Overseeing a group of young men who were strapping a $36 angkea sil tree to the top of her Toyota Camry, Nin Leang hoped its yellow flowers would blossom to bring good luck to her pharmacy in the Year of the Dog.
“If there are less flowers, we believe we won’t do well,” she said on Chroy Changva peninsula, adding that her family will also prepare an offering meal and visit temples and relatives’ homes to celebrate Chinese New Year on Sunday.
Say Yeang, 50, who usually works as a cook, was at the east end of the Japanese Friendship Bridge selling the lucky “money” trees for prices ranging from $5 up to $70, depending on the size and number of flower buds.
“People believe that if they buy a tree during offering days and its buds blossom, they will have good fortune and their business will improve,” Say Yeang said.
“But if the flowers do not blossom, they know they cannot risk investing in business,” she said.
Her seasonal business was already doing well, she said, with Chinese-Cambodians, Vietnamese and some Khmers coming to buy her trees, which she purchased from Battambang province villagers who cut them in the forest.
“They have these trees in many provinces, but only those from Battambang really flower,” she said. “Those from Kompong Cham, Kompong Thom, Sihanoukville and Kratie don’t blossom as much.”
But once the three-day celebration is over, so too is Say Yeang’s business.
“After the offering day it just becomes firewood,” she said. “Nobody would buy it.”
Heng Phalla, 35, who was hawking red and gold decorations, incense holders and envelopes for cash gifts at Phsar Kandal, said that she, too, would be back to business as usual in a few days when her stall becomes a hardware store again. “Last year I sold more than this year,” she said.
“This year business was not so good, so they don’t have enough money,” she added as a man reached past the tassels and plastic gold coins to get a sack of bolts.
Customers spent between $1 and $25 for New Year trinkets, Heng Phalla said, adding that they all come from China via Vietnam. One of her more popular items, she said, is the strings of fake, hollow plastic firecrackers.
Like the signature dancing lions and dragons, firecrackers are intended to scare away evil spirits and welcome good luck, but fireworks have been banned in Phnom Penh because of security and noise problems.
Phann Meng, manager of Phnom Penh’s Fu Chien Temple and the Chinese Ming Sun grade school, said the temple does not have its own dragon team, though they were expecting visits from others. “We have the same celebration, but it’s more modern in China where it’s richer and more advanced,” he said.
In Phnom Penh and China, people are prohibited from cleaning up after the party during the first day of the celebration, he said.
“On the first day they can’t clean their houses because they don’t want to sweep away good fortune,” he said. “We play cards to relax. It’s a custom. Chinese people like games.”
Loek Ny, a fortuneteller at Wat Phnom, predicted happiness and a good rice harvest for the Year of the Dog. “People will make more money,” said her fellow fortuneteller Srey Yoeur. “The Year of the Dog is not as cruel as the Year of the Rooster.”