For Sem Sambo, last year—the lunar Year of the Dragon—was a good year. The 20-year-old was fortunate to save enough money for a trip to Bangkok and Pattaya.
But for her and the rest of Cambodia’s Chinese community, the Year of the Snake, which starts today, might not turn out so well.
Unlike the prosperous Dragon, the Year of the Snake is associated with caution. It is a time to “be careful,” said Yim Sui Sang, president of the China, Hong Kong & Macau Business Association. “Let’s hope for the best.”
The important part of any New Year is a good beginning and preparations began Tuesday, as families across Cambodia readied to usher out the Dragon and welcome in the Snake.
There are more than 600,000 Cambodian-Chinese in the country and several hundred more overseas Chinese. Most are represented by associations, or other types of cultural anchor points, from schools to temples, that help keep cultural roots alive and well.
Yim Vattanak, Lov Rattana and Li Thean Hok, students at the Chinese Choazhou Association of Cambodia, study the lion dance, an essential part of any lucky New Year. The three described the dance at their lunch break at a small Choazhou temple in Daun Penh district.
“It is a Chinese tradition that the dance brings good luck,” said Yim Vattanak, 18, who has studied the ceremony for three years.
They and their classmates were busy all morning drumming, chiming, dancing beneath ornate lion costumes and jumping to bring luck to their audiences.
Sem Sambo and her relatives spent Tuesday morning preparing ceremonial money to burn. The smoke of the simulated wealth is supposed to reach the spirits of the ancestors in the heavens, bringing them luck and fortune in the afterlife—and bringing the same to their children on earth.
They also completed other chores necessary for bringing a lucky year: washing all clothes, cleaning the house and paying off debts. For the next three days, they can—and should—relax. Cleaning or washing during the three-day New Year celebration would mean having to work hard for the rest of the year.
Outside their shop next to Phsar Kandal, they threw bill after bill of fake Chinese and US money onto a growing pile of embers and ash.
Vung Sopheap, a friend, said he had a good Dragon Year. As his friends looked at him quizzically, he smiled. “Yes,” he said, “my wife left me.” He smiled, shook his head and continued to stoke the pile of burning money.
So, perhaps a Dragon doesn’t guarantee a fortuitous year for all. And if that is true, then there is also reason to believe that a Snake Year won’t bring ruin to all.
“I wish this new year that there will be happiness in the family,” said Sem Sambo, whose mother’s business suffered a bit in the last part of the Dragon. “Mostly, I want to have a lot of money. If my mother’s business is successful, people in the house are happy.”
Despite the Snake’s ominous portent, Sem Sambo’s hopes for success were echoed by Yum Sui Sang, whose association represents 59 businesses led by overseas Chinese. The slippery Year of the Snake is nothing to fear, he said. “We expect a good year,” he said, “especially for Cambodia.”