Today we are heading to markets and the riverfront to check out the Water Festival. After brunch, it was Central Market again. This time I could actually look at things without being annoyed by a certain nuisance. I racked up on fake Raybans, fashioned with the actual stickers and tags a real pair of Raybans would have for only $2 each. I love Central Market because its so well organized and heavily frequented by locals and tourists so there are a lot of finds and great things if you look really closely. Like many markets, the sections are by clothes, housewares, shoes, cds and entertainment, and an entire atrium under the main entrance dedicated to jewelry, diamonds, gems and precious stones. I love it for its easy permeability with tourists. I was proud of my Swahili bargaining skills in Tanzania, but Khmer isn't for me and I don't know the numbers yet. However, the vendors are pretty fair and allow me to bargain usually giving me very good prices. Only woman was crazy enough to tell me there was no bargaining in Central Market while I had my purse stuffed with fake sunglasses I'd all bargained for. We laughed and walked away.
Next to the market is a large shopping mall with supermarket, cafe, ice cream shop and many other smaller independently owned stores. There's a chicken and pizza restaurant, as well as a skating rink on the top floors! One of the boutiques we checked out on the lower floor sold clothes from H&M, and as my retail enslavement there paid for my journey here (Cambodia makes most of the clothes in H&M) I thought it would be interesting to see how much (or how little!) the clothes would cost here, presumably those that have 'fallen off of the back of the truck'. I asked the sales woman, who pointed to the ticket labeled $55. I assumed perhaps it was from another currency. 'Dollars?' I asked. And she nodded her head and smiled. I remembered the top from this summer's collection, and it retailed for $17.95. I put it back and laughed my way out. I was pretty disappointed as we kept shopping how small the clothes are! I shopped effortlessly in Tanzania and never had a problem finding clothes or shoes. However, as we browsed a display outside of a store in the mall, a woman leapt out of her shop and looked at me saying 'Sorry madam, I don't make size for you'. Clearly adjusted to the weight I've lost being abroad, I shrugged and kept walking. It was amusing, however something that stateside would be cause for calling a television camera crew and making a production about weight discrimination. The same happened a few stores down with shoes, as I tried on a pair of sandals (labeled 40, however seemingly no larger than a real 36) a woman assured me there were no such shoes that would fit my feet. Right, lady because I came in here barefoot.
The mall was indescribably packed with people. The other volunteers were also amazed how at how many people were there, most likely in attendance for the Water Festival. I made an observation that most of the people in the mall were so young, many seemed to be in their 20's. It wasnt an unlikely observation, it was a mall after all. And the clothes and shops in it seemed to cater to younger crowds, and judging from the Justin Bieber and Akon music playing outside that is who would choose to come in.
Afterwards, we took tuk tuk to Russian Market, called so after Russian tourists (which must have frequented Cambodia at the time?) and a popular place in Phnom Penh for tourists to pick up souvenirs. Approaching the riverfront we saw more congestion on the streets, evident of the festivities tonight for Water Festival. We laughed on the way, as amidst all of the chaos in the intersection a man sneezed and all talking ceased as everyone stared at the noise he had just made. At Russian Market we briefly went in and bought some cd's and our departing volunteer made some last minute souvenir purchases. Soon after, we were at the waterfront. All of the major boulevards had been closed. However, as we walked along the boulevard to the riverfront, we noticed some motos had made their way past the pedestrian clearing point by simply giving the police officer behind the rope a handful of a couple Riels and zooming past. Phnom was clearly a different city that night, walking past the Royal Palace without cars, tuk tuks or buses was really cool. Soon after, we found that the Ministry of Tourism set up a special tent for tourists to view the boat races which signal the start of Water Festival. Its fabled that churning of the waters of the Tonle Bassac change the direction of the river's flow and the start of a new season. The long boats were similar to the Chinese boat races I've seen on television and those done in Queens back home. However, after inspection with binoculars I realized the boats are running with two rows of about 50 men total standing and vigorously rowing in complete synchronization. It was incredible that they could even stand upright at the speed they were moving. There were other tourists in the tent, where free booklets of the festival's history were being given out. Besides a minor, and rather unnecessary security point (the five pens and nailclipper I had posed no threat in the metal detector, however they needed to inspect my camera and have me turn it on and off to ensure it was not a bomb) the tent was a great idea.
Bored with the idea of watching people stare at boats, we left and headed to dinner. There are a plethora of places to eat on the riverfront, with the kitsch that often comes in backpacker neighborhoods. The landmark of kitsch and lame tourist food is Happy Herb Pizza. They are famous in the Lonely Planet and even have an outpost in Siem Riep for those hoping to get 'happy' off of their pizza. If you haven't figured it out by now, they marijuana on their pizza. That did not appeal to me as much as the 50 cent draft of Angkor, so off we went. It was bizarre how many people had actually decided to eat there. There were dozens of choices for pizza, and when mine arrived I wasn't moved by the flavors. I could smell the marijuana, but after having the few slices I realized they just put marijuana on mediocre pizza. As we finished our meal, night had fallen and the procession of lit boats had begun on the Tonle Bassac. Fireworks were also on display and tourists were snapping away photos of the lights. We walked down Sisowath Quay to a French restaurant for a few drinks and laughs at drunk tourists.
That night we found the Phnom Penh night market, which was great now that the Water Festival had called locals from all over Cambodia. The market was full of clothes and other goods, not souvenirs. We tried some of the foods from the stalls, and some cane sugar juice. There was a stage in the middle of the market where an act of karaoke singers and performers were dancing to a crowd of about 400 teenage Khmer kids.
We both quickly realized how Khmer centered this festival was. Many of the traditions and events spectators and participants were Cambodians. The music at the night market, the goods being sold, the choice vendors (no one spoke English this time) and among the enormous crowd here we did not see a single westerner. I made away of the market with a full belly, a $2 silver watch for my sister and a Chinese kite for my 4 year old cousin.
It goes without saying we are still on the hunt for more mango and sticky rice, but todays fare did not include the heavenly dessert. However, another regional (if you're speaking of continents) was found---in a Chinese bakery; Chinese pork buns for $1! Needless to say, my wallet and my belly were content with that night's sleep.