During the New Year’s Day celebration on April 16 at the Cambodian community enclave on 58th Street, a saffron-robed Buddhist monk gratefully receives a serving of rice. This ancient daily practice is a sign of the monk’s humility and simple needs, and dates back to a story during the life of Buddha.
Observe the traditions of unique culture and values
By Ted Behr
The culture of Cambodia is so interesting that individuals from the world over travel to meet the warm and welcoming people and visit their unique ancient temples like the thousand-year-old Anchor Wat.. On April 17, hundreds of area families with a Cambodian heritage gathered at the compound of their new temple for the celebration of their time-honored new year. The colorful temple with its classic white columns and dramatic colored tile room is located beyond Lindbergh at 2701 58th Street.
The highpoint of the sunny day was the trooping of saffron-robed monks down a long line of worshippers to receive the traditional heaping spoonful of cooked rice in their special handmade bowls, plus a small donation in their alms bag. The daily alms seeking of the monks represents the humble life they have adopted; the rice provides food to sustain them each day. The practice dates back to a story about the Buddhism founder Gautama Buddha some 2600 years ago.
“The New Year’s Day celebration reminds us of the values which have been traditional to our people for thousands of years, trying to be wise, patient, kind, and generous and treating people with compassion,” said Theth Keo, a young man now living in South Philadelphia. Keo spent six months in an internment camp in Thailand after his family escaped from Eastern Cambodia during the Pol Pot regime.
“We also appreciate our new homes in America and being able to live in a free country,” Keo added. The Cambodian population here numbers about 10,000, the fourth largest in the country. Most lived in poor farming areas and fled over the Thai border from the violence, first from the Vietnamese who invaded their country in 1970, and then from the genocide inflicted by the Cambodian Communist government under Khmer-Rouge leader Pol Pot on his own people.
Around the temple compound, decorated with alternating Cambodian and American flags were dozens of stalls cooking up a wide range of spicy Cambodian dishes: sweet and sour fish soup, broiled pork and beef served over noodles, and piping hot curry over steamed rice.
Cambodians love to spend time together as families and as a community. They place great emphasis on loyalty to their neighbors and often share food and other resources with others. Perhaps this is why there are so many holidays on their calendar!
One young lady added her appreciation for her new life in this country: “As a girl in a country village, I wouldn’t have been able to go to school… that was only for boys. Here I am able to be educated and go on to a good job or a profession.”