Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Our New Year "Stay-cation"

Wicker Nagaa at Wat Phnom

 Unlike American holidays, many countries officially devote multiple days to celebrating a single holiday. Back in Egypt, these multi-day holidays were Islamic religious observances such as Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Here in Cambodia, some are Buddhist holidays (most notably, Pchum Ben), whereas others have less to do with religion and more to do with ancient cultural practices (Water Festival). Khmer New Year, a cultural celebration that includes religious elements, was observed this year from Friday, 13 April, through Monday, 16 April.

During Khmer New Year, many Cambodians who live in the cities return to the provinces to celebrate with their families. Many expats who live in Phnom Penh also leave, spending the holiday at the beaches of Kep or Sihanoukville, at the ancient temples around Siem Reap, or outside of Cambodia altogether. Those who stay in Phnom Penh over the holiday experience a rare treat: a nearly deserted city. Traffic is almost non-existent, tourist hot spots are significantly less crowded than usual, and (less ideally) many shops and restaurants are closed.

As an embassy employee, Jeff has the privilege of being off work for local holidays, so we had a four day weekend. Those who know us well will be unsurprised to learn that we chose to stay in Phnom Penh over the holiday weekend.

Wat Phnom, decorated for Khmer New Year
On Friday morning, we went to Monkey Business, where we met up with several friends and their little ones. Monkey Business is a great place to take kids of all ages. There are three separate play areas, one for infants under 1 year, one for children aged 1 to 4, and one for “big kids” over the age of 4. (The areas are designed for children of those ages, but the kids are allowed to play in any area, as long as they’re doing so safely and in a way that doesn’t prevent the younger kids from enjoying their areas … although, to be honest, the limitations always come from the parents, never from the staff.) The play areas have ball pits, slides, and various “obstacle courses” in which the kids can play. There’s a large seating area for the parents, with free wi-fi, and a caf√© with decent prices and pretty good food for both kids and adults (they even have decent coffee). There’s even an area set up for pedicures and foot massages! We stayed at Monkey Business for maybe four hours on Monday morning, and left only because Alexa’s morning nap time had come and gone, and her afternoon nap time was approaching.

Buddhist flags
On Saturday, we waited until after Alexa’s morning nap, then made a trip up to Wat Phnom. We’d heard that there would be traditional games being played there pretty much all day, and we wanted to see what was going on. When we arrived, we noticed that the main entry area had been decorated with a lot of small flags. I recognized half of the flags as the national flag of Cambodia, but I did not recognize the others. A quick internet search once we got home revealed that those flags, as I suspected, were Buddhist. There didn’t seem to be much happening around the base of the hill, although there were more people there than usual. Some of these people were playing a game that looked an awful lot like hacky sack, and some crowded around a cage holding a monkey. We spent a few minutes letting Alexa see the monkey, but we left once an unwary woman started grabbing the monkey’s paw and laughing at its angry swipes at her—we didn’t want Alexa to develop a fear of monkeys once the woman received the scratches for which she was asking. Most people, however, were just standing or sitting around, chatting. We walked around the bottom of the hill for half an hour or so; we didn’t climb to the top because we didn’t expect the games to be played there, and it was possible that religious ceremonies (in which we did not want to participate) would be held there.
Captive monkey at Wat Phnom

After our unsuccessful but pleasant attempt to find traditional games at Wat Phnom, we headed to Paragon Mall. We weren’t interested in the mall itself; that’s where Monkey Business is located, but other than that, the mall consists of a supermarket, a few restaurants, and a few small shops that hold no interest for us. One of the restaurants, however, is a great one: Swensen’s! This chain of ice cream parlors was started in the United States, though I hadn’t heard of it there. Jeff was very excited the first time we saw a Swensen’s here, and immediately decided that we had to go there. The visit this weekend was our second time at a Swensen’s here in Cambodia (the first one we visited was at Soriya shopping center), and it didn’t disappoint. All three of us were very happy to have ice cream sundaes for lunch, especially after traipsing around in the heat and humidity.

We spent the rest of the weekend lounging around the house. I read, Jeff beat whichever video game that is that features John Shepard (the second one—he hasn’t started the newest one yet), and Alexa played, looked at books, and watched “Uh-Oh” (her name for Curious George) and Veggie Tales. We had planned to attend church on Sunday, but our tuk tuk driver informed us that he was going to his province, so he couldn’t drive us, and … well … we don’t know how to get there on our own. We have driving directions, which we passed on to him with great success, but our maps don’t cover that far out from downtown, and we weren’t even sure how to locate the starting point for the directions. That’s something we need to fix before the next big holiday, though. We also had intended to go back to Monkey Business on Monday morning, but we decided on Sunday night to be lazy and not set an alarm clock. We considered taking advantage of the empty city to visit a relatively deserted National Museum, too, but laziness struck again. We will get around to the museum one of these days, though … even if not until we have some more friends visit us this fall!

1 comment:

  1. If my memory is correct, Jeff was introduced to Swensen's in Akron, OH. Thanks for sharing your quiet holiday with us.


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