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Sunday, August 29, 2010


Death in the morning

If you are a regular reader of these blogs you will know that one of the things that puts me off living in Cambodia is the loud noise associated with weddings and funerals. Being here at this time of year is a conscious choice. It's the rainy season. Most weddings are held in the outdoors and people don't often get married in the rainy season. Unfortunately most people don't have the luxury of choosing the time of their death.

When I left for Phnom Penh last week I noticed the sounds of a funeral starting up and was pleased to be missing it. After I returned to Kompong Chhnang I noticed music was being played from loudspeakers across the road—another funeral—a few nights ago. It didn't go too late into the evening so I was quite pleased. This warning also meant I could be prepared for the morning. I had my iPod and headphones ready. I bought them specifically for this purpose. When the music started up again at 4 am I was ready. The music I was playing did not drown out the external noise. I didn't want to burst my eardrums so I put up with a little of their noise seeping in. But at least I had something else to concentrate on. It was bearable but only just. When the mournful howling songs started at 4.30 it was a bit much but I survived.

Later I was told the story of the death. My informant speaks only passable English so maybe I didn't get the details correct but here is the gist of the story.

The man concerned was a father of five. I don't know how old he was. He drove a remorque moto, a Cambodian form of public transport with a motorcycle pulling a box trailer. His route took him to another town in the direction of Phnom Penh.

Coming in the opposite direction in the early hours of the morning was a truck returning from delivering a load of contraband timber taken from a national park to Phnom Penh. Perhaps the driver had been driving through the night so as not to be seen with his illicit load and in the early hours of the morning he fell asleep at the wheel and veered across the road right into the remorque moto which was pulled over on the side of the road.

The moto driver and his son were on board and were both injured, the father seriously. An ambulance was called. And here my informant veered off into a side story of how a spotter's fee is paid to the person who calls an ambulance. Apparently the ambulance passenger is charged a large sum of money for the journey. But the father died soon after he arrived at the hospital in Phnom Penh. The family was expected to pay another fee to bring the body back to Kompong Chhnang otherwise the hospital would sell the body for use in scientific experiments to recoup the costs.

Apparently the family paid up so they did have a body to cremate. But it all sounded rather tragic and helped me to understand the mournful singing.

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