Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Now We Become Tourists

I chatted with the hotel desk clerk the morning before we finished the build, about religious education in Cambodia. The vast majority of the population is Buddhist, but, while people attend ceremonies officiated by monks, there isn't a structure whereby people attend regular lectures on how to honour their religion, in the manner of the Christian sermon. During the Khmer Rouge years, religion was banned and monks persecuted, so was there any rebuilding required there? The clerk says that people learn about how to be a Buddhist mainly in the home. Boys may go to live as monks for a while, where they have nothing to do except study. There is some jealousy in his voice as he explains this. Everyone in Cambodia values the opportunity to study. He says guys just join the monastery to get an advantage in marriage. They leave the monastery and then get married. If a man has been a monk, the woman's father will look much more favourably on him, as he is assumed to be more mature and intellectual than the man who has not. That implies that one's father still has a strong role in whom one marries, here. He also says that not as many boys join the monastery now as previously, that 95% of the population may be more Buddhist than another religion, but maybe only 80% are really Buddhists.

I thought at first that if every family is interpreting the religion in their own way for their kids that it is subject to a lot of distortion, but that's exactly what happens with every family. They choose the church, mosque or temple they go to according to their personal beliefs, and there regardless of your religion there are all kinds of variants, depending on what has been added, subtracted, emphasized or disregarded along the path that it has taken to you. Plus if many of the men in the village have spent time as monks, that would tend to standardize the teachings, too. I think monks get to travel somewhat, kind of doing exchanges with other temples.

After we completed the build. we were scheduled to eat dinner at a fancy restaurant called Titanic, but were unable to get a reservation for a group as large as ours. Today is the official day of mourning for the deaths on the Diamond Bridge during the Water Festival. Many restaurants are closed, so the ones that are still open are busier. We all went out on our own in small groups for dinner. I can't take credit for the idea, but the group I was in said, "Let's go to the Titanic anyway. They probably have room for five of us." And they did. In fact they probably would have had room for everyone (but perhaps not enough staff to serve us all). They asked us to sit outside, for reasons that weren't clear, but we probably would have requested outside, given the choice. The temperature was perfect, with a breeze off the river and there was a dancer and a musician on a small stage. It was a very fine waterfront restaurant, literally ten times the price of the regular street restaurants I had been going to. Which means that a superb water buffalo dish cost $10.50. That may have included a drink. I can't remember the details of the meal. I think it was stir fried with vegetables, but I've forgotten which ones or how it was spiced. As you would expect, water buffalo is just like lean beef. They are domestic animals here, not the same water buffalo as the very dangerous African mammal. You see them lying in ponds and ditches up to their noses, like moose at home.

Our group of five happened to consist of four women and one man. The waiter showed amusing deference to the one man in the group, starting with him at each round of orders and serving, and literally looking at him for confirmation when we ordered. It was an aspect of Cambodian society that we hadn't noticed up to then: women drive motos, run stores, and had up to that point appeared to be societal equals to men. I figured it was a remnant of communism. Every time the waiter went away we would joke about what else he could do to entrench the role of our lord protector, and every time he played into our expectations we would collapse in hysterics. We all started having so much fun with our lone male's regal position that we got right into the parts; he started granting us permission to do the things we were doing anyway, and at the end when we got the bill, the girls all gave him our cash, so that he could appear to pay the bill for his harem. It continued to be a joke for the rest of the trip.

After the restaurant, we asked our tuk-tuk driver to take us to the Diamond Bridge, where we could pay our respects to the dead on this day of mourning. The bridge was roped off by police and barricades, occupied only by memorial wreaths, it looked like hundreds, probably one for everyone who was known to have died there. There were a lot of people there at the barricades to look. We stood a while then got back in our tuk-tuk. A child who was trying to beg or sell us something we didn't want actually jumped on board the little motorcycle trailer with us as it pulled away. "Where are his parents!" exclaimed one of the group, but we knew the answer was probably, "Over there by the wall, telling him to do it." I suppose that kind of behaviour is deemed cute by some tourists. It was, however, the worst of the unwanted attention we received for the whole trip.

Before bed we went to the Lucky Mart, a large, Western style grocery store that sold lots of imported foods as well as local ones, to buy snacks for the boat ride tomorrow. I paid another visit to my newsstall tutor, to thank her for the effectiveness of the phrases she helped me with, and then packed my dirty work clothes and my souvenirs so far into one suitcase to store at the hotel while we travel. "Keep this with you always," says the desk clerk as he gives me my claim ticket.


Anoynmous said...

You give me a vivid sense of so many unfamiliar images, not the least of which is "like moose at home."

Aviatrix said...

Grin. I'm completely unapologetic for that, Anoynmous. Any travelogue is told from the perspective of the traveller, and I like there to be a reminder that mine does not exactly match anyone else's.

GeorgeG said...

Moose in the lower 48 seem to spend their time wandering around, wading in lakes, or sleeping in thickets. Are the bugs SO bad in Canada that moose have to submerge themselves for protection? We don't see that down here, but I stay out of the woods in bug season, so maybe I miss it.

Aviatrix said...

I never thought they might be hiding from the bugs. I think they are just standing in the body of water because there's food there, and cant be bothered to hold their heads up any further than is required to breathe.

I'm not a moose expert.

coreydotcom said...


majroj said...

Your waiter was ingratiating himself to the guy most likely to pay the bill.