Thursday, November 16, 2006


While attending the East Asia Working Group Conference in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on 21-26 November 2004, a former colleague who now works for an international aid organization took us for a taste of the city’s famed happy pizza. We selected cheese and he instructed the waiter to make it very happy for us. The pizza is good, and it left a tangy aftertaste that reminded me of Almaguer and many happy memories. The wafting smoke that filled the pizzeria confirmed what I thought it has and after a sundot of Angkor beer, that familiar funny blissful feeling shoot me back to some 20 years ago in an age when Abet and the Samahang Dilim roamed Almaguer.

Abet had his heroes and villains in Almaguer, and belonged to a very special group that will forever be close to his heart. They called themselves Samahang Dilim because like vampires, they prowl at nights usually meeting in a wooden bridge straddling the banauang in front of Junie’s house. They were pasala regulars, and each boast of scars earned in juvenile wars. They earned the barrio monicker of NPAs (read: Nu Pato Alisto) by preying on the neighborhood ducks that were most often cooked into their favorite pinikpikan (read: “killing me softly” in English). Sometimes, there is nothing to do and they just kill the night bantering in front of Junie’s house, passing around a smoke that tasted like Phnom Penh’s happy pizza, seated in that coconut trunk that served as the podium of their glory days.

The city of Phnom Penh was built upon a Buddhist sanctuary. A long time ago, a rich lady called Penh found 4 bronze and 1 stone statues of the Buddha in a hollow koki tree floating in the river. She then built a hill that was called Phnom where the images were stalled in a sanctuary. Buddhist monks were later invited to settle at the foot of the hill. The sanctuary was later restored by King Ponhea Yat when the Cambodian capital was moved to Phnom Daun Penh from Bassac City in 1434. To this day, Wat Phnom still exists.

I was also able to drop by another Cambodian Buddhist temple during a field visit to Kandal Province’s Trapeang Raing Village in the Makali Commune, Ang Shoul District. Along the way, the gleaming lakes of Phnom Penh passed by and from time to time, our Cambodian guide would point to a place that used to be a killing field. And there was the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum--- a former school building where more than 13,000 souls perished during the infamous rule of Big Brother Number 1 (AKA Pol Pot). I think it is more appropriate to call it a shrine in memory of those who died in its torture chambers.

PHOTOS (from top to bottom):

1) Entrance to Wat Phnom.
2) The wat along the road from Kandal Province.
3) The ghosts of Toul Sleng.