A King’s Welcome

Kompong thom town – During the night, Muoy Pum had dreamt that someone was pouring refreshing water over her head, which in Cambodia augurs good luck. So when she got up at 5:30 am and hurried on her way to Kompong Thom High School, she knew this would be a good day.

By the time King Norodom Sihamoni arrived at the school at 8:30 am on that Tuesday morning of March 15, Muoy Pum was drowning in a sea of people. “I was afraid the King would not come close to where I was. I shouted, ‘Please come, Your Majesty.’”

King Sihamoni followed her voice and, instead of shaking hands with him as hundreds of people were trying to do, the 58-year-old woman hugged him for the longest time.

Muoy Pum had known King Si­ha­moni as a 10-year-old child when she was a housemaid for then-Princess Norodom Moni­neath, his mother, in the 1960s. “He was a very quiet, gentle little boy,” said Muoy Pum who now works for the Kompong Thom Prov­incial Service of Culture and Fine Arts. Meeting him after all these years was “as if I had won the lottery,” she said.

About 10,000 people had massed early on the school grounds to greet King Sihamoni on his first visit to Kompong Thom province.

This was the12th province the King had toured since his co­ro­na­tion last October, part of his plan to visit all of Cambodia’s 24 prov­inces.

Along the way from Phnom Penh to Kompong Thom town, peo­ple lined National Road 6 for a glimpse of the King, cheering, wav­ing flags and, occasionally, hold­ing pictures of retired-King No­rodom Sihanouk, his father.

Numerous times, the 7-car convoy slowed down and King Si­ha­moni saluted in the Cam­bo­dian sampeah fashion, the palms of his hands pressed together and lifted to his face.

At Kompong Thom High School, it took him nearly one hour to walk from the gate to the po­dium. People nearly climbed over each other to touch him or shake hands with him. The King, smiling, would cover their sampeah salute with his hands, ad­dress­ing each person as brother, sister, uncle, aunt, grandfather or grand­mother depending on his or her age.

After greeting each person stand­ing in front of the podium, King Sihamoni went to meet danc­ers and musicians from the Prov­in­cial Service of Culture who were wait­ing to perform.

When he saw a young boy at the drums and roneat percussion in­strument, the King became animated and asked him to play a few notes, which the boy did.

The artists had prepared a surprise for the King. After executing a classical dance, they staged, on a mys­teriously airy melody, a dance unique to the province—the Chak M’mrak dance of the Kuey hilltribe.

The dancers performed barefoot on grassy dirt ground, lifting dust with every movement of their feet. After the dances, King Siha­mo­ni walked down the podium to thank each artist—the Western-classical dancer in him acknow­ledg­ing their talent and hard-earned skills—while the crowd ap­plaud­ed.

Before the speeches, King Si­ha­mo­ni was presented with a painting of Sambor Prei Kuk, which was Cambodia’s capital nearly 14 cen­turies ago. The artwork depicted the old city’s structures intertwined with trees, as they stand today about 30 kilometers from Kompong Thom town.

Governor Nam Tum first ad­dressed the audience. Using statistics, he described Kompong Thom as a prospering province with a strong agricultural sector, and gave a detailed descriptions of the donations made by retired-King Sihanouk to the province in the 1990s.

Then King Sihamoni put on his glasses to read his speech and, in a voice that reached people at the very back of the crowd, also talked about the province for about 30 minutes.

Located at the heart of Cam­bo­dia, Kompong Thom suffered from the war long before other parts of the country when the US-Vi­etnamese conflict spilled into the region in the early 1970s, he said.

In the 1960s, then-Prince Siha­nouk had built schools and hospitals in the area. Destroyed during the war, they have since been re­built by the Cambodian government, King Sihamoni said.

Toward the end of his speech, he appealed to people to work to­ge­ther to develop tourism and ag­ri­culture industries in the province, which is so rich in natural re­sour­ces, from mining ore, to forest in the mountains and fish in the Ton­le Sap river.

Afterwards King Sihamoni visited the display of local produce set up near the podium, posed for pho­tographs and shook hands with prov­incial dignitaries, and walked through the back door to his vehicle. The event lasted two hours.

People dispersed peacefully, and soon, only the hundreds of emp­ty tables and chairs were left of the crowd. Employees started to get speakers down the trees, and brought in equipment to dismantle the billboards that had been placed on each side of the podium, dwarf­ing it with giant pictures of the King, retired-King Sihanouk and Queen Monineath.

During the event, shade from the trees had kept people pleasantly cool. When King Sihamoni left at 10:30 am, the sun was moving towards its zenith and the shade was fading, leaving the heat to weigh on people.

Khem Tann—an achar, or lay member, of the Tep Nimit pagoda in the province’s Stung Sen district—was convinced that the King had brought the cool weather and kept the shade over people who had come to see him.

For the 81-year-old achar, this was one more proof that Cambodia would be fine as long as the country had a king. “A country without a king will always have problems,” he said.

Him Yusof, a 57-year-old Cham from Baray district, was impressed with King Sihamoni’s friendliness and demeanor. During his reign, the country will make progress and develop, he said. “Everyone, from all religions, is behind him.”

Grade-10 student Kim Somongkul, who was among the 50 students who sang the national anthem at the event, summed up the day as others no doubt would later on. “This was a rare occasion in my life—I met the King.”

In addition to Royal Palace staff and guards, King Sihamoni was accompanied on his visit by Prince Norodom Sirivudh, the King’s uncle and Funcinpec’s general secretary; Nguon Nhel, the second vice president of the National Assembly and CPP parliamentarian for Kompong Thom province; and Khieu San, a Funcinpec parliamentarian for Kandal province.

the cambodia daily


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