March 17, 2017
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Well, more accurately put, it’s called ‘Cross-stitching’. So I’ve been told by she who was not content wielding knitting needles in my presence and so has now added to her arsenal of weapons a pair of little but sharper needles.
The needles come with the cross-stitching kit that we picked up this afternoon at West Edmonton Siem Reap Market Mall. We have been in more markets now than I can shake a piece of used clothing at. This one is clearly where the locals shop. It is every bit as vast as the West Edmonton Ben Thanh Market Mall in Saigon, but without any tourist paraphernalia.
Instead of being advised every step of the way by each and every shopkeeper that they have a shirt my size (like that’s something special?) as was the case in Saigon, here the shopkeepers showed a mild curiosity that we were at this market in the first place (not many Jews go there, I guess) but they were otherwise wholly & typically friendly and couldn’t have been more helpful as I asked in my pseudo-Khmer sign language where one might find the lady who sells cross-stitching kits with scenes from Angkor.
We’d been sent to this place by the security guard at the Preah Ko Temple complex with whom my wife struck up a conversation when she saw the guard needlepointing away. The interesting thing about this is that the young lady was sitting under a tree at least 100 metres from where we were standing on top of some ruined stuff when Debbie spotted her.
I think that women who carry sharp pointed things have some kind of ESP thing going between them. I needed to use all of my 20x zoom on my camera to even spot the lady, never mind see that she was needling away at something (I believe that is the correct word to describe her activity).
As we learned yesterday in “The History of Angkor (Part 2)”, the Roluos Group of Temple Ruins we visited today, which include the Lolei, Preah Ko and Bakong Templex (“Templex” being the plural of ‘temple complexes’ – another new word courtesy moi – you’re welcome) were built by Jay II and some of his begettings and the extensive site served as the very first capital of the Angkorian Khmer Empire.
It is said (by Wikipedia and another online site I looked at so it must be true) that the style of the Bakong Temple, in particular, mimics that of the Borobodur Temple Complex in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. This would make sense, when you think about it, given that Jay II declared independence from Java for his Khmer Empire. And so, as the saying goes, “build what you know” would have also made sense to his begetting, King Indravarman I (“Indy 100”), who actually watched his slaves build Bakong.
I participated in a marriage ceremony at the top of the Bakong Temple – something that I imagine must have happened many times over the millennia. To be involved in an ancient ritual like this, you must follow a very time-honoured set of steps:
1. Ensure that your first wife, fed up and tired with waiting around for you to take yet another photo, heads down to the ground from the top of the Temple.
2. Say “Hello, how are you?” in your very best Khmer to a woman begging for money standing 3 feet away from you at the top of the Temple.
3. 20 seconds later, have her walk over to you and slip a ring on your finger. The ring consists of a piece of rattan with a sprig of some kind of weed tucked into it. That said, it fit snugly and so I don’t think I’ll need to have it re-sized or anything.
4. Spend the next 10 minutes trying to explain to your new wife why the old one is quite sufficient and how difficult it will be to explain this turn of events to her.
5. Give up and just introduce your wives to one another. Watch them bond and become best friends instantly and then both walk off without you.
6. Get a letter from a lawyer in Phnom Penh the next morning demanding that I turn over ½ of all of the Cambodia fridge magnets that I’ve bought from little children over the past week as compensation for having abandoned Rula (at least now I know her name).
I overpaid for my smoothie the other night. It cost $1.50. I got one for $1.00 at the Night Market tonight. There’s another $0.50 cents down the drain. Or 2,000 Riels, as the case may be. Which leads, quite naturally, to my review of money in Cambodia.
A ‘riel’ is a small fish that lives in the Mekong and the locals say that’s how the money got its name. Other sources say that’s just mythful thinking and that in fact the money is named after the Mexican “Real”, being the currency used by foreign traders in Cambodia in the mid-1800’s.
During the reign of the Khmer Rouge they printed money but because they didn’t believe in it, it wasn’t accepted or useful for anything. I know, they were just totally crazy.
After they invaded and overthrew Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime, the Vietnamese reintroduced the concept of currency and called it by its historical name, the Riel. Since no one had any of it, the new government put in place by the Vietnamese just gave it away.
I know what you’re thinking: A government that just gives away money? What, is this Alberta under the Ralph Klein PC party?
They set the initial value of the new currency at 4 Riels = $1.00 US. I’m not sure what happened but today’s official rate is 4,000 Riels = $1.00 US. I have a 50 riel note from the good ol’ days, when it would have been worth about $12.50 US. Now, 50 riels are worth (computing, computing, computing…..) = $0.0125 cents US. Yup, a whole 1 & ¼ penny. I would say that inflation is rampant but I’m also tempted to say that’s what happens when you just give away money. I don’t know, I’m not an economist.
In rural areas, the Riel is used everywhere and, as in Vietnam, I’ve seen local shopkeepers who carry stacks and stacks of the stuff. 4,000 Riels = $1 US in Cambodia doesn’t warrant quite as big a stack as 24,000 Ding Dongs = $1 US in Vietnam, but then there aren’t nearly the same number of zero’s on currency in Cambodia as there are in Vietnam so in fact the stacks are pretty similar.
In the cities and tourist areas (oh, let’s say Angkor?) the US Dollar is what’s used and preferred. Prices are invariably in USD. Until you go to places where (usually) only the locals go. Like, say, the Post Office, in order to mail home a box filled with tourist brochures that you’ve collected over the past 6 weeks that collectively weight about 5kg. and which your wife (well, wives, technically) both say they can’t believe you are keeping because you’ll never look at them again and they’ll just collect dust like every bloody other thing that you’ve collected over the past 40 years and God, you never listen – what am I going to do with you!?! ….. Oh, sorry, I got sidetracked…
Anyway, as I was saying, US Dollar is what’s used and preferred until you go to places only the locals go. Life, say, the Post Office. And then you’re fishing in your pocket for Riels. Which is why I think that the traditional story is correct – the Riels are indeed named after a fish.
And now, for something that perhaps only I find interesting: You may already know this, but it turns out that the price of cashews is so high (everywhere – even here) because the entire product and output of a cashew fruit is exactly 1 cashew. Bananas come in bunches and so do coconuts. But cashews only come by the one-pack. Until I saw it for myself, I had no idea.
And that’s why you need to get up off the couch every once in a while and walk out the door. You never know what you’re gonna find out!