very busy road with motos, trucks, cars and people weaving through, round, up and under them - this continued dispite police trying to stop them by putting up barriers and thin pieces of plastic across. Nicki and I stood quite close to watch it all, but regretted our decision when the show started - the bangs terrified me and then I became aware of all the possible flammable material the sparks could land on and my fear escalated further. So I only saw a tiny bit of the display through my fingers which I was using to cover my eyes and ears.
I have decided to end this blog here, and start my next one from here otherwise I'll never get to publishing this.
Hope your week is going well, and that Storm Clodagh hasn't affected it too much. Take care, love to all, J x