In Phnom Penh, it’s beginning to feel a bit like Christmas

 All of half a dozen restaurants offer turkey dinners for Thanksgiving

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This dusty Christmas tree has adorned my building’s security desk since I moved in a year ago.

Luckily for me, Christmas is not a holiday that matters to me. Thanksgiving is something else entirely; it has become my favorite occasion for overeating and communing with friends and family.

In a country that has made Buddhism the national religion, one could hardly expect much in the way of celebrating such Western holidays. But the expat community of Americans — which seems very much a minority among Australians, New Zealanders, Brits and Canadians — manages to participate long-distance in celebrations half a world and half a full day away.

It is possible to find frozen turkeys in supermarkets that cater to the Western market. One upscale meat market delivers ready-to-eat soup to nuts for Thanksgiving, and I am aware of maybe half a dozen restaurants offering turkey dinners, among them the fancy hotel rooms at Raffles, Sofitel and the Intercontinental.

At a restaurant that trains students in food prep and cooking among other skills with a view to socially responsible capacity building, several of us got together for an expansive all-you-can eat buffet.  Trust me, I can eat a lot.  (If you haven’t read Frank Bruni’s funny New York Times piece on his family’s repast, don’t fail to check it out.)  The tab: $18 a person versus the lowest $30 price at one of the hotels.

A diner helps herself to zucchini moussaka on the rare occasion when others already were stuffing themselves.  There was a carving station with diminutive turkeys, cranberry sauce and gravy across the room.

A diner helps herself to zucchini moussaka on the rare occasion when others who had jostled for scoops of garlic mashed potatoes already were stuffing themselves. There was a carving station with diminutive turkeys, cranberry sauce and gravy across the room.

The food was okay and abundant (except for the fish that we were told the chef forgot to order), but I was sorely disappointed by the stuffing (or dressing, if you prefer) and the pumpkin pie.  They constitute my second and third most important elements of a Thanksgiving feast, with turkey being first, of course.

Still, our experience was immeasurably better than local options that might have included sweet-and-sour fish soup, pad Thai or grilled chicken.  And it certainly was leagues ahead of trying to figure out how to roast a turkey without an oven.

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A block from my building, this is the sole evidence of Christmas as far as the eye can see.

Regarding Christmas, I have walked around whole sections of Phnom Penh to satisfy my curiosity about signs of Christmas.  Perhaps it is still somewhat early to find them, but I have to say that little did I find.

What I encountered was generally pretty modest, perhaps understandably in that the cost of electricity is sky-high, maybe 25 percent more than ConEd in New York.

I am sure that some of the stores will start playing carols endlessly, too, but mercifully few of the merchants will so assault its customers.  In addition, employees at Lucky’s supermarkets undoubtedly will be forced to wear incongruous Santa hats once again.

As for symbols of Hanukkah, not a chance.

Please do see the other long-captioned photos below.

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Lucky is strong enough to bar McDonald’s and to own a chain of Western-oriented supermarkets in addition to this fast-food place.  I have yet to, and probably never will, darken its doors.  These employees were almost finished sticking on the decorations when I passed by on Wednesday.

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Aside from the Lucky establishment above, these bookstore doors across the street with the tree inside were all I could locate evoking the holidays on a wide commercial thoroughfare in my neighborhood, which is filled with expats.

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Note the writing, which expresses a hope that I guarantee will be in vain.

Isn't it debatable whether to credit these pathetic lights quality as an acknowledgement Christmas.

Isn’t it debatable whether to credit these pathetic lights as an acknowledgement of Christmas?

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This storefront was the only decorated one during a 45-minute walk along one of Phnom Penh’s most trafficked streets, Monivong, from the center of the city to my neighborhood.

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This is the view looking down a stairwell linking four floors in my gym, (The shoes on the right are displayed there to encourage sales and not necessarily a vigorous workout.)

Happy holidays to one and all!

e-mail:malcolmncarter@gmail.com

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