Cambodians who rushed outside to catch a glimpse of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk’s face in the moon on Sunday night were divided yesterday on what they had – or had not – seen.
The supposed sighting was the talk of crowds that flocked to the Royal Palace to pay their respects to the former monarch, who passed away early last Monday.
“At first I did not believe it, but I spent an hour looking at the moon and I saw the King Father,” visitor Touch Eng, 51, said.
Lim Tola, a military police officer outside the palace, was also confident he had seen Sihanouk’s face.
“I’ve never believed in things like this, but this time I saw him.”
Monk Thy Mony, however, did not believe the sighting was real.
“People’s strong feelings are why they think they saw the King Father.”
By lunchtime yesterday, street vendor Sor Sopheak, 41, had sold about 100 photos outside the palace that showed Sihanouk’s face superimposed on the moon.
“This is exactly what I saw last night,” one customer said, while another dismissed the image as a blatant fake.
Street seller Lin, 15, carried a different photo of the reported sighting.
“I’m selling these because people want to see them. They want to know,” he said, adding he had bought the prints for 500 riel each and was selling them for 1,000 riel.
Sao Phally, 75, from Pursat province, said he felt obliged to buy an image, even though it had cost him 2,000 riel.
“His image is a wonder, so I keep it in my home to pray for happiness and harmony.”
Psychologist Sok Phaneth, clinical manager at NGO Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation, said the reported sighting was part of the grieving process.
“From my professional point of view, it’s not a picture in the moon and it’s not magic,” she said.
“People are grieving, and they are seeing the pictures in their mind. For those who see it, it’s part of their grieving process. All this gets people talking. And it is a good way of mourning if people talk. It is good healing.”
Nhen Phoeun, a Buddhist ceremony trainer and adviser at the Ministry of Cult and Religion, said the reported sighting – which he claimed had been seen by monks in India – wasn’t the first involving Sihanouk.
Phoeun claimed he had seen the King Father in the moon in 1970, after he was overthrown by Lon Nol.
His explanation for Sihanouk’s return on Sunday, Phoeun added, was based on a view that someone’s spirit “regains consciousness after seven days”.
Michel Trane, an expert on culture and history, said people’s religious and cultural beliefs were very prominent during this time of loss.
“People have a great deal of respect and love for the King Father, so he is at the forefront of their minds,” he said.
This was true in the capital’s Dangkor district, where Em Reatrey claimed most of her village had seen Sihanouk’s face in the moon “like he appears on a 10,000 riel note”.
Framed versions of the moon photos were selling for this exact price outside the palace yesterday.