People of the Mekong

Cambodian temple complex in Kampong Cham

Blacksmith works alone, his wife takes care of their child and a family’s friend sits comfortably in an unchanged position with a thoughtless, unconcerned expression as he rolls another strong cigarette and smokes it, occasionally sipping his tea. Leaving the city behind we get to know Mr. Peck, who lives just by the Mekong River. His house is a traditional wooden structure on stilts, in contrast to just as numerous houses floating on the river depending on water level.

The house has a simple workshop. I take a look at metalworking with curiosity. I help to heat up iron until red-hot to shape it with hammer and anvil. With several attempts this piece of metal gradually takes desired shape. After some efforts we manage to form an agricultural tool resembling a hoe. Metalworking is a long and laborious process.

We visit Kampong Cham area on bikes. The streets are flooded to such an extent that sometimes water reaches wheels up to hub level.

The blacksmith’s friend doesn’t make any more movements than just to sip his tea and smoke cigarettes

Crossing the river we get into another downpour. At the very last minute I manage to put my camera and my last shirt to the waterproof bag. I am soaking wet, but I think this is precisely the point. Finally, not every day you have an opportunity to get absolutely wet in the tropical, warm rain on bridge over the Mekong River.

In the morning we go to the temples of Phnom Bpros and Phnom Srei. The main road to Phnom Penh is filled with lots of deep puddles and speeding trucks. The conventional rule of right-hand traffic is actually broken more often than not. Thus there is an additional rule assuming that those riding against the traffic are supposed to stick to the outer side of the roadway.

Phnom Bpros and Phnom Srei are two temples, literally translating it means the “Women’s Mountain” and “Men’s Mountain”. In ancient times, according to the legend, women had to propose to men. Bored and tired of this custom women challenged men to a duel. The ones who would build greater temple should win the right to receive proposal from the opposite sex.

Woman, apparently being on the loosing position came up with a shrewd idea of setting up a fire. The men thinking it is the sun rising, meaning a new day is coming, went to a sleep in a triumphant mood. In this clever way, women completed the greater building thus winning the competition.

While some consider excessive flooding a nuisance, still it does not pose any problem for locals

We enter a monastic complex just alongside the Mekong river. During weekdays monks are engaged in daily activities. Some study English, others do laundry and hang their orange robes. One of the monks welcomes us and with generous hospitality invites us for breakfast. As we eat sweet cakes, bread rolls and sip tea we talk about the realities of living in the monastery. At this time I have this thought that Kampong Cham is one of so many seldom visited places, where you come expecting nothing and leave taken by surprise.

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