When Cambodians sneeze, listen to sound of silence

5036593719_6dd776fc28_bAmong the countless cultural differences between Cambodians and Westerners is what happens when someone sneezes.

After 20 months living in Phnom Penh, I find it hard to drop certain reactions and expectations. One that comes readily to mind and that I cannot seem to accept concerns cars turning into a street; I still think they will give way to a pedestrian automatically — me.  They usually don’t.

Another has to do with sneezing.  Probably like you, my automatic reaction is to utter a “bless you” or “gesundheit” when someone, even a stranger, sneezes.  Where I come from, I know that I can count on hearing wishes for good health when I sneeze or anyone else does in virtually any situation but a performance.

Not so in Cambodia.  It is as if nothing ever happened or that no one cares about another person’s health.

What surprises me is Continue reading

Minus pressing crowds, Water Festival is delightful


With winning competitors making their way upstream to the start after winning their first heat, the weather could not have been better.  I took this photo from a privileged area set aside for “foreigners.”

Laying eyes on the king may have been the top highlight among the many joys of Bon Om Touk, Cambodia’s annual three-day Water Festival.

Apparently the deaths of 353 souls during a stampede in 2010 was the chief reason for the absence of shoulder-to-shoulder throngs. It also reduced the number of boats competing in races along the river, called Tonle Sap, in front of the Royal Palace. (The year 2014 was the last time the event was held because of the tragedy, excessive flooding, the death of the last king and political confrontations.)

Another possible explanation would be the many blocks of streets closed to vehicular traffic and the mandatory unloading of buses and other large passenger vehicles at great distances from the Riverside neighborhood.  That area, which happens to be especially popular with expats, is where the festivities were concentrated.

In any case, predictions turned out to be wildly wrong about how many folks would journey to the capital from the provinces, 2 million of them, according to officials, as opposed to reportedly 100,000 the first day and subsequently growing.

Whatever the cause, I never expected Continue reading