Living in a country that is Buddhist, you would think that Christmas would be non-event. You would be wrong! Cambodia embraces Christmas with gusto. Retail stores role out the trees and tinsel, Santa hats and suits are sold by the truckload, windows are frosted over and rivers of money start flowing as the local Buddhist population switch sides for a few days and become avid consumers. Initially I held the stance that this was a bastardization of a perfectly good religion in the name of capitalistic consumption but as I watched all the kids get so excited leading up to the big day and all the effort they put in, I changed my outlook completely. In a country with such a high level of struggle and suffering and such a shitty history, I decided that what-the-hell, if they want to celebrate Christmas, then I would do my best to make it special for them.
Last year we had a simple Christmas lunch in a restaurant with a few friends. It was nice but with this year being our daughter’s first ever Christmas, we wanted to do something more family orientated. After discussions with my “family guy” mates here, we decided that The Compound was well suited to host a big Christmas party so a kitty was raised a few days earlier and the wheels were set in motion. As I ran around for a few days buying Christmas presents for Grace and Leakhana, my wife and her family went to work on our apartment. A lovely tree with all the trappings was bought, tinsel and baubles were strung up, the garden got made over with fairy lights, DVDs with Christmas carols were playing, and the result was fantastic.
Come Christmas Eve, the whole family was in fine spirits. We went out and bought some beer and wine and some Peking Duck and BBQ’d pork and sat down in our Christmas wonderland for a pre-xmas warm-up nosh. My wife looked over at me and must have sensed my happiness because she asked “Sweetheart, do you feel like you are in Australia?” Of course at times like this I really miss my family in Australia and I especially miss our farm Xanadu and how it looks come Christmas with all my mum’s decorating efforts. However as I looked over at my Khmer family, my wife and our lovely little daughter, I was indeed very happy. I have said it before and I will say it again – I feel very lucky to have such great Khmer-in-laws. Many guys here see their in-laws as the bane of their existence but I love mine. The kids are all very engaging and helpful and after 3 years together, they know they can have a bloody good laugh when they come over. The older members genuinely care for me and enjoy being around me and now my Khmer is intermediate, we now chat away about a lot of things.
On Christmas morning we got up early (more at my insistence than anything else – it’s tradition!) and after making some fresh coffee, the three of us sat down and began opening the mountain of presents under the tree. My sister Sibella sent an amazing Xmas care package over that contained an endless stream of presents for Leakhana, Grace and Vichea. Clothes, swimsuits, make-up, Xmas crackers etc. The box seemed bottomless!! Sarah had sneakily left a present in a bottom drawer during her last visit – a lovely little swimsuit. I gave Leakhana a few things (some dresses, Sex in the City DVDs, kitchen stuff) and her eyes really lit up when she got her main present – an 8 day driving course. Right now she cannot drive a car but she is going to learn. We then played “dress the baby” and changed Grace into all her new clothes which she thought was great fun.
It was then into organisation overdrive. Veasna arrived on cue like a little angel at 9a.m and whilst he and Leakhana swept, mopped and generally got the Apartment in ship-shape condition, I headed out to the market to procure charcoal and massive blocks of ice for the bathtub. I hosed down the front courtyard and moved furniture around and the fridge was re-organised to handle all the food that would soon arrive. Before you could say “quick as a wink”, guests started arriving with all manner of fare. The kitty was used to buy hams, prosciutto, fine cheeses, olives, salted herring, fresh bread and “the bar”. Several bottles of single malt whiskey, Bombay Sapphire gin, vodka, baileys, a case of Chilean red wine, beer, mixers, limes would all ensure no-one went thirsty. People also bought fresh lasagne and foam containers full of Khmer food so the spread was really quite something to behold.
Kids ran around all over the place like the plague, women chatted, men guzzled and food and drink was consumed in industrial quantities. Guests came and went, came and went, came and went and passer by stopped to gawk. At one stage I had to go into the NGO Villa next door and ask….nay….TELL them to turn their bloody huge diesel genset off. They had decided that 4pm on Christmas afternoon just as we all started to eat would be a great time for a 2 hour service. I told the owner that as I had not complained about the Chinese drums they had beating loudly at 7am that morning ( or any of their parties for that matter ) that I thought they could at least wait until the next day to service the generator. Luckily, she agreed! Later on the men all played poker and after some fairly fast and furious, whiskey filled blow-outs, it came down to me and pilot Luke for the take-all pot of $80. Alas, Lucky Luke proved true to his name and I failed to snatch the purse.
Santa’s “reindeer”. Plenty of horsepower !
Xmas party in full swing
After the poker it all gets a little blurry. Happily drunken husbands and sleepy little children were hauled off by wives and single guys either crashed out where they sat and became mosquito food or headed out into the night for further celebrations. All in all, Christmas 2008 was an absolutely fantastic one and I am actually already looking forward to next year. I think I might even get into lighting up The Compound like a Christmas tree and give the whole neighbourhood a thrill. Grace had a suitable inauguration into the custom and everyone involved went home happy.