Time flies, only 108 more days to go!
01.25.2010 - 02.14.2010
Happy Chinese New Year.
This whole city is even more crazily busy on major streets today, (Friday) with people flocking to the markets (to buy food to cook for ancestor worship and family dinners) and/or leaving town for family celebrations and picnics in the country. Many students were absent today to go their villages. Many street businesses are decorated with red lanterns and pictures of cute chinese dolls. (Even if you are not Chinese, there will a celebration of a family get-togethers, although the Chinese are the largest minority group in this city). The police trained special units to control traffic violations: overloaded cars, pick-ups (they are really overloaded, with people on roofs and freight tied up, through unclosed doors! just strings!) Of course drunk driving and speeding are also infractions and frequent causes of accidents! Leaving the University people said: "Happy Chinese New Year!" This year the Lunar New Year is at the same day as Valentine's day and of course businesses and restaurants try to connect the two!!
Last week I was in Kuala Lumpur where there is a large Chinese population and everything and everybody was already preparing for the New Year, buying food and boxes full of mandarin oranges and special cookies etc. The streets in China town and Chinese neighborhoods were all decorated and it was a great site!
I visited a young woman, Shirley, (who I met in Siem Reap at the beginning of the year in a temple and we spend a whole day together), and since I had to leave the country to get a business visa to change my tourist visa, I decided to go see her. It was a whole new experience, to be invited into the culture of a third generation Chinese family! ( Shirley is a Hakka, Chinese, but there are also Cantonese, Hokkien, Teochen and Hainanese populations. Every Chinese identifies with the area and the Chinese group they came from. Many speak there own language, Cantonese, Mandarin, Malay, and English, and if your father and mother belong to other groups, the languages of both. All have retained their own cultural practices).
It turned out to be a wonderful 4 days! Right after she picked me up at 8.00 p.m. we went to eat fried noodles and shrimp with greens and lime juice on the sidewalk, with many people. That's what happened the rest of the five days, either buying food at the street (fried rice, cooked eggs in currysauce, vegetables, tofu, fish or meat to take home for breakfast!) end up like nasi rames for the Dutch readers among you! )or Dim Sum, all in Chinese street restaurants, great ! with only Chinese customers.
The first day we went to Malakka, a trade town, colonized first by the Portugese, then the Dutch from 1653 on. The Dutch build a big brick Church in 1753 to celebrate over 100 years colonization, and brought all the materials from Holland, except the wood for the beams. There was one grave stone on the floor of a 27 year old Dutch men, wonder who he was and what his role was. They also built a "Stadthuys" (city hall) which is still called that way, although it is now a museum. The majority of the population is Malay (Muslim) who have all kinds of rights other groups do not have (discounts in interest when buying a house etc.) Other groups are Baba-Nyonga's, decendents of Chinese and Malays, with distinct clothing and rituals. Then there are Indians and Chittys (mixed Indian and Malay since the 15th century). Remnants of this rich history are every where. For instance there is a lovely Chinatown, mainstreet called Jonkerstreet, with the oldest Chinese temple outside of China, the Cheng Hoon Teng temple, a Mosque and a Hindu temple all in one street! They call it Harmony street!
The Chinese temple represents three worldviews: Confucius (people come to pray before exams!), Taoism (ancestor and other deities worship) and Buddhism. The temple is dedicated to Quan Yin, who originated according to Shirly in Taoist times and is not a Buddhist goddess. We bought joss sticks and I followed my devout Chinese friends: bow with all the joss-sticks smoldering pressed to your forehead between your hands, say prayers of gratitude and blessings, and start with putting three sticks for Quan Yin, and go round and offer 1 stick to all the altars with Gods and Deities (education, business, prosperity, old age, health, etc) and ancestors. An old nun in brown was chanting in front of Quan Yin and the Buddha, quite moving. "May we filled with compassion and mercy!! "
Then we saw a shoemaker, who makes shoes for bounded feet (originally 3 inches), (see picture). Women could hardly stand up and had to be carried around. Not many of these women left, but he still makes them and the majority is for tourists. He is the only one in the world to make these shoes. I told him my grandfather was a shoemaker and we had a delightful conversation. His store is 3rd generation as well.
Unfortunately the Mosque was not for tourists and the Hindu temple was closed. We ended up in a satay place, where you pick sticks to be satayed (meats, mushrooms, tofu, fish balls, vegetables), and in the middle of the table is a big pot cooking with satay sauce fired by a gasheater under the table. It reminded me of having a fondue!
The whole day was delightful and I learned a lot!
The rest of my days we spend in Kuala Lumpur and they were quite wonderful as well. We went to the Batu caves, a Hindu monument where Tamil Indians worship. We had to climb 271 straight steps up, but it was all very festive since it was the festival of Thaipusan when milk is offered to a god (don't know who) for purification and blessings. Heads are shaved and covered with a yellow mud. Grandmothers do that with their grandchildren for blessings (See picture of baby). They all climb up and to see the different Hindu Gods was worth it, but also for the rock formations! Of course we went to see the twin towers, on top of a huge shopping mall! At night pretty spectacularly lighted up!
Shirley's family took me in, and at the first meal her father opened a French Bordeaux from 1999! which we all drank. Shirley's sister lives with her parents, two married sisters live in the same street and Shirley and her brother have one house as well. Everyone has maids. So the whole family lives together, but in different houses, and they go out for dinner once a week to the same place, which we did on Saturday night. Again, on a street corner with delicious food! They joked and laughed and ate and it was delightful to see and experience.
The last outing was to the Gendang Casina in the mountains, where Shirley's father 'works' for one hour a week. Joking! He gambles and often wins a lot of money! (We just went to the shopping mall!) Gendang means literally 'above the clouds' and you get there taking a winding road into the mountains, quite beautiful . The first thing to arriv
e at is a big Budhhist temple and statues and a patio with great carvings, then further up is the Casina. Quite a contrast! The whole trip was a highlight and I learned so much about the Hakka/Chinese worldview. They have altars inside (for ancestors and deities) and outside the house: Deity of Heaven. They offer incense every morning and say their prayers of blessings and asking for safety. Shirley told me that they have retained their tradition, but in China people do not live this way anymore.
My life here in Phnom Penh keeps being interesting. I had a quiet weekend, but try to do something everyday that is new and different. I have a new bike, and bike to the Univerisity or bike around at four, when it is cooling off, but before sunset, sit at the riverside at the third floor of a restaurant as I often do, read the paper or a book, and feel quite peaceful. I got to be my own best friend, and I like it!
Yesterday (Saturday) I had a Khmer Lesson at 7.30 and know my lessons. Then when my teachers start asking me questions in Kmai, it all disappears!! I might be too old to learn a new language! An hour lasts a long time!! Then I skyped with Fred, talked to Sheila, and had coffee with a colleague. I walked the whole afternoon. First to a big bookstore, to a Chinese restaurant, and went to see a documentary: The Continuum: Beyond the Killing Fields. This was about the only member of the Royal dance group, Em Theay who survived the Pol Pot period. She is now 68 and told her personal story (2 other younger dancers and a man as well). There was back-footing to Phnom Penh and Tuol Sleng prison where thousands of people were murdered. Em Theay is reviving the traditional dances and we saw quite a few as well as shadow puppets. Very interesting, beautiful and well done, too bad there were only 5 people in the audience! I walked to the main area and had pumpkin soup at a restaurant where they train street kids to be cooks and servers. Delicious. The town was all lighted up and festive, with fountains all llighted up with colored lights and water displays. Quite a party! I left at 1 and came home at 7 and had a good time!
This morning (Sunday) I went to a 90 minute yoga/meditation class on a rooftop, quite lovely in the wind! I had not "sat" for 90minutes for a long time and it was quite taxing, but wonderful. A lot of breathing exercises and arm movements (open the heart chakra's) as well as meditation. I have been tired the rest of the day as I did my housework: laundy, clean and shop!
For the rest, my rat has decided to only occasionally leave a sign of his/her presence, and I am taking half an ambien at night to go to sleep. Life has improved!!
Hope all is well with all of you,
I miss you!