sábado, 12 de maio de 2012

Phearum's Homeland

After many invitations to visit one of our staff's homeland, Phearum, me and Bart (other exchange intern in other company of the same group) decided to spend the last weekend in the Psa Trach village, in Kompong Chhnang provingce, in Cambodia's coountryside and around 50 km from Phnom Penh. It was a very unique experience because we could see with our own eyes the Khmer people daily life who doesn't live in a big city like Phnom Penh.

Since we decided to go, Phearum confimed and reconfirmed our schedule almost on a daily basis besides asking us every time what food we would like to eat, where we would like to sleep, where we would like to go, etc. He was sou anxious about us going there but soon we realized that wasn't just him. His mother had set up everything to prepare me and Bart favourite dishes, Tchá Kadal and Lok Lak, respectively.

On Saturday after work we had lunch and then hit the road. With us, the person who took me on the back of his motorbike, Phearum's friend/cousin Mr. "Sei Lá". It was very funny to say his name because of the meaning in Portuguese ("I don't know/I don't care" informal expression). We took more than 1 hour to ride through the 50 km of asphalted road.

Phearum's House

Phearum's house is located in a somewhat big piece of land with two main constructions, one in where his family lives in and other that was built when he decides go back and live with them - nowadays used as a rice deposit. In front of the house, in the same area, a small market operates everyday for what the sellers pay a rent fee. His family has also a small shop directed to the road and they also sell water from their own well.

We had just arrived when we were asked to go to the backyard. A huge panel of Tchá Kadal. This Khmer dish is made of chicken, beef, liver or, in that case, duck, peanuts, vegetables and lots of chilly. It's incredibly nice! Lok Lak it's a French-Khmer creation in which beef is fried in a fast way so it's still medium raw. It's common to find this dish served with fried eggs, rice, lettuce, cucumbers and lots of onion which remembers me as the most Brazilian style dish in Cambodia.

After that Phearum and "Sei Lá" presented us to their family, father, mother, sister, cousins, etc. Then we started a photograpy session not just because we wanted but because they're asking us to take pictures of and with them.

His nieces caught our attention. They had so sweet smiles, always laughing and walking together. A group of three looking like little "stairs", from the tallest to the shortest one.

"Sei Lá" recently went through a public exam and was admitted to become a tax officer in his homeland, Pailin. Because of that he had just taken his new uniform that he would wear in the next months.

"Sei Lá" wearing uniform, the tallest Khmer I ever met
More people came in and soon the family's newest member. Phearum's little niece came carried by his sister and soon everyone was carrying her arround, including myself and Bart.

Our 2nd lunch thus was served at 3 pm. Everything was there, rice, lots of Tchá Kadal, Lok Lak, fruits and many beers. That's the Khmer way of celebrating. Everybody sit around the food on the floor. Then each one has its own dish of rice and Chinese chopsticks. Then you 'fish' what you want. That lasts for a long time, hours. Our 2nd lunch suddenly became a dinner and lasted until 8-9 pm.

In the West we are used to, especially within family events, have a closed meal with some pre-set number of people. In Cambodia, as far as it's something special going on, any relative/close friend can join. As long as they're walking nearby and you invitem them - what you would do since that's a cultural and reciprocal practice.

Other interesting cultural things were: you cannot wear a cap or hat neither shoes inside the house. Every time you drink you should 'cheers' first - Tchôul Muy. And they have a very famous logic when drinking, any Khmer knows this quote: "Drink, drank, drunk. Drink not drunk, drink for what?".

Phearum's uncle who fought against the Thai during the border conflicts in 2010
It was quite late when other batch of participants, a cop cousin, a sick, with something on her fronthead cousin, and other friend who was taking the picture.

Then suddenly Phearum's mom comes in and brings another beef dish for 'dinner'. We didn't stop to eat for the whole day.

This day had rained a lot and there were lots of bugs. Sine we had no electricity at that time when we went out to piss, in the backyard, we could not forget to take the flashlight. Then a massive cloud a bugs would take you.

After that we spent some time riding around the village to visit some of his relatives and to check if we would sleep in another place but ended up sleeping at Phearum's place. Me and Bart shared a typical bed, no mattress and only a wood made plataform. They slept on the floor with only a thin carpet below.

Tror Leng Keng

In the next day the market opened at 4-5 am. We were awakened with the noise - and the people watching through the door to check who were those two guys - until we finally woke up at 7 am. We had a breakfast and started our tour day.

This region used to be Cambodia's capital during the 19th century. It was also the war frontier with the Thai (Siem). But everything was destroyed and today there's nothing left behind besides pleasant roads with a lot of ancient trees, houses and plantations.

We finally got to the Pagoda (temple) of Tror Leng Keng. In the surroundings there were two constructions for praying, a small lake, many trees and other support buildings to the Buddhist practice and education. The general sensation is that the place was a very seren place and thus left me very sleepy.

The temples had plenty of paintings. Inside and outside, and, curiously with the price in USD of how much that painted had cost. The paintings included Buddhist divinities but especially, Cambodia's history and the conflicts with Siem. One of the paints, Phearum explained us, it's shown that Cambodia during the battles lost its "Caw god", which meant wealthy, progress, etc. And the Caw god was taken to Siem. In fact when Siem ocuppied Angkor Wat and other places of the Khmer Empire (old Cambodia), intelectuals, artists, technology, wealth symbols, etc., were taken. And, since then the Khmer Empire fell into disgrace until becoming a French protectorate.

Temple's ceiling
Another interesting figure at those temples were the 'nuns', called Yeay Chi. I don't understand a lot about Buddhism but their work seemed to be a little different from the monks. They keep taking care of the temple, sweeping and cleaning it. They have to shave their hair and accept donations in exchange for praying.

I was a little bit reluctant to take a picture. My camera is not discrete and normally religious people don't like to be photographed. In that case was different. Phearum told me that she had already pre-authorized us to take pictures. I tried to understand why and according to him it was because if I, a foreigner, take pictures I will end up 'advertising' the place and bringing more visitors. Well, here I am, haha.

Non posing for photo
The two constructions we visited had interesting things and at one of it the altar had plenty of gods statues, Buddhas, etc.

Buddhist temple altar
Udong Mountain

Finished our visit we went to the region's major attraction, Phnom Udong, or commonly known as Udong Mountain. From 1618 to 1866 that was Cambodia's capital in response to Siam's invasion and after that it became Phnom Penh, until today.

There's an interesting legend about this place. In the 18th century, China's emperor sent scouts all over Asia to find any threats to his empire. Getting there the scout saw a mountain in the form of a many heads snake (naga). According to him the Khmer people were already a strong people and in the case the snak appeared in the top of the mountain they would rule the world. The Chinese emperor then didn't want that happen or any war. He then asked a temple to be built in which there was Buddha's face looking to China to protect it. In fact Cambodia and China have always been allies.

Another ritual: when climbing the stairs it's expected that you give donations, alms, etc. And that should be done with small and new money - in general cripy bills of KHR 100 - $2.5 cents of dollar. Phearum then changed a KHR 20,000 bill for lots of these smalls ones paying some comission for that. Foreigners have to pay US$ 1/person to get to this area. The collection is made on the road.

Alms stairs
From far away is possible to see the 'mountain', that is actually a hill. It's only 220 m tall but from there it looks like you're in the only building in an endless plain. You can see everything. The panorama pictures below try to show that.

Looking at the northeast direction
All this light brown land are places in which is usally planted rice. This is the dry season view. If we had come during the rainy season (May-Oct) we would see a huge water mirror but probably no sun.

Looking at the southwest direction
Around the peak there are many constructions that keep sacred Budha statues among other religious aspects. That makes that a lot of monks keep walking around the temple praying and spraying some perfurme.

Monks praying
The hill have some different peaks and in each peak you can find some sacred place, temples, etc. Some were opened now, in 2002, others were built in 1920, 1800, and even 1600.

Looking at Phnom Penh in the horizon
Here we found the temple of Buddha looking to China - but not only China.

Finally at one of the last temples we could see all the others.

After that we came down and had a awesome sugar juice for US$0.30 each and came back to Phearum's house. When we got there a delicious lunch was waiting for us with many fish, rice and fruits as dessert. Then we took a nap.

Before we left however we had some gifts to Phearum's family. I gave them a Brazilian flag and many keychains to the kids and adults. Bart gave them a package of candies.

Phearum's father, me, Phearum, his mother, sister and Bart
And then with another 1-hour trip back to Phnom Penh we finished this 1-weekend adventure in Cambodia's countryside. It was an amazing and unforgetable experience that put us in touch with the local people. We are extremely thankful to Phearum and his family that welcomed us with open arms and treated us in the best way they can.

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2 comentários:

  1. From all of your post about Cambodia, I like this one the most :D

  2. That's nice Nadya! I also like a lot about it! I think it was the closest I got to Khmer life and culture! ;]


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