Parallel U
pt. II

Number 30–Christmas in Cambodia

Well, first thing it’s getting downright cool. It’s been six weeks since I’ve been comfortable without a shirt in the early AM and three weeks since shorts were not sufficient. Sixty five degrees (18 Celsius) and breezy is hardly hot times. One shower per day – for which I try to wait until afternoon and 78 degrees (only 75 today) for because even the water is chilly – is now plenty.

The other clear marker is the numerous migrating snowbirds who’ve returned to their winter roost along with the seasonal touristy passers-through. The latter are especially easy to spot – I’m in one of my favorite nightspots sitting next to two casually-slacked, button-down-cotton-polyester-blend-plaid-shirted Americans when one suggests a pool game and the other responds with, “We need to get some coins.”

In the first place it doesn’t take very long in Cambodia to realize that there are no coins here. Everything down to the 50 riel note, worth about one-and-a-quarter cents, is paper money. The other problem with that statement that takes only a bit longer to realize is that all the pool tables in Cambodia are free. Competition is so fierce – because it’s so easy to live here and cheap and easy to set up a business and it’s such a cool place to be – that a coin operated pool table would be equivalent to a commercial death sentence.

Other than that, if one is careful, it’s possible to get through the holiday season without hardly noticing Christmas, though sadly, decorated artificial evergreen trees are beginning to sprout in significant numbers; poignant reminders of the commercialized highjacking of the Christmas spirit typical of the West.

I have no issue with the personal warmth and good vibes that comes with people getting together over Christmas dinner or the genuine love and spirit of giving that comes with the exchanging of gifts. I’m even a believer; Jesus, to me is more than a good excuse for a holiday celebration and commercial blowout. Neither do I have a problem, per se, with the obscene amount of waste that hitchhikes along with the altruistic desire to give – life can’t all be frugality and practicality. One cannot continually and obsessively dwell on and fret over the destructive forces alive and afoot in the world. It’s great to have a time when those morose thoughts and forebodings can be set aside for warmth, companionship and good cheer and Christmas definitely provides that opportunity.

However, in the end result, I want to see the commercial hype of Christmas the way I want to watch television, which is to say, not at all. To me Christmas in America represents the triumph of the nines; the idea that all prices have to end in nines – subtle mind manipulation designed to encourage the individual into parting with his/her cash. But to what end? To aid the economy even while it’s destroying the world? Where’s the Christianity in that?

But before I get mired too deeply in holiday uncheer, let me say that it isn’t all ‘the grinch stole Christmas’ from this quarter. For one thing, I’m giving a great present to a fellow teacher – I’m covering his classes on Christmas and New Year’s, both involving a 6:30 AM start. Ouch, that’s going to be a bear. It’s not that I don’t rise that early, even when I stay out till 1 or 2 AM (almost every night I’m out at least till midnight) I’m still up before 7 (It’s a good thing I know how to take naps) but there’s nothing like a leisurely cup of coffee and an hour or so of the BBC in the morning before facing the world, which currently means spending two to three hours banging away at the keyboard.

I’m also digging deeply to enjoy a Christmas eve turkey dinner with friends. It’ll probably cost about $7 since all turkeys have to be imported. We’ll be celebrating at a friend’s hole-in-the-wall – literally it’s an eight foot wide storefront – no-name bar on one of Phnom Penh’s entertainment strips. It’s the best place in town to hang out and gab and witness the passing throng.