Saturday, February 4, 2012

Gong Xi Fa Cai

'Gung Hei Fat Choi' (Happy Chinese New Year!) is how I'd always heard it said.  This year I found out that's Cantonese, and since Mandarin is the official language of China, the more accepted way of saying it is 'Gong Xi Fa Cai'.  

Last year, in my post about Chinese New Year, I described some of the interesting traditions observed by Cambodians of Chinese heritage.  Sadly we didn't get to see any Lion Dances this year (a personal favourite of mine) which you can read about (and link to a video) by clicking on that link.   And as I've written previously, Chinese New Year is surprisingly popular in Cambodia.

Stores everywhere sell bright red lanterns and banners

Our guesthouse all decked out for the event

On January 22, Chhunly, the manager of Honour Village, invited all the volunteers to a Chinese New Year's Eve celebration at his home in the countryside.  Rather than having a separate party for the volunteers as he did last year, this time we were treated to a special opportunity to join in the ceremonies with his family.   

The drive to Chhunly's takes over half an hour by tuk-tuk.
Our driver had to make sure we had enough gas to get there.
There were seven of us, so we took two tuk-tuks.

This is Chhunly's mother's home, which is right next door to his.
The ceremonies were held upstairs in this building.

Inside the house, all the offerings were neatly laid out on a mat.
These included fruits, rice, bowls of food, bread, soda, sweets.
At the front left were trays of fake money, as well as other items
that ancestors would need in the next life to be comfortable
There's a significance to the five bowls of rice and five glasses of drinks.

Chhunly lit incense and said prayers.
The spirits of all the ancestors were invited to join us and enjoy the offerings.

We were each given a lighted incense stick
and invited to say prayers
It was very moving.

Eleven children looked on.  Then each one was given an incense stick 

Chhunly gathered all the incense sticks and placed them at the front.

Then Chhunly and his mother began to collect up a little food from each dish,
and placed it on a big banana leaf on a large tray.
Chhunly's mother is wearing a white prayer scarf for this solemn ceremony

Chhunly explained that this tray is for the ancestors who cannot climb the stairs.
To make sure they get fed, the tray is placed outside at ground level.
Notice there is a lighted cigarette on the far left.
Apparently one of the ancestors enjoys a smoke now & again.

Not unlike our Christmas tree, the Chinese have a traditioal tree
decorated with red envelopes containing money hanging from the branches.
The tree was next to a shrine, and there were more food offerings here.

Gordon and I brought a red envelope for each child

The fake money and other offerings were brought outside.
Notice there are all sorts of items represented in the packages -
Shoes (clothing), gold, cigarettes, and some sort of certificate?

All these items were placed in a big metal pan and burned.
They believe that by burning them
they are sent up to heaven to their ancestors

Under the canopy, the cooks were busy preparing our feast.
Everything is cooked over wood fires

The table was heaped with food.
Rice, noodles, fried noodles, wonderful soup, Khmer curry.
duck, chicken, fish and lots to drink.

No special Cambodian feast is complete without prahok.
Sometimes referred to as 'Cambodian cheese'
It's an acquired taste
a very spicy  strong-flavoured fermented fish paste with red ants.

I think there were about fifteen around our table,
and about the same number seated at two or three more tables
All of Chhunly's family were there

These are our two tuk-tuk drivers.
We ate with chopsticks, which is not often done in Cambodia.
More often, Cambodians eat with a spoon and fork.  No knife.

Little guy enjoying a taste of dad's beer.

Yummy fruits for dessert.
Oranges, mangosteen, longan, dragonfruit, apple

Pineapple chunks served with salt

Chhunly's nephew enjoying a chunk of fruit

All worn out from too much partying

Thanks to the generosity of Chhunly and his family, we were able to partake in an aspect of Cambodian life that most tourists don't ever get a chance to experience.  I can't speak for the rest of the volunteers, but I left there feeling enriched, enlightened, accepted, and a little warm and fuzzy.  And no, it wasn't the beer.... Unlike that little baby, I stuck to soda water. 

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