Just the two of us today. It rained in the night, and it seemed really dark in the morning. The getting up at 5.00 a.m. bit is truly ghastly and does not get any better. It was definitely cooler than it has been, and it was truly dark walking to the Olympic Stadium, dark enough that I think had I been on my own I might have lost my nerve a bit en route, as it always feel further when you are walking on your own.
It wasn’t actually raining when we got to our usual rendezvous point. Numbers were definitely a lot thinner on the ground than usual. I was particularly delighted to observe that one of the ‘regulars’ (who proactively greets us now, which makes me feel particularly privileged and welcome) was wearing a woollen hat, scarf and coat. However, this get up, was as nothing compared to the woman who participated in the whole work out wearing one of those colourful rain ponchos that are ubiquitous when the heavens open round here.
Going to the Olympic Stadium has definitely been a highlight of my trip here to Cambodia. It’s hard to express other than with cheesy cliche-sounding phrases. Sorry about that. But the honest truth is that this is the only activity I have done in Cambodia that makes me feel like a participant in Phnom Penh life rather than a spectator. We are doing what locals do, with panoramic views of the city as the sun rises. It feels ‘authentic’ I honestly think that is the right word, even though I will no doubt drown in a sea of my own pretentiousness now. It’s just that I feel accepted in the little exercise group and it is just inherently joyful, ‘dancing’ (I use the term loosely), to the enchanting, and oftentimes bizarre musical choices. Some of the music sounds like traditional Khmer – well I assume it is. Some of the music are recognisable as cover versions of known classics (such as the Khmer version of achy-breaky heart which I now want played at my funeral), but others are, well frankly, misguided.
The one that had me suddenly alert, was the innocuous sounding melodic tones of what I now know to be The Lazy Song by Bruno Mars. I can see why they play it, it sounds gentle and soothing, but if you actually listen to the lyrics, well, frankly it isn’t appropriate for this dancing crowd. Cambodian people are pretty conservative, this dance and exercise session has many participants who are definitely in the demographic that we would say was ‘elderly’ even in the UK. I just can’t help thinking they don’t know they are doing their gentle Khmer dance moves to a song that announces a man’s intention to basically spend the whole day in bed masturbating. It was hilarious. I thought I’d burst from the effort of containing all that pent-up laughter. Once the realisation of what I was listening to penetrated my consciousness (sorry, probably an unfortunate choice of words), I was dying to know if my olympic stadium buddy had clocked this too. She had. Obviously. We shared the joke later, when at a safe distance from the end of the session. No, we didn’t tell them. It can be our secret!
Here’s a taste, in case you’ve not really ever listened (or cared)
Today I don’t feel like doing anything
I just wanna lay in my bed
Don’t feel like picking up my phone
So leave a message at the tone
‘Cause today I swear I’m not doing anything.
I’m gonna kick my feet up
Then stare at the fan
Turn the TV on, throw my hand in my pants
Nobody’s gonna tell me I can’t
and so it continues….
Anyway, upshot was that it was another fine morning at the stadium, and I had one of those brief, brilliant moments (maybe what some call mindfulness, others call being smug) of just thinking there was nowhere at all that I’d rather be than right here, right now. This is going to be my lasting memory of this trip I think. A blurring of all our olympic stadium outings into one euphoric breath of being alive.
Once we’d finished, we lingered a bit, watching some of the para-athletes running on prosthetics around the track. They have been there every time. I don’t know if it is a national team, or just individuals from the city, but they do seem to actually ‘train’. There were the familiar people doing jumps up the steps. A few traders hawking their wares, it was quieter than usual, but it was still an extraordinary cross-section of Phnom Penh residents going about their morning routines.
We had already agreed that today would be the day we’d go and visit the nearby Wat. We can see it from our vantage point where we work out and walk past it on the way back every time. We donned our shirts and headed in. The Wat was extraordinary. Every one is different. We weren’t too sure to what extent it would be OK to go in. There were some people in shirts sitting outside the inner temple bit. There was also what appeared to a large funeral tent up. There wasn’t anything happening at that moment – it rather looked left over from a previous occasion, but it still felt wrong to intrude. We did a sort of outer circuit and then slipped in the back of the temple, where we were amazed at the intricacy of the moulding of the temple walls. It isn’t an especially huge pagoda, but it felt very inhabited. You could see the robes hanging out to dry. As we completed our circuit we saw the previously empty funeral tent, was populated by a group of monks who seemed to be just chatting in the shade really, but were all robed up. We decided to exit, maybe come back another time when our confidence and understanding has grown.
My camera has alas died. Completely dead. The good news is that my dancing in the morning rain buddy had brought her camera along to capture the temple. The bad news is that the timescales in which she will actually share any of her photos with me remains fluid. (I’m still hanging out for the Kratie dancing group shot one from months ago). She insists she will do so, but in her own time. This is legitimate as the photos are hers to do with as she wishes, but I will not hold my breath. Rather, I shall enjoy a welcome surprise arrival of photos through the wonders of social media in some random year yet to come. In the meantime, Moha Montrei Pagoda will have to be represented with photos of Moha Montrei Pagoda stolen from the interent, of which this is but one. I believe this to be the temple we were at. I now know that the Khmer Rouge used it for grain and rice storage at one point. Wikipedia says ‘Wat Moha Montrey is a wat located on Sihanouk Boulevard in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.Built in 1970, it was used by the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979 as a storage house for rice and corn. The tower measures 35 metres in height‘. So that must be true.
I commissioned a fair few photos, but doubt they’ll make this blog. So lets just capture the memory of posing by a Cambodian Flag so that my companion could actually photograph the washing line of monks’ robes behind. Teh rather sick looking skew-eyed dog that lay on the step looking a bit on the mean end of the continuum so we edged passed it on our way out.
Exiting the back of the temple, we decided on a different route home. Ambitious, as I’m hopeless at navigation, but still had a better sense of direction than my dance buddy. We made it though. We stopped at a street side vendor for the opportunistic purchase of freshly squeezed sugar cane. We went to great (and excruciating) efforts to order in Khmer. It was clear that this was completely unnecessary as the vendors (seemingly a husband and wife) manifestly understood our English discussions as we negotiated about what we should say in Khmer, still I think they appreciated the effort. Or more accurately, were amused by it. We went for one smaller cup, which was plenty. It came with two straws so we could share and was just 2000 reil I think. It wasn’t all that sweet, and seemed to have some sort of citrus flavour added to it as standard which I wasn’t expecting. I expressed surprise on first sip because of this, and the woman offered to add extra sugar! Most definitely not required! It is especially good that I’ve tried this, as otherwise I’d have had to have my hair cut, as I’d promised myself I’d try one or other of these roadside offers before leaving Cambodia!
So I can report sugar cane is fresh and lovely, and it is great fun watching it all being squeezed out through a mangle just for you. Would recommend.
We ambled back, and found again our local coffee shop, where we sat and chatted and put the world to rights (only not really, because I’ve ever so slightly noticed that Trump is still causing chaos and destruction all around him), and all was right in Cambodia. Phnom Penh was grand, and life was good.