So this month was the 15 (16? depends who you ask) day holiday of Pchum Ben, and this past week I haven’t had any school. Actually, last week students started peacing out around Wednesday, so by Friday I found myself sitting around with the security guard and the maid eating fruit and shooting the breeze.
Pchum Ben has three “big” days of national holiday where the banks and schools are closed and everybody goes back to their “homelands”. P.Ben kind of reminds me of Halloween because it’s around that time of year and it’s considered the time when the gates of hell open and ghosts return to Earth so their living relatives can throw them rice balls. I still don’t understand the rice ball throwing thing, but it’s pretty fun. Older women, teenagers and kids go to the wat around 4 in the morning with dishes of rice balls; they walk around a certain small temple in the wat three times, throwing the rice balls out into the grounds and mashing them onto piles at the base of statues and what have you. This is supposed to bring good luck and appease restless spirits.
I didn’t do the rice ball throwing this year (it’s the kind of fun I think I should only partake in biannually), but of course I had to go to the wat during the big Pchum days. I went to the wat in Eileen’s village when I visited her from Sunday to Tuesday. Beforehand we got dressed in our Sunday best, for me a traditional purple sampot and a new white blouse– but evidently our best was not good enough, because her eldest sister made us change into wedding blouses. Now, I don’t think I’ve said much about Khmer wedding shirts for women here, but wearing one felt akin to the times when I was like 7 and my mom would force me to wear a dress for some occasion. I whined and complained just like a 7 year old, too. Eileen seemed to accept the shirts as a part of life, although she was upset that hers didn’t match her sampot as well as the black shirt she’d chosen, but really, WHO wears BLACK to the wat?! At least I’m sure that’s what her sister was thinking. >_<
I got to check out Wat Udong a bit and saw some of the "resort" there– definitely want to go back when my mom comes for a visit. For Pchum Ben it was absolutely packed with visitors, though the wat, itself, was surprisingly quiet. We ended up sitting in on a blessing ceremony with Eileen's sister, little nephew, mom, and grandma. The nun (who spoke a little English, surprisingly) made me and Eileen sit in the front– you know, the token white people. It would have been a lot more enjoyable if I didn't have to pee so bad, but since I don't have that special ability to pee standing up I couldn't relieve myself at that wat (that would just be sacrilegious). Then we shared a meal with some of the yaes (grandmas) at the wat and took a tuk tuk home again. On the ride back there were boys shooting off very loud fireworks, like cherry bombs or something, that made everybody jump each time there was a boom. Cambodians have a habit of saying a slang word for “vagina” when they are startled (I guess it’s no weirder than saying “shit”, like Americans do sometimes when they’re startled); Eileen’s grandma said it a couple times and it made me laugh a lot. It’s just a funny-sounding word, even if you don’t know the meaning.
When we got back, Eileen managed to unpin me from the wedding shirt without stabbing me, kudos to her, and I finally got to use the bathroom– possibly at that point the highlight of my day. Haha. They need to do something about the bathroom situation at the wat for women, you know?
Eileen’s sister helped me catch a taxi from Udong to PP where I caught another taxi to Kampong Cham. Normally a ride to Prey Chor is like two bulks or something, but because I’m white and because of the holiday, it cost me $5. Bummer Batman.
Prey Chor was fun– the whole fam was there, although I think I saw Pon’s little brother a total of one time, for about thirty seconds, and then he peaced out to hang out with his buddies. My “niece” Sreykah kept following me around any time I got something out of my bags, because I almost always bring a small present for her and her little brother, but I didn’t have time to get anything in PP. She must have been very disappointed!
Everyone– EVERYONE, including Eileen’s sisters– told me I’m too skinny now. My cousin told me I look like a skeleton. >_< I have lost a little weight, but Cambodians are a little extreme about looks; either you're skinny or you're fat. Last time I was there a couple months ago I was fat. This time I was "like a ghost" and they kept trying to force feed me. Well, even if they say you're fat they'll probably still try to force feed you, but that's because if you're fat you're happy.
Luckily, I didn't have to do Round Two of the wat– the Prey Chor fam had already gone the day before I got there. Thank Buddha.