Thursday, March 25, 2010

Khmer Weddings

In order not to put off talking about Khmer weddings any longer than I already have, I will FINALLY tell you about them. I have two classifications of weddings that I’ve been to here: rich weddings and poor weddings. Usually, the traditional and ceremonial structures are the same, but the food and drink will vary depending on which category it falls into.
This wedding season I have already been to 9 weddings- most in my village. Usually, this involves me biking, either by myself or following my family as they lead the way on their moto, about 5 to 10K into the distant parts of my district (and yes, I’m absolutely certain it looks as ridiculous as you imagine it does). Usually, when I arrive I am covered in sweat and dirt. People will then ask, “are you tired?” and “why don’t you ride a moto?” Always. Then I sit down with someone I know and we wait for our table to fill so that we can be served our meal. Now, at poor weddings, usually, the meat is beef and pork, rice (always!), and vegetables(there is a dish called “luc lak” that is lettuce, pork, a dressing of sorts, peppers, and has crushed nuts on is my favorite). There is also a noodle dish that is very delicious. At poor weddings you are also served

copious amounts of rice wine. Now, there is a special person at weddings whose sole purpose, I’m convinced, is to get everyone drunk. I like to call them the “alcohol pusher”. Furthermore, I am CONVINCED that if my brother-in-law PJ were to live in this country, he would be that person. I’m absolutely certain he would be invited to all friends’ and family members’ weddings for this sole purpose. Anyway, there is a shot glass at each table that is filled up and circulated and does not stop- even when the used water bottles filled with rice wine are empty because somehow new ones mysteriously appear. The “alcohol pusher” will make sure the glasses circulate as he walks around with his own water bottle full of rice wine to pressure people to drink increasing their consumption even more, thus, ensuring that most people are completely TRASHED when they get on their motos to drive home. However, I have learned that women in this country are truly superior in common sense compared to the males living in this country. When the glass is passed to them they will pretend to drink and then pour the entire contents of the glass on the floor! Brilliant or, as they say here, ‘very clever’.
Rich weddings aren’t really too much different except for their food and drink, as previously stated. Usually, there are a lot more courses of food at rich weddings. The wedding I went to in the provincial town last weekend had appetizers of cashews, something almost like chicken nuggets and a tofu thing (not sure what is was…someone said tofu?). They then had AMAZING fried chicken and grilled fish. Finally, then served us bread (which to all the ‘barangs’ was EXCITING, no rice!). It was absolutely amazing. OH, and they had cake! Furthermore, these weddings do not serve rice wine, but beer.
All weddings ALWAYS have very, very loud music to which everyone dances Khmer style and “hip-hop” around a table. It’s quite entertaining and fun. Moreover, this music can be heard for miles and miles and will succeed in keeping anyone in the surrounding neighborhood awake until way past their bed time. Everyone also wears Khmer traditional clothes to weddings. Usually, this is a silk skirt and an 80s style top (pictures on top). Also, many younger girls wear dresses like you would wear to a prom. Men wear whatever they want (typical to Cambodian dress code). Furthermore, it’s very stylish to get your hair and make-up done. The bigger the hair and the brighter the eye shadow the more “Sa’at” or beautiful you are. A couple of my friends and I went to the wedding of a fellow volunteers’ co-teacher a couple weeks ago and we decided to “make our face” as it translates. It was awesome and we looked like we walked out of the past. Someone remarked to me, “your face looks Khmer, but you’re American.” I just had to laugh at the accuracy. EVERYONE loved that we “made our faces.” The bride at a Khmer wedding will also change their clothes numerous times. Furthermore, there is still a dowry for a bride. The wedding of my friend’s co-teacher paid $3,000 for his wife (my friend asked).

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

So, two weeks ago on a Monday I was at school waiting for class to begin. My host mom comes up to me and asks if I want to go to Siem Reap (a very famous tourist town up north). I said yes, thinking that when she asks if I want to go it means in the distant future because EVERYONE asks if you want to go to Siem Reap. She then responds, “go ask the school director.” To which I said “What!? When would I go?” She says, “tomorrow.” Um…ok. So, I ask the school director and find out that a “car” will pick me up the next day between 4 and 5 am. They said they were going because the school director’s daughter (?) was getting married. So, the next morning as I was expecting a car with 5 people in it, a van shows up at 6:30 with 28 people in it. I kid you not, 28 people. I thought to myself, “I bet not everyone in this van is going to Siem Reap.” Oh, but they were. We even managed to shove another person into the van about 4 hours into the trip. I personally didn’t think it possible, but I guess after you have 28 people, what’s one more? In the van were people I know from the market, my school director, the police chief, the health center director, and many other people I didn’t know. About 6 hours into the trip, we stopped for a picnic lunch of rice and meat. There was cooked rice in coolers and meat already cooked. I felt bad for not contributing anything, but how was I to know rice was picnic food? About an hour from Siem Reap town everyone was getting very excited! The police chief was playing games (much to many peoples annoyance). At one point he caught me sleeping and yelled my name saying “Kristin, we’re in Siem Reap, you can’t sleep!” Then a kid vomited all over him! Not many people here own cars nor ride in them often so vomiting is VERY COMMON (and the roads are HORRIBLE). At many points throughout the trip bags to vomit in, stuff to smell and eat were circulated for all those who felt the need to vomit or prevent its occurrence. Even after being puked on, he was still extremely excited to be going to Siem Reap!
Once in Siem Reap, we all went to a house that was lived in by police officers (yeah, the guns on the walls gave it away). Honestly, I have no idea who they were, but they were police. The first night I stayed at the house of the former Commune Chief of our district. It was a nice house. The second night I stayed at the police house in my own room.
Usually, here in Cambodia, anywhere I’ve been there has been that one person who knows a little English. However, on this trip that person didn’t come! I realized how little Khmer I know once the basics are out of the way. Somehow it all worked out. I understood enough. The second day we were there we visited Angkor Wat, the famous temple ruins from the Angkor period. It was amazing. Seeing Angkor Wat with Cambodians is the best. Not only are they like kids in a candy store, but they are so proud of their history. We rented a tuk tuk to drive us around all day looking at the different temples. These are some of my favorite moments:
1. A lady from my market asked me if seeing all my “brothers and sisters” made me happy, happy! There are tons of foreigners running around the place. I told them I didn’t know any of themJ
2. I was exiting a temple and there was a huge crowd of South Koreans huddled around something and taking pictures. I thought maybe they had spotted a monkey or a famous statue. No, it was a French couple with a white baby. Asians love white babies. My friends told me over and over how much they wanted one! I said foreigners want their little brown babies!
3. My Khmer friends stopped three female British tourists to touch their skin, hair and comment about how beautiful they were. The men pointed out how big their breasts were! The girls were a bit freaked out. I told them they thought they were very beautiful…they were grateful for the explanation.
4. There was a beach we ate near for lunch. They asked if I wanted to "take a bath." Everyone swimming at this lake rented shorts and a shirt to swim in unless they were kids then they swam in nothing. They also gave you a sarang (similar to a towel but you wear it as a skirt here) to use to change into your shorts and shirt. I decided to sleep in the hammock!
It was a great trip. I never went to the wedding either. I asked, “Are we going to the wedding?” Someone said, “oh, no, it’s too far.” I thought that funny since it took 9 ½ hours to get there in the first place…what’s another hour or two? Oh, well…you couldn’t have paid me enough to get back in that van again! Needless to say, my next mode of transport was an air conditioned bus! After Siem Reap I had to head to Phnom Penh for a meeting and I must confess it was a nice escape to speak English again. It was quite the adventure. When I got back home this week my mom asked if I want to go to the beach with them over Khmer New Years. I said, "sure"....