It is the happiest time of the year for Cambodians and I cannot help but smile when I see our neighbours singing and putting up decorations. On New Year's eve, one of the young women who live near our house caught me smiling at her happiness and shouted to me: "Sousaday Joul Chnam Thmei!" (Happy Khmer New Year! but literally "Enter the New Year!")
The young woman's joy reminds me of children at Christmas, or myself at Chinese New Year when I was little. My cousins and I would meet in Taiping in Perak, Malaysia, when my maternal grandma was alive. My mom is the third of 9 sisters. Ah-ma also had 2 sons, so 11 in total! Yes, incredible. Contrast this with the three my mom has and the zero I have. How things have changed in just 2 generations.
Anyway, with such a big clan, you can imagine the noise when we got together at Chinese New Year. Some 5 years ago, I brought Alan, a Scot, to Kuala Lumpur where most of our relatives now live and he was bewildered at the constant visiting, drinking and eating. There was also plenty of gambling, mostly Blackjack. This goes on non-stop for 15 days.
Khmer New Year is officially for three days only and I write here why Khmer New Year is when it is , at a different time from Chinese New Year, even though they both use the lunar calendar.
During Khmer New Year, my Cambodian friends will go to the pagoda to pray and give offerings. Some people go to the pagoda every day for the three days. Some will also donate food to poor people.
In Siem Reap's Old Market, many Cambodian-owned shops were open yesterday, the first day of New Year, but many are shut today, on the second day, which is interesting. In Singapore, Chinese New Year's Eve (when families gather to eat the Reunion Dinner) and the first day of New Year are the most important days to celebrate, so shops will shut then.
Last year, after visiting Kampong Cham to be with his family, Chhun Hy brought back Khmer New Year cakes, special food that his mother makes. One is called kralan, which is glutinous rice containing bean paste and sometimes fatty pork which is stuffed into a bamboo stick and roasted. It is very yummy. There is another powdery cake made also from bean and wrapped in paper but I forget the name.
During this time you will also see this large, hard, dark brown seed, called "angkunhs". It's not for eating, but for playing a game:"Bos Angkunh":
A game played by two groups of boys and girls. Each group throws their own "angkunh" to hit the master "angkunhs," which belong to the other group and are placed on the ground. The winners must knock the knee of the losers with the "angkunh."
Cambodians will put up large stars made from bamboo frames and multi-coloured plastic paper above the main door. They also put up fairy lights. I took some photos of the stars and will upload later. The Chinese version is red cloth and other red hangings.
Last Khmer New Year I went with a French friend who wanted to see a Khmer fortune teller. We took a tuktuk to this house in the countryside to see this man who was obviously a fake. It's worth an entry in itself.
Happy Cambodian New Year!
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