Cannot sleep as I have dreadful cold and cough, so up, but temp already 35 and will get hotter.
Despite cold had a great day yesterday on our cycle ride and dinner with Pheyrom and her 4 yr old daughter, Sana.
Sue, Tess, Meychyi and me left here for a quick cycle to show Sue and Tess rural sights from a bike. Neither of them had been on a bike for years so I was unsure how it would go, particularly through the mud and water and over the bumps and humps created by the bikes, motos etc through it. From the beginning it was obvious that it was a very different day, as many homes were locked up, businesses closed and people dressed up in their Traditional Khmer outfits on bikes and motos off to the pagodas carrying the tins of food to offer the monks and to take to family gatherings.
After a brief stop off to show them Alan and Bridget's house and the wonderful views from it we began the trek. Already we were drenched through from sweat and salt drips were stinging our eyes, but we continued. The countryside is so beautiful, calm, relaxing and one cannot believe that everywhere is part of the same world. The lanes were so busy, each moto that we met, or passed us was carrying three to six people, each one carrying a layered tin of rice and other foods to give to the monks or take to a family gathering. Everyone looked immaculate, the women in brilliant, white fitted satiny type shirts embroidered and many decorated with sparkly diamonds - no sign of sweat or orange dust spoiling their finery. Children dressed in their Sunday best and the men in long trousers and western shirts. From every direction we could hear monks chanting and strange music playing. Everyone was remembering their ancestors, and it was poignant, as their much respected king died early that morning it, aged 89 yrs, but living in Beijing. His body is being returned tomorrow and will lie in state for 3 months before the funeral. Goodness knows what they do to keep the body in this heat, but it will be in a solid gold coffin when it comes back here later today. A week of mourning has just been announced but we don't know how it will affect us as yet. The three TV channels are just showing exerpts from his life, hopefully the wrong decisions he made too. One British journalist has described him as "mercurial, vain, contradictory with an impossibly twisting career, so it is difficult to sum up his legacy!"
Everyone was so friendly, and those we met who were walking were only too pleased to let us photograph them.
It was difficult to know whether everyone was celebrating, but I think some just visited the pagoda to pay their respects to their ancestors and then went home to a day without work, as we saw no one out in the fields, although some were fishing, but that would have been for their own use and something to do I suspect.
As we passed one home Tess spotted two beautiful little heads appearing through a tuk, so as people photography is her business she immediately stopped to ask a proud Dad if that was ok. He agreed readily and was keen to show us his livestock, below the house were two small yards each containing about 12 young pigs and next to that two tanks in which he bred crocs to sell to Vietnam. His village he said depended upon rice and pigs for their livelihood.
By the time we reached Wat Po, an extremely poor village close to Grace House we found the festivities in full flow, people were eating, dancing, children running around playing, although we would have been welcome to join in I didn't feel it appropriate in our state of dress, sweatiness and general grime. We decided to cycle on to Wat Athwea, the pagoda local to Grace House and have a look there. Immediately kids we knew appeared from the throngs and invited us in. One girl, I think from Loung's class, was our guide and used her English brilliantly, as she showed us around and most graciously wanted us to eat. Unfortunately, I was the coward and declined the offer, the food would have been sitting around for hours in the extreme heat and flies would have been all over it. Those who recognised me were so welcoming, but others just stared in amazement at the four barangs walking about. After our look and chats we left to cycle onto a very secluded, Australian hotel I know for a drink and something to eat. It is only very small and expensive, but I knew their guests would have been out visiting the temples, so we wouldn't feel too out of place. Last year the manager let me swim there a couple of times for free, but only if their guests were out for the day.
Eventually, we arrived back 5 hrs later, exhausted and in desperate need of a shower and rest. It will be interesting to see Tess's photos once she has worked on them, so hopefully today I can persuade her to make them available to me on the web. Her 5 day visit ends tonight and it's back to Aus for her, but her mother is here for a few more weeks.
The evening I spent having dinner at The Soup Dragon with Pheyrom and Sana. It took Sana about 2 hrs to feel comfortable with the barang, but eventually she relaxed and smiled and we were able to play little games and her mum translating for us. It was really fascinating being able to spend time with her and to her story, wishes etc. She is a very able young person who had made a lot of the limited opportunities that have come her way, but it is through her own determination that she has achieved most, however, she still feels unfulfilled and would love to train as a teacher properly and enable children to experience a better life and education system. Perhaps if we can meet up again Imay be able to ask about her families experience during the civil war. However, she did feel very sad that the king had died.
Today all of us from the house have been to the local pagoda, Wat Bo to celebrate, we wore our white tops, but looked a motley crew! When we arrived carrying our food offerings a temple boy had to raise the monk from his bed, he looked elderly and was skin and bone, I cannot imagine he has much longer left on this planet. It seemed so cruel moving him and putting him through the effort of chanting and blessing us. However, he very quickly managed to snaffle the financial offerings and place them within his robe. After a walk around the site and more photos we found the new pagoda that will replace the old one due to weathering, subsidence and age. Although not finished, the main hall had a beautiful shrine to Buddha, monks were reading and chanting and ladies making beautiful shrines to the late king. Many large photos of him at different stages of his life were being decorated with flowers, so that by tomorrow everything will be in place and people can start to pay homage to him. Ironically, last when I was in Phnom Pen with Mati and Geoff we saw exactly the same thing happening, but then to celebrate his birthday. I will try to pay a visit tomorrow to see what happens.
On our return we had an excellent Khmer meal which Dana, Kimlouen and Sitha had prepared and cooked. Although we were all bemused to find every bit of the chicken in one dish, however, Meychyi was very pleased to find the chicken's feet as she enjoys eating them.
This afternoon has been very quiet, I have had a nap, done my washing and sat about, but now feel as though I need to go out on my bike for a ride. I think the thunder that was rumbling around has moved on along with then black clouds. A rain storm would be good as it is extremely sticky, humid and sitting doing nothing I'm still dripping with sweat.
All the pills I have taken seem to be keeping the cough and cold under control, but I doubt they are getting rid of it, just hiding the symptoms which I don't like. However, in these temps it is miserable feeling under the weather as you cannot get cool and comfortable.
I'm off to Battambang on Thursday for a couple of nights, so a pleasant change, but perhaps everything will be affected by the week of mourning, who knows? The Cambodians certainly don't and t hey didn't even seem prepared for his death even though he has been ill and frail for a few years!
Enjoy, and those with half term next week have a rest . Take care, love J x