IT’S Monday morning, and Lay Sophon, 33, has made the short pilgrimage up Wat Penh to pay her respects to the Lady of the Hill. “Today, I have some free time and I wanted to bring some fruit to Daun (Grandmother) Penh,” she says.
“It’s a Khmer belief that when we want to achieve something successful, we have to pray to her.”
Lay Sophon, the owner of a small restaurant, guesthouse and hair salon, comes here every month or two.
“It’s not regular,” she says. “My husband also comes here, but mainly when there’s a big cere-mony like Khmer New Year.”
Although most visitors come to Wat Phnom to bask in its antiquity, Lay Sophon is here to secure a better future.
“I want my business to grow bigger and bigger,” she says.
Phauk, 33, is here for more immediate reasons. “I’m praying for Daun Penh to help me pass my exam,” the accountancy student at the Khmer Business School says.
“I passed the exam, but they haven’t released the final results yet, so I’m waiting.”
Phauk can’t take up a new job until he has received his certification.
“My school is near here, and this is full of trees and it is a nice place to come,” he says.
“I used to come here before with my friends. At that time, I didn’t pray for anything, but this time I have my own problem.”
One of Phauk’s fellow students, Hong Seila, 21, has come with him.
“I want Daun Penh to help me pass my exams,” she says.
“I think she can give me confidence. But it (the result) depends on my ability to pass the exam.”
This is the first time Hong Seila has come to Wat Phnom for scholarly reasons.
“When I studied at high school, I didn’t feel any pressure,” she says.
“Now it is more difficult; that’s why I need confidence from Daun Penh.”
Despite its association with good fortune, Wat Phnom is not lucky for all-comers. Local tradition dictates that courting couples should stay well clear.
“It will bring bad luck for couples who have not got married yet,” Phauk says.
“They should not come here. If they ride their motorbike one time around Wat Phnom, it will bring them bad luck.”
Fortunately for Phauk and Hong Seila, they are just good friends – so, hopefully, the Lady of the Hill will bestow upon them the good luck they are seeking.
INTERPRETER: RANN REUY