Adventures in Asia 2008

my travels through India, Nepal, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Taiwan.

Wedding Bells

Posted by maudholma on 21 April 2008

In between our stops on the tourist trail of Cambodia, S and I did a homestay in a village near the town of Kampong Cham, a few hours from Phnom Penh. The family we stayed with consists of an American man, his Cambodian wife (whose whole family lives and farms in the same village), their 2 adorable children, a dog, and some chickens. During our two day visit, we got to see a glimpse of “real” Cambodian life and, like our elephant riding experience in Laos, is probably going to be the most memorable experience of this country.

In 1975, the Khmer Rouge took power in Cambodia after years of civil war and unrest and immediately began forced evacuations of Cambodia’s cities and towns. People were told that there was a threat of US bombings and that they would be allowed to return in 2 or 3 days. Instead, these “New People” were forced to move to the countryside and join the “Ancient People” in an attempt to create the perfect Communist state, built on agriculture. During the 4 years that the Khmer Rouge were in power, an estimated 1-2 million people (according to some reports, one third of the country’s population) died or were killed. Many starved to death due to food shortages and terrible living conditions coupled with inadequate healthcare, with the rest being tortured and killed by the Khmer Rouge. Ironically, since most of its leaders were well educated, the group targeted those with an education as well as monks, teachers, and members of the previous governments. It’s shocking to think that this happened only a little over 30 years ago and that it was allowed to go on for so long before anyone intervened. Kheang, the wife of the family we lived with, remembered stealing fruit as a child whenever she could to supplement the meagre rations of watery rice soup with fish paste that they were given. Since she was only 5 years old when it happened, her memories were a little more innocent than those of her mother, who said she still feels like she’s opening up old wounds when she talks about that time and felt disappointed in that some of the perpetrators have never been brought to justice.

As a slightly more uplifting part of our homestay experience, S and I attended the wedding of Kheang’s cousin. At the ripe old age of 28, her parents had told her that she could no longer turn down proposals, and essentially forced her to marry someone she had only met for 15 minutes before the wedding. During an entire day of ceremonies, the bride and groom rarely looked at each other and didn’t exchange a single word. They did, however, change clothes about 10 times, each outfit more ridiculous than the previous. S and I didn’t do much better – we wore stained and sweat-drenched t shirts, capri pants, and flip flops. As one does to a wedding… Nevertheless, the bride insisted on having her picture taken with us and everyone tried their hardest to drag us onto the dancefloor! If for nothing else, I learned that I don’t want a wedding photographer who habitually lifts up his shirt to are his beer belly due to the heat, a husband-to-be who teams a red jacket with pink pants, white socks, and black shoes, or techno music when I get married.

After a quick stop in Phnom Penh for some sightseeing and more sweating, we made our way to Sihanoukville, on the south coast of Cambodia, where white sand, turquoise water, fresh seafood, and breathtaking sunsets are the order of the day. I probably won’t get much sympathy if I complain about the heat?

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