Just before dawn, I am roused from sleep by soft sounds of early morning and the gentle stirrings of my neighbours as they prepare for the day: sweeping, shuffling feet, low voices, a radio playing softly, the faint hiss of frying food. Then, gradually, as the sky lightens, new layers of sounds expand my aural horizon and extend it into the city beyond my neighbourhood: bread vendors crying “numpan” as they walk through the streets, the steadily increasing hum of motorcycle traffic, the beeping of horns on the main streets. It is now 6 A.M. on a February morning in Phnom Penh, and, as I sit down to breakfast, I suddenly hear, in the distance, the voice of a popular Cambodian singer, blaring, distorted through loudspeakers. It is a recording of the song, “Caiw Priehm,” played by a phleng kar somai (popular wedding music ensemble). Somewhere nearby, a household is preparing for a wedding.”
In her ethnography of Khmer village life in the early 1960s, “Svay, a Khmer Village in Cambodia,” May Ebihara writes that “Khmer weddings are the most joyous, delightful and (along with funerals) the most extravagant and elaborate of all life cycle ceremonies.” Usually lasting three days (generally because of its relation to “three jewels” of Buddhism: the Buddha, the Sangha, and the Dhamma) Khmer weddings have been known to last anything from one day to a week with the duration often determined by the wealth of the parties involved.
While I mostly find the strong bonds to ancient tradition in Cambodia beautiful and endearing, I am also man enough to admit that the chanting, singing and speeches through the tannoy for the whole sankat (or village) to hear (most days from 5.30am until 7pm during the wedding or funeral ceremony) is perfectly fine for one day, but by day three I am seriously considering checking myself into a mental asylum to find a reprieve from the noise. That said I also remember that I am am a guest in this beautiful country and that if today (day three) isn’t the magic number for this celebration that at the very least I might check myself into a hotel (on the other side of town) to find some quiet to work.
Anyway, I wish the happy couple in our street a lifetime of love, laughter and joy… and quiet times for reflection.