Kmher New Year’s Party

By Jane | April 16, 2014

12,881 km so far.

There was no breakfast at the hotel this morning, and we’ve run out of cereal, so it was off to market to forage for food.

Market mornings can be kind of fun, except today I was so hungry that I was already feeling a little crazy before we got there.

Picking Through The Market

The other problem is that the market in Pursat is filthy. We’ve seen a lot of markets on this trip, but this one wins for the excessive piles of garbage, grunge built up everywhere, and number of down-at-heel stalls. To make matters worse, my tummy was feeling a little off this morning.

I could barely look as I wandered the aisles of fly infested meats, searching for something vegetarian friendly. There were plenty of mystery noodle soup stalls (the mystery is what kind of meat chunks are in the soup), but I just wasn’t feeling up for a surprise in my breakfast today.

Without electricity, families rely on the daily ice delivery.

No refrigeration means meat and everything else sits out or goes on ice.

Thankfully, I found one young woman peeling and spiralling pineapples, so I snapped one up. At 50 cents for a sweet ripe pineapple, you really can’t go wrong.

Sticky rice cake was the next purchase. I got four big squares of the sweet rice, dotted with dark roasted sesame seeds and something that Stephen said looked like “insect legs”.

Sticky rice squares. Perfect cycling snack food.

Sticky rice squares. Perfect cycling snack food.

A loaf of the fluffy white French bread (which is pretty much the only bread in Cambodia) rounded out the purchases. It came from a big stall with about 10 huge baskets of bread. Several customers were systematically picking through each basket, doing their best to get their grubby fingers on each and every loaf.

I rooted to the very bottom of a basket, shooting for the minimum of fingerprints on our breakfast bread.

Bamboo-hoo

In Cambodia, the regular train service is limited and/or non-existent, so locals have taken matters into their own hands. They’ve improvised simple flat carts that roll along the existing railway tracks (up to speeds of 40km/h!), which they pile high with goods and drive across the countryside.

They call it the norry; Lonely Planet calls it the Bamboo Railway.

There’s a strictly-for-tourists ride in Battambang that goes out and back to a collection of stalls and stands set up for the foreigners to visit. But we had read about a few cyclists taking the real deal norry from Pursat to Kampong Chhnang through villages not served by any roads.

In typical Tara and Tyler fashion, the Going Slowly team made it sound awesome.

As we clickity-click-click-clack through the Cambodian countryside, passing through areas which are accessible by no other means than a lengthy hike, we can hardly contain our delight. There are no roads out here, just some disused rails and a ragtag fleet of bamboo platforms carrying passengers from one village to the next. from the Going Slowly Journal

No way we’re going to miss out on that!

So after breakfast we headed to the “station” which is really just a place where the road crosses the train tracks.

The norry station in Pursat.

The norry station in Pursat.

As Stephen wandered around the little convenience shops congregated at the junction, I sat with the bikes. After a few minutes, a teenaged girl came over and told me, in near-perfect English, that because of Khmer New Year, no one was driving the norries today.

Oh.

With no trains running, and the chances unlikely they’d run tomorrow, we sadly set off along the roads for another day of more than 100 km.

We can’t even make ourselves feel better by rolling out one of our favourite phrases, “next time”. Since Cambodia is reportedly improving its official rail network, this was probably our only chance to ride the rails black-market style.

Lazy Bones

After arriving in yet another typical Khmer town, we grabbed some noodles from a stall in the main square, and quickly found a guesthouse that would serve our needs.

Bored kids in Kampong Chhnang.

Bored kids in Kampong Chhnang.

I collapsed into work mode under the soothing cool of the AC, while Stephen went out wandering for beer.

A little while later he came back with some news.

We’d been invited to a New Year’s party.

Oh no! I was so exhausted. All I wanted to do was sit in the air conditioned room and maybe take a nap. Plus, we are falling so far behind on blogging that I really wanted to spend the evening catching up.

I’m not a party person at the best of times. The idea of going to a party full of strangers who don’t speak the same language as me all while I am in a zombified stupor really didn’t appeal.

Even as I was making all these excuses to Stephen, I knew I’d get up and go to the party. This is why we’re here, travelling like we do. How many tourists get invited to a family New Year’s celebration in Cambodia?

One Big Happy

Down a little dirt side street, we could hear the thumping of dance music.

As we appeared at the gate of the house, we were beckoned in by Stephen’s new friend Hang. Before we could even sit and pour ourselves a cup of beer, I was being dragged onto the dance floor by a grinning woman about my age. The dance floor was a dusty patch in the yard, where all of the women were gathered barefoot, grooving to the music.

Our pictures of the party were almost all terrible, but we wanted to share a few anyway.

They played a mix of traditional Khmer music, Cambodian pop, and some really raucous hip hop, with lyrics that would make a sailor blush. We weren’t sure if the party-goers knew the meaning of the F word, but if so, it didn’t seem to matter that they were blasting it repeatedly throughout their neighbourhood.

All the women, from the young girls to the senior members of the family, tried to teach me some Khmer dance steps and hand gestures. Not my forte, I’m afraid.

Over a few beers, I learned from Hang that the 30 or so people at this party were all family. His brothers and sisters numbered 9, including him. Their spouses and kids and parents-in-law made up the rest of the gang.

We didn’t have much time to chat though, since the ladies wouldn’t let us rest. I was dragged back out on the dance floor, this time with Stephen in tow, even though all of the other men were sitting stoically, drinks in hand, watching the women dance.

I Do My Moves, I Do My Dance Moves

The two teenaged girls were great dancers. I felt like a giant dancing next to these two, who, combined, probably don’t weigh as much as me. Almost immediately, I was melting into a pool of sweat; I was glad to see that everyone else was sweating too.

One of the youngest boys was obviously taking hip hop dance lessons, at least from YouTube, since he was throwing some badass B-Boy moves on the sandy floor.

Wannabe B-Boy waiting to get his dance on.

Wannabe B-Boy waiting to get his dance on.

The party really started banging’ when Stephen and I showed off our rudimentary hip hop arm wave technique, which every 80s kid knows how to do.

After that, the kids were eating out of Stephen’s hand, as he led them through a series of increasingly crazy dance moves, incorporating all kinds of yoga poses, of course.

During our infrequent breaks from dancing, our beer glasses were never allowed to get empty and we were treated to green mango right off the tree. Big bowls of tasty Khmer noodles were thrust into our hands. Despite questionable levels of meat topping the noodles, we gobbled them down. Take that Bourdain, you ignorant twit.

Even though I was overwhelmed with exhaustion at the end of another long day, this lively family reenergised me and helped to make us feel part of the family for a night.

Thanks so much to all of you for including a couple of travelling strangers in your festivities!  

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2 comments

  1. Comment by Anna

    Anna Reply April 23, 2014 at 10:23 am

    This sounds wonderful. Also, cheers to the Conchords reference!

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen April 23, 2014 at 7:15 pm

      Yey – someone got it!

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