Noise and smoke fill the air as Cambodians of Chinese descent offer fruits, wine, tea, spring rolls, noodles and fish to their ancestors just three days ahead of the upcoming Chinese New Year.
“To the Chinese, fish symbolises the attraction of wealth,” So Lang, a Chinese-Cambodian businesswoman, says in Wat Phnom temple.
“For Chinese-Cambodians, it is important to worship before we celebrate at home,” Ms Lang adds. “Ancestors only receive offerings from morning until midnight. If we’re late, our offerings will be wasted.”
In the Kingdom, Cambodians of Chinese descent hold on to their traditional belief that offerings bring long life, luck and prosperity.
Standing in a line to make her offering, Ms Lang’s 22-year-old daughter Chen Meyling holds raw pork and eggs as she walks slowly towards a statue of a lion surrounded by worshipping elderlies.“According to Chinese custom, when we put raw pork in a lion statue’s mouth and crack an egg against its teeth, luck, happiness and success will come to us,” Ms Meyling says. “The rite also frees us from the misfortunes of the last year.”
In the days ahead of the New Year, Chinese-Cambodians clean their homes and redecorate with prosperity banners, hanged couplets and offerings.
“Houses must be cleaned and any bad luck before the New Year must be ‘swept away’,” Ly Chhay, a resident who is married to a Chinese-Cambodian woman, says.
He says according to Chinese custom, brooms are hidden during the New Year’s Day for fear of sweeping away any good luck the new year brings.According to a 2016 research by Luo Yan, a researcher at the Institute of Overseas Studies in Beijing, there were about 800,000 Cambodians of Chinese descent and about 100,000 Chinese nationals in the Kingdom at the time.
Dubbed the “Spring Festival” and “Lunar New Year”, celebrations are often joined by people of other ethnic groups as well.
Ouk Theara, a resident of Dangkor district in Phnom Penh, says he has been celebrating Chinese New Year for nearly a decade.
“I am not Chinese-Cambodian, but the reason why I celebrate it is because I also believe in the existence of ancestor spirits,” Mr Theara says. “We want the spirits to receive our offerings. I don’t want to be just an observer.”
“It does not cost much to celebrate Chinese New Year,” he adds. “It is an opportunity to gather family members for lunch and dinner.”
According to the Chinese zodiac, 2019 is the year of the pig.
Chang Hanglong, a well-known fortune teller, says those born in the year of the snake, monkey and pig must be careful and avoid bad luck throughout the year.
“This year, they should not build a new house, walk under any construction projects or act as a bridesmaid,” Mr Hanglong says.
“It will bring bad luck if they did,” he adds. “They also should not attend funerals.”
Mr Hanglong says that anyone born in the year of the tiger and the year of the rabbit will garner good luck this year.
For the Chinese, the New Year is an opportunity to return home and visit their family.
However, for some Chinese nationals, family is in the Kingdom itself.
Kevin Lou, a Chinese expatriate in Phnom Penh, says he plans to celebrate the New Year with his family in Siem Reap province.
“My brother and father arrived in Cambodia on Saturday and we are planning to celebrate Chinese New Year in Angkor Wat temple,” Mr Kevin said. “The festival is all about family gatherings and having fun together.”
Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong said last week during a tourism and culture event that China is a significant trading partner and a driving force behind the Kingdom’s development.
However, not everyone in the Kingdom shares the same sentiment as Mr Namhong.
The rise of Chinese investors and Cambodians of Chinese descent in the business sector has led to outcries from ethnic Cambodians over the potential of Chinese influence over the Kingdom.
Pung Kheav Se, president of the Association of Khmer-Chinese, said in the past that Chinese investors favour Cambodia due to the Kingdom’s open policy.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Facebook that Cambodians should respect the custom and join in the festivities.
“We are now living together without discrimination or worry,” Mr Hun Sen said. “We should join festivals regardless of how big or small.”
“The country is peaceful and is being governed well,” he added. “Everyone can reunite with their families and celebrate.”
As the Lunar New Year approaches, Phnom Penh City Hall last week issued a public reminder that the sale of unregulated firecrackers and other explosives are prohibited.
The Interior Ministry has also issued its own statement reminding the public that unregulated gambling and unsanctioned marches are illegal.