Spirit of Pchum Ben Alive Despite Economic Recession

Late on the final day of Pchum Ben, Man Tony, a Buddhist monk dressed in a traditional saffron robe and swatting at flies, sat on a sofa at Wat Botum in Phnom Penh and recounted how the global economic recession this year affected even him.

The 15-day festival, which honors loved ones and relatives who have passed away, is traditionally marked by Cambodians going to pagodas and leaving offerings of food, in­cense and money.

“Last year there was a bigger celebration and more money,” Mr Tony said, a dollar bill peeking out from one pocket. “Because of the financial crisis, people don’t have money to leave.”

At Wat Phnom, which hosted its end-of-festival celebration on Satur­day, all was quiet.

“We had a big ceremony with Khmer music, and 150 to 200 people attended,” said Soh Chentong, who manages a prayer area at the site.

He wasn’t sure how much mo­ney had been left for the monks, as the bills were kept hidden in a box. Still, he knew offers had been made. “Some people brought food and money to the monks. They were very excited, very happy to be enjoying this.”

Meanwhile, at the capital’s Srah Chak pagoda in Daun Penh district, donations were on an up­swing.

“We were happy, very happy. People put money, food and bread out to give to the monks,” said Sok Meung, 77, who serves on the pa­goda’s management committee. People “gave a lot more than last year because they believe it is Budd­­hist tradition. We are thankful to fa­ther and mother that have died.”

Those who stayed in the city to celebrate kept to tradition.

Sing Rao, 30, who sells snacks and drinks at the Srah Chak pagoda and who had been there all day, said about 50 people had congregated there yesterday to celebrate the end of Pchum Ben.

He pointed out an area where participants had erected 30-cm-high sand mounds for their ancestors.

Across the city, Mr Tony and his fellow monks spent the final morning of the festival as they had the others, with 50 men and women bringing them food offerings beginning with morning prayers.

Touch Naruth, Phnom Penh muni­cipal police chief, said there had only been small crimes reported during the holiday—mostly thefts by people driving motorbikes—an improvement over last year.

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