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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Mung bean mania follows SARS rumor

Mung bean mania follows SARS rumor

RUMOR, fear and a couple of tall tales caused city residents to flood the streets

late on May 7 in a desperate search to buy mung beans, after they heard that anyone

who did not eat the vegetable by midnight would surely die from the SARS virus.

The proliferation of stories makes it hard to pin down the source, but one common

tale went like this: a baby born in Siem Reap on May 7 - and which was miraculously

able to speak while only a few hours old - told its parents that the only way to

avoid the disease was to eat a bowl of mung beans before midnight that night. Those

who did not, the hours-old infant warned shortly before it died, would be killed

by the virus.

Another yarn was that relatives living in France - or was it the US? - had phoned

through the vital news. Whatever the truth, the word spread like wildfire in a country

which loves a good rumor. The phone system was overwhelmed as people passed on the

word.

Families not lucky enough to have a phone awoke to the sound of caring relatives

or neighbors banging on their doors with plates of steaming mung beans. The warning?

"Wake up immediately and eat this or you will die!"

Across the capital, thousands of sleepy children and adults spent the late hours

of Wednesday night wolfing down beans.

But it wasn't all bad news: Mung bean vendors turned a truly spectacular profit.

The normal market price for a kilogram of mung beans is around 1,600 riel, but as

demand increased, so did the price.

And with the markets closed - the rumor began around 7 p.m. - the way was wide open

for clever entrepreneurs to set up roadside stalls. By 8 p.m. the price had shot

up to 4,000 riel a kilogram.

Canny traders then stopped selling one kilogram amounts, instead limiting buyers

to just half a kilogram. By 9:30 p.m. they were charging 2,500 riel for a half kilo;

by 10 p.m. the price was 3,000 riel.

As the dangerous midnight deadline drew ever closer, vendors again halved the amount

they were prepared to sell. The price rocketed, this time to 5,000 riel a quarter

kilo. One lucky part-time vendor sold 80 kilograms.

Around the capital, residents prepared tasty dishes of mung beans as the clocked

ticked relentlessly towards the hour. One former Post reporter said his mother-in-law

had insisted he eat a bowl of beans.

"My mother-in-law is my mother-in-law," he chuckled. "What can I do?

This is a rumor-filled country."

Not that he believed the story, he pointed out, but with a sprinkling of sugar, the

bean dish made a delicious dessert. After midnight, he added, his neighbors went

back to bed with full stomachs.

An official from the World Health Organisation dismissed the rumors of the purported

magical properties of mung beans, saying: "This is clearly nonsense - there

is nothing else to be said about it."

The Post would like to point out that as of press time, the price of mung beans has

returned to normal and there are still no SARS cases in Cambodia.

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