A very wet and powdery Khmer New year!

I narrowly escaped a water fight at Number 10 The Lakeside this morning. The staff and guests were chasing each other around with bottles of water, and the only reason I managed to stay dry was due to my close proximity to electrical equipment, as I checked my email on one of their computers!

Kotoe and I headed down to Wat Phnom again in the afternoon and were pleased to find the place crawling with people, the sounds of music, screams and laughter filling the nearby streets. The grounds were so busy that even the resident monkeys had been forced to retreat into the trees. The temple itself was alive with colour, flags draped around the outside and each Buddha image was decorated with fresh coconuts and lotus flowers and beautifully crafted offerings made from banana leaves. The smell of incence filled the air. On the lower level a large sound system had been set up in front of a colourful painting of Khmer dancers. A number of Cambodian teenagers were moving to the rhythmic urban sounds being emitted from the speakers. On the street level food vendors filled the grounds and there were beggars at every corner, many missing limbs and one man displaying a blood-red gaping wound in one of his legs.

We began to walk around the base of the temple, constantly being met by the sight of powdery-faced Cambodians. Eager to join the race of ghostly apparitions, we purchased a 2000RIEL bottle of baby powder from one of the Cambodian children who seemed to have endless supplies in their possession. The second we held one of these in our hands, the onslaught began, almost as if the fact that we were in possession of baby powder at once gave them permission to attack. From behind I felt a pair of hands across my cheeks, I heard a mischievous giggle and the words “Happy New Year!” in my ear, and I turned around to see the face of a grinning Cambodian girl, a wicked glint in her eye : the anticipation of retaliation.

So we retaliated and a chase ensued, and we surfaced minutes later looking like we’d been caught in the middle of a serious icing sugar explosion! After laughing hysterically at each other’s appearances, we continued around the grounds, in search of some unsuspecting victims and armed with the remaining contents of the baby powder bottle in our hands. Kotoe spotted a well-dressed, well-groomed, spotlessly clean tall Cambodian man wearing shades and standing on the grass in front of us, his back towards us. He seemed strangely out of place amidst the beggars, food vendors, and revellers. Kotoe crept up behind him, baby powder in hand, all ready to soil his crisp, unspoilt appearance. Now I don’t know whether he heard us talking and understood our English or whether he possessed a sixth sense and super fast reaction time, but it was like a scene out of The Matrix the way he sped across the grass with such style. The whiteness of his smug, sparkling smile as he ran, was as immaculate as his attire.

After a couple of hours of having the most fun I’ve ever had with a bottle of baby powder, we decided to leave Wat Phnom and check out how the rest of the city were celebrating new year. It must be one of the only occasions that it’s ok to walk the streets of a capital city covered head to toe in ghostly white powder. Yes, you’ll get laughed at, but at least people won’t think you’re crazy! We walked to the market, which was noticeably quieter than yesterday’s hive of activity. We sat down at one of the remaining tables, ordered an iced coffee and noodle soup each and wiped the powder from our faces. Just as we had done so, we looked across to one of the other tables and spotted one of the guys we’d had a powder fight with at Wat Phnom, one of his cheeks still faintly advertising the evidence of this fact.
After we’d eaten, we sauntered on down to the riverfront. It wasn’t as busy as Wat Phnom had been but there were still crowds of people milling around. There was live music, and people praying, incence sticks held between the palms of their hands. There were also street vendors with cages full of birds, offering people the chance (at a price) to set the creatures free.
The evening was drawing in as we began our walk back down Sisowath Quay. However the revellers were still out in force and very soon we were whiter and wetter than when we left Wat Phnom. Local kids and teenagers were armed with plastic bags full of water. As well as throwing them at passing ‘barang’, they also aimed them at motorists as they drove past. Evidence, in the form of burst plastic bags, lay scattered all over the road. One motorcyclist was hit with such force that he lost control of his bike and he and two fellow passengers fell, like dominoes, on to the road below, still with smiles on their faces. There were police in the vicinity, who had very much turned a blind eye to the waterbombing until the incident with the motorcycle occured and the traffic drew to an abrupt standstill.
As we arrived back at the lakeside and neared our guesthouse I spotted one of the locals carrying a huge water gun. He hadn’t seen us and as he turned his back on us I emptied the remaining baby powder into my hands, tiptoed towards him and rubbed my hands across his chheks. “Happy New Year!”, I smiled. AS I expected, he turned around, a full tank of water strapped across his shoulder, and chased Kotoe and I down the road, washing the powder from our faces and clothes.
All was quiet at our guesthouse when we returned, until later on in the evening when one of the staff, baby powder in hand, decided to decorate the faces of all her guests. Kotoe and I were the only tourists who willingly joined in the fun. We grabbed some baby powder, ensured all the staff were as decorated as we were, and the took it in turns to chase the two guys around with a water gun. Most of the guests didn’t batter an eyelid : they continued to play cards, watch TV and drink beer, whilst we ran rings of havoc around them.
Photo to follow.

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