Thursday, January 01, 2015

Cambodia - Day 16: Phnom Penh

We slept in the next morning. Everyone was feeling much better, but still not 100%--every time I ate or drank something, my stomach responded with it’s contracting argument against it. In any event, the food went where it was supposed to, and remained there as long as was required.

Inside Wat Phnom, Temple Mountain.
We hired  a tuk-tuk after eating our morning meal and went to Wat Phnom, Temple Mountain, and many people were there making their new year’s ablutions. Someone had left an entire baked piglet at the base of a little shrine. At the top of the stairs leading to the temple entrance, a man and a woman were selling birds to people who wanted to release them. “For good luck,” he said when I approached for a closer look at the little shit-flecked birds in the multi-tiered cages

The temple was at the top of a small hill and surrounded by a quiet park—I had read about monkeys and was on the lookout, but none appeared. There wasn’t much else to see, but the inside of the temple was painted with a well-cared-for mural from the floor to the ceiling. We were somewhat disappointed, however, and headed back to our hotel’s neighborhood. On the way back, we spotted a beautiful temple complex, the name of which I didn't catch, with a number of impressive buildings within, and stopped to take a look.

Getting ready to go.
Vito started complaining. He didn’t want to walk around. We began to circle the perimeter of the complex, but Vito wanted  to walk up the stairs and look in one of the buildings. Despite his protestations, and old man sitting under a patio where many small Buddhist flags were hanging, gestured toward a nearby building. We walked over to a door and waited with another couple while he unlocked the door. We entered the small foyer, which had gold-swathed buddhas on either side, but another smaller chamber directly in front of us. The old man motioned for us to enter, kneeled on the floor, lit sticks of incense while we watched and then gave each of us one of them. We stood around like wallflowers at their first junior high school dance when the man said “eyebrow” or something similar. He said it again and looked at the dark brown Buddha in front of us. He indicated that we should place our incense in the terra-cotta flower pot that was full of ash and little red stick ends. After we did as we had been instructed, he dipped a small whisk (something very similar to a whisk, anyway) into a bowl of water. He blessed each of us three or four times with the liquid and then asked for our right palms. In turn, he dipped the whisk into the water again and then dragged it across the palms of our hands. There were five of us. When he was finished, he indicated that we should leave an offering, which we did, and then we all went our separate ways, possibly more blessed than when we had entered. We walked around the rest of the compound, Vito struck a giant bell a handful of times, and we left for the National Museum.

The National Museum at sunset.
Before entering, we purchased tickets to attend a traditional Cambodian dance performance in the evening. The museum was nice, housed in a beautiful red traditional building next to The Royal University of Fine Arts and across the street from our hotel. In the center of the museum, there was a well-manicured garden with and a small pond. The museum contained artifacts from the various temple ruins. People throughout the the museum were distributing flower offerings: they looked like miniature flower shish kebabs or small wands of white flowers capped with a purple flower. In a room with a number of Buddha statues in various poses, Vito selected on upon which to present his flower offering, and then we all talked about getting something to eat. It is hard to keep a six-year-old interested in a museum for very long, especially when hungry, and after his interactive segment had come to a conclusion, it was time to leave.

We at lunch at Friends the Restaurant, a special eatery that trained disadvantaged youths to make handicrafts and learn a trade. In fact, there were so many businesses labeled in this way, that it was hard to understand how legitimate they were or not.

Back at the hotel, we rested and Vito watched Animal Planet, his preferred hotel series. A couple hours before the performance, we went out to send a couple of postcards and enjoy a cool beverage along the riverside to watch the sun go down.

A few blocks from the theater, we left and walked back to the National Museum following the candlelit path to the theater behind the museum. It was a small theater, and we took some seats in the front row. Almost all of the seats had been filled already. The show started promptly at 7PM with a short video about how the group started. There were eight dances, accompanied by live music (at least six musicians and two vocalists, one male and one female).There were, perhaps, thirty or more dancers in total, and they performed dances that highlighted the Apsara, the Monkey King falling in love with the golden mermaid, wedding and processional dances and the killing of a buffalo. The performance was exceptional—a highlight of our trip—and, as far as I could judge, the music was first-rate. We had a late dinner afterwards, which was clearly too much for Vito, and then returned to our hotel to sleep.

The next morning, we showered, packed, breakfasted, and then hopped into the taxi that we had arranged the night before, and which would bring us to the airport to begin our return trip to Doha. It was a good holiday, but we were ready to get home, as we always are after a long trip. Angela thought we had stayed too long in Phnom Penh, but it seemed adequate for me. Cambodia is a big country, and I hope we will get a chance to return there some day to see what we missed. Thanks, Cambodia!