Saturday, February 2, 2013

Funeral of Sihanouk: Day 2

Veal Preah Meru crematorium, Funeral of King Norodom Sihanouk, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Preah Meru (crematorium)

Much of the Palace area was closed to the public today as, reportedly, the Royal family, government officials and others were attending a private ceremony or gathering. When I got to the area in the afternoon the closure was being erratically enforced, police letting some people pass barricades into the area on some streets, but barring entry from other streets. Still, the immediate Palace area was almost devoid of people throughout the day, which is the first time I've seen that since that in the last three months. 

At some checkpoints people were clearly frustrated at being refused admittance to the area. I am told that on TV today government begged understanding for the blockades, citing security and safety, and also reminding people of public visiting hours for Veal Preah Meru. Though I did not see it, I understand the Veal Preah Meru was open to the public from 1PM-4PM today and that there were long lines waiting to enter. According to the official schedule, it will be open to the public again tomorrow (Feb 3,) from 1PM-4PM, for those who wish to pay their respects.

The King and Queen Mother attended a religious (Buddhist) ceremony at the crematorium beginning at about 5PM, 'giving gifts to 90 monks.' Monks could be seen coming and going from the crematorium. Hundreds of people gathered along the side entrances (north and west) and the blocked street (Sothearos) near the front gate to try to get a glimpse of the King and Queen, and to pray and offer their respects...and to take a few photos with their phones and iPads. Thousands of others gathered along Sisowath Quay opposite the Royal Palace to watch the proceedings on a giant TV mounted on the front of the Palace. The ceremony ended shortly after 8PM, the King and Queen returned to the Palace, and a 20 minute fireworks display sounded over the riverfront.  

There has been an explosion of vendors selling funerary accoutrements in the area - dozens and dozens of vendors lining the surrounding streets, some selling on foot - vending flowers, incense, candles, black ribbons, and the most popular selling item, various photo posters of Sihanouk. Early this evening, after 6PM or so, there were tens of thousands of people along the length of Sisowath Quay, and vendors of all sorts lined the way, selling not only flowers and posters, but snacks and drinks, knick-knacks, balloons, even toys. People filled the riverfront park and street opposite the Palace (the Palace park was still closed in the evening,) sitting in groups, many burning candles and incense, some praying, meditating, mourning. Further north along the riverfront the mood was respectful but lighter, the streets and park full, people doing a bit of shopping and snacking and strolling the area.      

Funeral of King Norodom Sihanouk, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Three months ago during the first mourning period for the King Father, this good-hearted lady offered free incense and candles in front of her shop to passing mourners on their way to the Royal Palace. Today I saw her, once again sitting at her shop on Sothearos Blvd offering free incense and black ribbons to passers-by, now amongst several street vendors selling the same.

People in park at funeral of King Norodom Sihanouk, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Royal Palace park at 4PM, sans people.

Ghost flag, Veal Preah Meru, Funeral of King Norodom Sihanouk, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
'Ghost flag' at Veal Preah Meru

Crowds, funeral procession of King Norodom Sihanouk, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Crowd outside north gate of Veal Preah Meru, awaiting the arrival of the King and Queen Mother. 

Monks entering Preah Meru

Mourners, funeral of King Norodom Sihanouk, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Mourners on the sidewalk outside Veal Preah Meru

Riverfront crowds, funeral of King Norodom Sihanouk, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Sisowath Quay, the riverfront road, 9:00PM.


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