Mourners Rush to Buy King Father Mementos

Portraits of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk covered the floor and dozens of coin-sized badges emblazoned with his im­age were scattered on the sidewalk in front of the Singha Meas printing house on Sunday.

A woman on Thursday sells badges of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk outside the cremation site in Veal Mean, the park in front of the National Museum. (Ben Woods)
A woman on Thursday sells badges of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk outside the cremation site in Veal Mean, the park in front of the National Museum. (Ben Woods)

Kuo Ransiky, the 41-year-old own­er of the printshop on Phnom Penh’s Street 13, usually produces signs, posters and billboards for restaurants and shops around the capital. But for the past three days, she has brought in extra staff to help with the business of printing and laminating photographs of the late King Father, who was cremated yesterday.

Ms. Ransiky is one of dozens of shop owners and entrepreneurs in Phnom Penh who have temporarily turned their establishments into sales hubs at the center of a frantic network of street vendors trying to meet the demand of the thousands of people who turned out for the late King Father’s cremation.

Hundreds of vendors have tak­en to the streets around the Royal Pal­ace to sell badges, ribbons, and post­ers—mementos the mourners can buy to remember their be­loved former monarch.

At 1,500 riel, or about $0.37, per piece, Ms. Ransiky estimates that she will sell about 7,000 placemat-sized photographs of the late King Father, along with thousands of lapels made of black-and-white ribbon and a small photo of the king, which sell for the same price.

Business was even more brisk at Golden Book & Sta­tionary Shop on Phnom Penh’s Street 130. Hoards of people crowded around the tables outside the shop purchasing stacks of images of the late King Father. Inside, six laminating machines were going full steam, with employees feeding in one photo after another.

Sao Leakena, the shop’s owner, said she was struggling to keep up with de­mand.

“We are selling the photos like hot cakes. There are so many vendors com­ing to our shop to sell them that some­times we can’t even print the photos quickly enough,” she said.

Vendors were racing between shops to stock up on photos to sell to the masses of mourners who poured into the streets around Veal Mean and the Royal Palace.

Eout Mean, 62, said she has bought and sold about 500 photos of the form­er king and 300 badges bear­ing his like­ness since Satur­day, mak­ing about 500 riel, or about $0.12, per sale.

“People told me that they were buying the keepsakes because they wanted to have his image for their children to remember,” she said.

“If I did not sell pictures of King Sihanouk, how would Cambodian people remember his face and reputation? They will know how he built our country and educated many people through these photos.”

Phnom Penh was not the only place where the photos were in de­mand, according to 25-year-old Hout Keat, who came to the capital to buy 100 photos for her sister to sell in Siem Reap province.

“There are many people who come to buy photos of the king in Siem Reap,” she said.

One group that is not profiting from the fervor around the late King Father’s cremation are the photographers whose shots are being sold.

Ms. Ransiky said that her production process begins with a Google search of “King Sihanouk.” She then downloads the photos she wants to sell, sends them to a printing house she owns near O’Russei market, and has them back within 24 hours.

The images include some of the most iconic taken of the late King Father, his wife, Queen Mother Nor­o­dom Monineath, and their son, King Norodom Sihamoni.

In one photo, then-King Siha­nouk and Queen Monineath are photographed wearing kramas and playing with a monkey in the forest. In another, where the family is posing in their living room, King Siha­moni looks to be in his teens with a full head of jet-black hair.

In a number of photos, the late King Father, who was for many years the commander of Cambo­dia’s military, is seen saluting troops or posing in military garb.

Scenes from his whole life, in fact, can be purchased, from his childhood to his ascension to the throne as a 19-year-old prince, his two stretches as king, time as head of state, nine years as King Father as well as photographs of the procession through Phnom Penh in which his body was carried to the cremation site in front of the Na­tional Museum.

Leam Cheam, 54, bought six pho­tographs of the late King Father on Sunday, which she plans to keep at home to show her children and grandchildren.

“Although the King Father has passed away, we can still remember him through these photographs,” she said.

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