August 24th, 2008


Cambodian Community Day

Being a recovering journalist means I don't have to take my camera to community events.  Being a recovering journalist also guarantees I will kick myself if I don't.
Yes, I'm kicking myself.  
Today, the Cambodian-American community in northern Virginia celebrated its sixth annual Cambodian Community Day in Ben Brenman Park.  The purpose of the annual event is to share Khmer culture, with an emphasis on food and the lively arts.  Lots of dignitaries spoke.  A true DC native, I ignored them in favor of the good stuff.
Good stuff like the classical Cambodian dance performed by members of the Cambodian American Heritage Institute.  The festival program included four dances--two for children ("Girls Dancing in a Park" and "Peacock of Pursat", which featured peacock feather headresses taller than some of the littlest dancers) and two for women ("The Blessing Dance" and the famous Robaim Tep Monorom or "The Suppliant Angels Dance").  
Dancing kids are dancing kids regardless of where they come from or what they're supposed to be dancing.  Coltish and endearingly self-centered, you can only wonder who they'll be when they grow up.  Right now the future is bigger than the sunbaked field stretching out from their stage.  Will they be dancing on it next year?  Who knows?
The women, on the other hand, have committed themselves to the art.  For them, it's a cooperative venture as much as an expression of personal grace.  Their bodies move and interact in precise geometries, in contrast to the uneven clumping of the childrens' best efforts.  To eyes accustomed to the muscular propulsion of European ballet and modern dance, the choreography seems sinuous and strange--like a series of poses punctuated by the flash of iridescent silk and gold ornaments.  But each shift of hand and foot tells a story, one which I'm unfortunately not equipped to read.
It was easier to follow the Cambodian wedding procession, led by a troupe of musicians playing traditional Khmer instruments.  The procession is a ritual reenactment of the journey of the first prince of Cambodia to find the naga princess who would become his bride.  A red umbrella shielded the day's bridegroom, splendid and sweltering in his golden coat.  In his wake followed friends and family bearing gifts and the components of the ceremony.  These included ribbons for a ceremony known as "Tying the Knot", in which well-wishers knot ribbons around the new couple's wrists, and flower petals for the guests to toss at the end of the marriage blessing.  The flower petals appear to be the Cambodian equivalent of rice.  They're a lot easier on the birds and have the added advantage of smelling better too.
The food was surprisingly familiar--satay, pad Thai and green papaya salad so hot my lips are still tingling two and a half hours later.  (Note to self: Always, always ask for mild.  LOL)  I did, however, make one splendid discovery: sugar cane juice.  That stuff is addictive--gently sweet and refreshing, I was almost up to hanging around for the cooking demonstration, in spite of the heat.
Note to self, part two: Next year bring the camera and a battery-operated fan.
In the meantime, however, you may want to check out the Cambodian Dance Gallery by Andrew Page.  Beautiful stuff, regardless of the venue.