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Wednesday, November 08, 2006


The wedding

On the morning of the wedding I was walking through the market. I stopped to say 'hello' to Vana's sister. She was sewing some needlework onto a crimson traditional woman's top.

'That looks very pretty,' I said.

'It's for the wedding.' The wedding was only an hour or so off and she was still working on her outfit.

I would love to bring you photos of a traditional Khmer wedding. However...

I have written here often about the noise that issues from weddings, funerals and other celebrations in Cambodia. I am aware that, generally speaking, Asia is more noisy than Australia. I cope with that.

For a total of seven months I lived in Chinatown in Melaka in a street with a mosque and several other temples. There was also another mosque within hearing distance. And just a few doors down a shop sold Buddhist chanting tapes. I was often woken by prayers from the mosque before 6 am. But it wasn't all that loud and it stopped a few minutes later. The tape shop also broadcast their stuff from time to time. It was never a problem to me.

After almost nine months in Cambodia I have still not come to terms with the noise that is broadcast at regular intervals for the enjoyment or otherwise of anyone within a kilometre or two radius of the venue. Someone tried to explain it to me, 'They increase the volume to make up for the poor quality.' I still haven't figured out Khmer logic.

I'm not the only one who complains. Here's an extract from a posting to a Cambodian expat forum :

'At my own marriage I tried to have the guys running the music tone down their act. Hell, who's paying, right? Who'd slept three hours in the last 60, done a few hundred wais, been through half a dozen hellish changes of clothes, stood for hours starving and sleep deprived and semi-comatose from thirst and the heat, waiting for all the guests to arrive and be seated? You'd think you are entitled to a little say in the running of things, right? That a splitting headache would be reason enough to shoot the singer and blow up the boomboxes, whereas all you aspire to is to lower the volume a bit. Perfectly legit and reasonable, you'd think. "Please turn this thing down"

'Fat chance—there was no way my requests were being put through and it almost created a diplomatic incident as I felt compelled to leave the premises to go breathe some fresh, quiet air.'

The writer of the above must have been lucky. From what he says, he was on premises that he could leave. Weddings in Kompong Chhnang, and in many other parts of Cambodia, are usually conducted in the open air. There are no walls to contain the noise. It is shared with the entire community—and at times when people in most other societies are sleeping.

The family I am perhaps closest to in Cambodia is the family of Seinee and Seinah, the twins. Their Dad, Chieng, calls me his brother and their Mum, Yieng, is always threatening to find me a wife.

A few months ago one of the brothers told me he was looking forward to having me come to his wedding. And ever since, Seinee has been saying she is looking forward to dancing all night with me at her brother's wedding. I try to explain my position. But none of them speak enough English to understand and my Khmer is less than their English.

What do I do? I don't want to offend these people. I had planned, for other reasons, to be out of the country at the time of the wedding. But that didn't happen.

I talked to Vana about it. His best suggestion was that I make an appearance, stay a short while, then make my apologies and leave. Perhaps that is the Asian way of doing things but, even after spending almost four years here, it is not mine. I don't believe you change something you disagree with by participating in it, even at a reduced level.

To me this means that (a) I must not go to the wedding and (b) my friends must be told why I am not going. No point in making some wimpy excuse and they say, 'Poor John, he missed out on all the fun.' I want them to know why I'm not there.

Vana was rather concerned about this. He did not know how the family would take it. I wrote a letter of apology. After reading it, Vana decided it wasn't so bad. He translated it and wrote it out in Khmer for me.

In the letter I explained that I was surprised that in Cambodia, a Buddhist country, people could have so little regard for others when Buddhism is a religion of compassion. I was even able to quote scripture to support my argument. I said that as a follower of the teachings of the Buddha I could not allow myself to attend a wedding that I knew would be disturbing the peace of others. I also said how much I appreciated their friendship and that I did not want to offend anyone and I wished the bride and groom much happiness. In an envelope along with the letter I included a sum of money which is the usual wedding gift in Cambodia.

The wedding was on Friday. Vana suggested I deliver the letter on Thursday. As I expected, the family stall was closed when I got to the market on Thursday. After I had done my shopping I went to their house. Many members of the extended family, mostly women, were sitting around, wrapping sticky rice dishes in banana leaf to cook for the wedding feast.

I gave my letter to Chieng, with two hands, following Khmer tradition. He accepted it with the smile that rarely leaves his face. I waited, giving him time to open it. They brought me things to eat. I sat and chatted but Chieng seemed in no hurry to open my letter. After ten minutes I decided to go on home.

I went about my business during the day, occasionally wondering how they had reacted to my letter. In the evening I had just undressed to take a shower. This requires me to go down the backyard with just a towel around me. I heard Seinee's voice calling my name. 'Wait a minute,' I called. I quickly dressed and went downstairs.

Seinee had brought me some of the sticky rice delicacies that I had seen the family preparing. As I was not coming to the wedding they didn't want me to miss out on the feast entirely. My apology had obviously been accepted.


I just got my usual spam report from Optus telling me that 43% of my mail was spam. This doesn't count the 40 spam that got through and still ended up in my mail box. But Mail (the program) picks up some of that. Included in what it identified as spam was the Optus Spam report.


The flood has definitely turned. I can now walk to the tofu factory without getting my feet wet. Sarun confidently tells me there will be no more rain and being full moon, there was even a little festival at the end of my street to send thanks to the 'rabbit in the moon'. Yes, it was done with the usual extremely loud speakers. And no, I did not attend.

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