ENTER the first day of the traditional Khmer New Year. People lay out fruits,
cakes and drink on tables decorated with colorful cloths. They put incense
sticks and candles on balconies to welcome Tevada or spirits coming down from
the heavens. This year Dog spirits make the descent to replace Cockerel spirits
which held sway during the old year. The cockerels will have to wait another 12
years before they can return to earth.
The official ceremony
transferring the mandate from the chicken to the dog took place at 4.30 am on
At 4.10 am my mother gets up to light candles on the spiritual
table, ready to welcome the coming of the newTevada and to receive a blessing of
good fortune and prosperity for our house.
temperatures, combined with traditional blackouts making electric fans useless,
left bedrooms feeling like ovens.
My parents temporarily abandon their
bedroom, they set up woven rugs and mosquito nets on the floor of the balcony.
"Get up son," she knocks at my window, waking me to pump water to the
roof tank which will supply us for the rest of the New Years days. Luckily the
power is on. I plug in the pump and walk upstairs. Standing on the balcony,
relaxing with the cool morning air I am still half asleep. Suddenly, I hear and
see light red sparks spearing from different angles into the sky.
I hear rifles being cocked, very close. Bang! bang! bang! I
realize the noise is coming from an apartment on the other side of my bedroom
wall where a policeman and his family live.
Dad drags his woven rug down
from the open balcony, obviously he is scared of the air-bound bullets which
will eventually descend at 10 metres per second - being hit by stray shrapnel
could seriously spoil celebrations.
In the late evening of that day I
observed my neighbor, the policeman, loudly arguing with his friend on different
subjects. They were celebrating the New Year by boozing on a bottle of Black
Days prior to the celebration the Royal Government passed an order
to security units to suppress the traditional seeing in the New Year with
gunfire. Co-Premier Hun Sen, during his visit to Pailin, appealed on the
state-run TVK for a general and unconditional truce between the Royal Cambodian
Armed Forces and the National Army of Democratic Kampuchea.
He said: "The
ceasefire should be a gift for the New Year of theDog which is to arrive soon.
I'd like to also appeal to the rank-and-file KR to leave your guns, even though
your high ranking officers may disagree, come and play traditional games with
the people, with the RCAF. We open the door for you."
I sympathized with
the appeal one hundred percent.
Nevertheless, my neighbor pressed the
trigger until the chamber of his AK-47 was emptied. The governments no gunshot
order was ignored by many.
I was caught up in the question of whether
Tevada The Dog and his entourage would be safe while making their way to the
planet to assume their duty to help the people, especially in Cambodia where gun
possession is uncontrolled? Was the newTevada warned to wear a bullet-proof
jacket while traveling?
Shortly after, a patrol of Military Police showed
up. Speaking my mind I said: "Blokes it's too late. You'd better go home and
Traditionally, Vietnamese and Chinese like to welcome their new
year with firecrackers. Khmers seem to like something heavier.
to crawl into my mosquito net, over-heated by the weather and the noisy turn of
events. My mood was one of total exhaustion. My bedsheet quickly became soaked
in perspiration. While sleeping the water tank became full, I did not ask who
had been kind enough to unplug the pump.
And fortunately, no more gunfire