Kampong Chhnang, Cambodia
The Jahan departed Phnom Penh very early for a leisurely cruise up the Tonle Sap River, passing suburban communities that are expanding in the direction of Cambodia’s great central lake. By the architecture in general and the presence of several mosques in particular, it is clear that Vietnamese and Cham minorities largely people this area. Some industrial complexes also appeared, among them a large methane plant with adjacent storage tanks, fed, we were told, by vegetable matter, including tapioca. We understand the product of the plant is destined for South Korea.
As we continued up the river, Paula Swart provided a lively and positive presentation on the reviving arts of dance, music, painting and shadow puppets in Cambodia – most welcome after the previous day’s emphasis on the horrors of the Khmer Rouge period.
Coming closer to the market town of Kampong Chhnang, we encountered much fishing activity, with barriers stretching halfway across the river, leading us to wonder how any fish at all manage to reach the Mekong River to the south. Fisher-folk in small craft were lifting huge nets full of small silver fish, destined to be turned into a food supplement known as prahok, an important source of protein in the wet season to come.
We boarded sampans to be ferried to the centre of Kampong Chhnang and from there by minibus to a local village where we were shown the production of terra cotta pots, which are sold to middlemen who distribute them throughout the country. The clay comes from the mountains nearby and is unique to this area. The traditional method of making the pots involves walking around the stand where the clay is fashioned, rather than using a wheel provided by Japanese NGOs.
Next, we visited an area where villagers were crafting clay cook stoves, again to be distributed locally; charcoal is the usual fuel for these simple devices, millions of which are made here and at villages throughout the province annually.
Our last stop was to watch a local farmer, Mr. Ri, scale a sugar palm tree by a fragile bamboo ladder to collect the raw sugar at the top – at the age of sixty-one, he is still extremely agile and seems to enjoy his work greatly. The liquid is cooked down into a kind of palm sugar or fermented, then distilled into potent palm whisky. Several of our group have their photos taken carrying the heavy bamboo containers that are used for collecting the palm juice. We returned to the Jahan full of admiration for the hard working farmers of the village, who are just beginning to enjoy some modest development, in the form, e.g., of pump wells and clean toilets.