Celebrations set to kick off among Sino-Cambodians, despite the challenges ahead.
THE forthcoming New Year represents a time of optimism for the many Chinese in Cambodia, as people look ahead to the next 12 months with a mixture of trepidation and hope. The majority of Chinese make merit with the gods and former ancestors, even bringing tangerines into their homes - a supposedly lucky food at Spring Festival time - in a bid to guarantee a fruitful New Year. So what lies in store during the Year of the Ox?
With economic matters dominating people's aspirations for 2009, it is no surprise that fortune tellers like Yeay Venta, 66, are predicting a difficult year financially.
"It won't be better than last year because our country will continue to face problems, especially regarding our standard of living," she said, a gloomy prediction that points to a frugal 2009. "The people will become poorer and poorer," she added.
But even if the Year of the Ox is likely to pose economic challenges, during the coming days of New Year celebrations, many Chinese here say they plan to make the most of what is their most important time of year.
"Chinese people always think that things can be good each year because when New Year arrives, the good things and happiness will come to the Chinese," Chhun Leang, 60, told the Post outside the Kheav Chhiv Chinese temple near Kandal Market in Phnom Penh.
With the optimism at the start of the New Year comes the superstition and beliefs associated with the Chinese symbolism wrapped up in the lunar calendar, and there are also related personal beliefs at work - meaning personal interpretation is all-important.
While Chhun Leang sees the ox as a strong animal - "a goal, as we see it as the best animal, the kind that comes from heaven" - Phnom Penh fortune-teller Vannak, 48, sees the ox as a beast of burden whose fortunes will be reflected in 2009, especially for those who were born in a year that falls within the same sign.
"If we make predictions using the animal signs, then the rat is better than the ox because the ox has to work harder than the rat," said Vannak. "And a person born in an ox year will face difficulties in their living because they have to try very hard to earn money."
Aside from a focus on the economic outlook for next year, Vannak also warns people regarding the traffic in predicting "more accidents", a fortune that cynics might just as easily have told after one look at Phnom Penh's chaotic roads.
But if this all seems overly gloomy, there are other members of the Chinese community in the Cambodian capital looking forward to a bright 2009. Quan Tam, 71, manager of Ngoc Yien hermitage in Chrang Chamreas commune, said he expected that "this year will be safer and people will live in happiness".
"The ox is a better and stronger animal than the rat ... because it is bigger than the rat," he added, calling on Chinese and Cambodians to refrain from eating beef during the year of the ox - a request made by others, particularly older Chinese.
So even if it looks like a difficult Year of the Ox for Cambodian-Chinese, for the ox itself things may be looking up.