The incense was cooking and the bacon fat hung heavy Monday as people descended on the Chinese temple at Wat Phnom to bring offerings before the Chinese Year of the Horse begins today.
Looking for good luck, good business and a release from the problems and worries of last year, worshippers stuffed bacon fat and raw eggs into the mouths of tiger statues outside the temple doors and wedged cash, some of it fake, into the hands of porcelain gods inside the temple.
“I want to throw away all the suffering and bad luck I had in the past before the new year,” said Chea Sok, 61, a businesswoman.
The New Year festivities run through Saturday. The Vietnamese New Year festivities, known as Tet, began Sunday and last for one week.
“The Year of the Horse and the Year of the Dragon are the two most important years for making great achievements and good progress,” said Chinese businessman Jimmy Gao of Transpeed Travel in Phnom Penh.
Dozens of families burned incense sticks or released sparrows and finches bought from bird sellers who congregated around the temple.
A table piled high with apples, bananas, cans of beer and pieces of pig meat shimmered under a haze of incense smoke. A woman filled her plate with fruit and then hacked a slice of meat off a pig’s head set on the table before making her prayers.
“This space is for happiness,” said Chhun Song, 65, pointing to a strip of Chinese characters that lined the entrance to the small temple on the north side of Wat Phnom. “This side says the gods can help everyone,” he said, pointing to more characters on the other side of the door.
As he spoke, a woman behind him took a fistful of salt and rice and waved it in a circle over her head several times before throwing it onto a statue of a lion. She said the worshippers circle their head for every year of their age, but older people can simply say “this is number 60” the first time they circle their head to save time.
Children sold birds for 2,500 riel (about $0.62) a pair. A woman holding a brick of crisp new riel notes changed larger bills into stacks of 100 riel notes, usually at a cost of 200 riel per 1,000 changed.
Inside the temple, worshippers bowed down before statues representing land and water spirits. Two larger statues representing the Chinese monks Thaing Cheng and Thaing Taing were buried in cash, including a platter-sized facsimile of a $1,000 bill.
The sound of shaking sticks came from a small sanctuary inside the temple, where worshippers tried to divine their future by shaking loose one stick from a bundle. A number on the stick directed the person to a pile of fortunes placed on a nearby table.
Another woman held two banana-shaped pieces of wood over her head and then dropped them on the floor, reading her future from the way they fell.
At the end of the day, Wat Phnom workers collect the offerings and donate them to a fund used to repair and decorate the temple.