Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Cambodian Cultural Village

After the war museum we went back to Pub Street where I enjoyed roasted aubergine pizza (eggplant to you Americans) and Bill sampled that 50 cent draft beer. He decided the Angkor beer was just as good (or bad) as the Tiger beer sold all over SE Asia. Again we saw many landmine victims attempting to make a living by selling various trinkets to the tourists. We bought a DVD about the temples of Angkor Wat from one of the men to do our bit for helping. The guide at the war museum and tuk-tuk driver had advised us not to put any money into the hundreds of "Help the War Victims" boxes that are all over the place. These boxes are placed by the government but supposedly the funds donated into these boxes never reach any of the war victims. The advice was that if someone wants to help war victims, give the money directly to a victim or, better yet, buy something from him so that he doesn't feel like a beggar. After lunch it was time to spend the entire afternoon at the Cultural Village.

The Cultural Village provides an insight to the various peoples who settled in Cambodia over centuries. The temples were built when the principle religion in Cambodia was Hinduism. This later changed to Buddhism. Today 90% of the population is Buddhist; about 9% Islamic; and about 1% Christian, or Catholic to be specific. The Catholicism is a hangover from the days of French colonization.

The first attraction in the village was a wax museum featuring depictions of the various historical people from the first century to the present time in Cambodia. Bill decided that he preferred the traditional manner of dress for females over the current mode of fashion. When we later visited the temples, we saw that all women were carved into the stones at all the temples wearing the Cambodian bare breast style of clothing. Women in Cambodia wore bare breast clothing until after the Thais invaded around 1232 AD. After the Thais arrived the women changed to the Thai manner of clothing. The traditional Apsara Dance was always performed wearing a bare breast costume until the Thai invasion. The Thais killed the Cambodian men and took the women and children back to Thailand as slaves. The Cambodian women taught the Thai women how to perform the Aspara Dance. Today, the Aspara Dance is always performed wearing traditional Thai costumes, even in Cambodia.

Across from the Wax Museum was another museum with exhibits of antiques. There also were depictions of the various daily lifestyles of different regions of Cambodia over the centuries. There was a local family in this section who were putting their kids up inside the displays for photos. These are 2 live children posing with some of the animals in one of the displays. For some reason this photo is showing up oriented in the wrong position as I enter this blog, but I have uploaded it in the correct orientation and hope it appears right-side-up. Can you imagine any museum back home letting kids climb up into displays! Here, the staff of the museum did not seem to care at all.

Next exhibit was the Millionare House. This was an ancient style of Khmer construction during the Ou Duong time (you can do the research if you want to know more about that time period). This was a very large house; the living level raised as is still normal in this wet area today. It was built of very fine wood materials and would have provided a luxurious manner of living. Wish we could have found such nice wood when we built out last home in Houston. At the Millionare House we saw a traditional Khmer wedding. Very pretty clothing. Although it was performed and explained completely in the Khmer language and we did not understand a word of it. There was one part where a man dressed in white came dancing about and singing and seemed to be explaining things to the audience, although he was actually a part of the wedding ceremony. Seemed more like a court jester to me. Clothing for the bride and groom were beautiful fabrics.

The next people we learned about were the Cham, who came from Champa, Vietnam. Their principle religion is Islam. The Cham people mostly live along the riverbanks and make their livings by fishing and blacksmithing. The people now living at the floating village (where we visited several days later) are mostly Cham, although the few traditional Cambodians who still live in the floating village are Buddhist.

Chinese people moved to live in Cambodia more than a thousand years ago during the Song Dynasty. The principle religion is Buddhism. Today most of the Cambodians of Chinese heritage make their livings by owning and operating small businesses. Some Chinese also grow and sell fruits and vegetables at the open-air markets. Of course, no Chinese exhibit would be complete with a few of the traditional Chinese dances. One dance had costumes that I would not normally think of as Chinese, with ultra-long sheer sleeves that moved in unison as the girls danced. And beading like some Native American dress. Maybe these Chinese were of Mongolian heritage. Then, of course, there was the traditional stilt dance and the lion dance. Guess we will be seeing these again when we visit China in April/May.

Another group of people in Cambodia are the Kola. The Kola people were originally from Burma, the country now known as Myanmar. We will not be visiting Myanmar due to ongoing disagreements with the USA. It is not considered safe for US tourists at this time. The Kola people arrived in Cambodia in the 1870s, so they are fairly new arrivals to this ancient country. The Kola live primarily in the Pailin district in far northwest Cambodia. There are many precious stones in this area, as well as many peacocks. Thus, a dance called the Pailin Peacock Dance originated from this region. The girls in blue look like they have been doing a lot of yoga. Such flexibility!

The Kroeng people are ethnic minorities living in the northeast of Cambodia, mostly in the Rattanakiri province. The Kroeng make their living by farming and hunting. They believe in Animism and their style of dress is similar to Native American clothing styles of hotter climates. Another tribal group living in the northeast of Cambodia in the Mondulkiri province are the Phnorng, who also make their living by farming and hunting and also believe in Animism.

The Surin people live along the border of Cambodia and Thailand, an area that is much in dispute between the two countries today. Apparently there is a temple in that area that the Thais claim to be theirs, and the Cambodians place an equal claim on it. There have been several skirmishes in the past year and a few soldiers have been killed. Presently, the Surin people are considered to be living in Thai territory. Their culture is the same as the Khmer people living north of Siem Reap in Cambodia. The Surin are good at organizing elephant matings and elephant contests. The Surin believe in Buddhism, although a few believe in Neak Ta Me Mut which is a form of witchcraft. As there are still land mines in this part of Cambodia, we won't be going anywhere near the Cambodian/Thailand border.

Lastly, the largest percentage of the population of Cambodia are the Khmer people. Khmer still do wood and stone carvings, make clay pots, crafts and do a lot of fishing. The Khmer have kept the traditional Apsara Dance alive. The Khmer also make palm sugar, something with which we were not familiar. A couple of days later I asked our car driver to stop and buy some palm sugar when we were en route to the Banteay Srei temple. The rural Khmer were selling palm sugar packets at roadside stands in front of their homes. Palm sugar is made from the sap of a particular palm tree. It is the type of palm tree that has foliage like multiple palmetto fronds; it has an almost black trunk. This is a very valuable type of palm tree. The leaves of the palm fronds are used for thatch roofs. The wood of the trunk is excellent for making boats and houses. The palm tree sap is boiled about 40 minutes and stirred constantly as it cools. It is then dropped in small spoonsfull onto a flat surface. The resulting small sugar disks are then wrapped in folded palm frond leaves in a cylindrical shape. The small candy packet is then inserted upside down inside a slightly larger folded palm leaf packet. Small strips of palm leaves are used to tie these packets. They are sold on the roadside 3 for $1, but the price in downtown Siem Reap is usually at least triple that. BTW, the Cambodian currency is the riel but US dollars are really the common currency. The ATMs disperse either riels or US dollars and all prices in stores and restaurants are printed in USD. Everyone speaks English as well as Khmer and the children are taught English in school.

We decided we had all the Cambodian culture and history we could stand for one day and skipped the final third of the Cultural Village. Here is a painting that depicts the main temple at Angkor Wat as it would look during sunrise. I include it to illustrate how vast this temple complex is. Actual photos of Angkor Wat will be posted when we visit there in a day or two. This painting was in the museum at the Cultural Village. That is the outer wall of the temple complex. The sanctuary of the temple is located in the structure shown way in the background, which is actually the center of the temple complex. BTW, the moat that surrounds the temple is 200 meters wide. This is a big temple! Tomorrow we start touring a few of the actual temples.

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