The pagoda nearest our center.
The center has been closed recently for the Pchum Ben holiday. It is a national holiday where schools and businesses alike close and people head home to be with family (often out in the countryside provinces). Pchum Ben is the holiday of the ancestors, a time to pay respect to your past relations. During this time of year Cambodians believe the separation between the spirit world and our own is at its most fragile, meaning the ghosts of the ancestors are close at hand.
The monks leading a prayer.
People head to pagodas and make large numbers of food offerings and prayers for the spirits. The monks will lead the prayers and money is often donated for them as well. It is a very important holiday to Cambodians, the cities empty and businesses close down to allow everyone to pay their respects properly.
Sadly during this holiday it was announced that King Norodom Sihanouk (who abdicated his thrown in 2004) had died. A week of mourning was announced by the state and while we reopened today it was clear our kids were still busy with this at home. After asking around the village we have decided it is best to leave the center closed (except for our evening classes) until Monday 22nd.
King Sihanouk had been in China for the last few years receiving treatment in a hospital but at the age of 89 his body gave in. He was first placed in power in 1941 by the French. He was a young King but he proved to be a smart one too, eventually outwitting the colonialists and helping to peacefully lead the country to independence. His history in the country is checkered however and while he is endeared to the nation as the king who stood up for the poor, there is no denying his actions in the early 1970s led in part to the coming to power of the Khmer rouge (he was also heavily involved in the later peace negotiations).
Many Cambodians are deeply saddened by his passing with thousands of people traveling to the royal palace to pay tribute to the monarch they so admired.