While people all over the northern hemisphere were watching the Olympics and preparing to celebrate Valentine’s Day tomorrow, Asians all over the world have been spending the past few days, or perhaps weeks, gearing up for a more vital annual event: Chinese New Year. In fact, I have a pretty good idea of how the residents of Battambang spent much of their day today – because I saw it for myself on the eve of last year’s festivities, ringing in the Year of the Ox.
I know that they were shopping for chickens and noodles; that the bicycle vendors were out in full force peddling oranges; that children were excitedly prancing around in papier-mache dragon costumes in preparation for tomorrow’s parade; that massive blocks of ice were being carted around the streets, chopped up for restaurant owners and residents alike; that the testing of fireworks was causing mild tremors and gusts of smoke; that offerings of flowers and food were being delivered to the great Buddha near the town center; that the riverside fair was probably in full swing, the street children romping around the kiosks; that storekeepers were burning paper money in tins set out on the sidewalks; that ceremonies were getting under way in Chinese temples; and that families were setting out offerings of chickens, vegetables, drinks and flowers to honor ancestral spirits.
There was a smell of joy and luck in the air. I’m glad I was there to witness and savour it all, oh so far away, in that little corner of Cambodia.