You’ve Been Virtually Invited to: A Khmer Wedding!

My friends and family in Wisconsin are fond of saying that there are two seasons there: winter and construction.

It’s hard to imagine a climate more different from Wisconsin’s than Cambodia’s, but there’s still a similar state of affairs going on here: there’s rainy season, and there’s wedding season.

I’m happy to have been part of the latter.

With the exception of the three or four days that Minseong and I spent mostly in the wilderness, I’m pretty sure I’ve passed on average one wedding every ten kilometers over the 1200+ that I’ve ridden here.  I know this because weddings here are explosions of music and color, easily spotted in a landscape that contains little else but rice, dirt, motos, and crumbling buildings.  They happen just off the side of the road – could be a country alley, could be National Highway Number 5 – inside of a mega-conglomeration of tents pitched one morning and gone by the next.

On the one hand, I don’t understand where people who earn on average less than $1500 a year find the money to throw parties like this.  On the other, I’m glad they have enough disposable income to celebrate the good things in what is otherwise a very hard life.

Let the virtual tour begin.

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For reference: what it looks like on the outside.

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Exhibit A: Angkor Beer, The National Social Lubricant.  Usually $0.50 a can, but flowing freely today.  Thankfully there was no hard liquor involved.

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Guys with cases of beer are never too far away.  This Black Panther stuff was “Foreign Extra Premium Stout” and, weighing in at 8% alcohol per volume, packed a bit of a punch.

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I hate to be a downer at times like this, but I’ve got to tell it like it is: none of the kids under 10 or so at the party got to participate in the festivities.  Instead, they walked around picking beer cans up off the floor and stringing them onto ropes that they dragged behind them.  Every once in a while while drinking, I’d feel a little finger prodding my shoulder.  It was the little ones, wondering whether I’d finished my drink and they could take my can.

No idea whether they were street kids or relatives, but I’d guess the latter, since the group all seemed pretty tight-knit.

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Appetizers, because you need something to do before you get up the nerve to dance.

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The main dish was a total mishmash of mushrooms, julienned vegetables, pork, and herbs, served on a plate wrapped with saran wrap.  How there could be such fancy-looking stuff amidst all the dirt and grime of the town just beyond still mystifies me.

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Sad but true: it’s always the old dudes that insist on dancing and taking photos with me.

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This guy had the best moves out of everyone at the party.  No kidding.

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“The bride requests a picture with you…and your beard.”

I bet you wouldn’t believe me if I told you that the bride here was only 20 and a recent graduate of the NGO program where my friend Kate is working.

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From the right, it’s a girl I don’t know, two women with whom I had picked mushrooms just three hours previous but who were so heavily made-up that I couldn’t recognize them, and Kate, whom I met while getting my CELTA teacher training in Chiang Mai back in ‘09.

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Nearly everyone in this town lived in a wooden shack on stilts, so where the heck do they store these clothes?  Are they rented?  Where are the shops?  If you had told me earlier, I might have rented something!

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Kate and Narek (Naret?), one of the administrators of the Kravanh branch of Sustainable Cambodia.  More on that later.

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As far as I could tell, there was no public or traditional ceremony.

Korea’s a little like that too – there’s a modernish wedding in a wedding hall, and then the bride, groom, and parents go to a back room to do the traditional Korean thing with shots of soju and trays of jujubes.

However, unlike in Korea, every Khmer wedding (perhaps every Khmer party of any sort?) quickly devolves (evolves?) into a conga line of Apsara wrist dancing.

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This sort of dancing is much more comfortable for me.  It feels like playing a game with a group rather than showing off your (lack of) moves.  Staggering around in the same circle for the better part of three hours, though, is a little boring.

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Oooh, is the cute one in the tiger dress looking at me?

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Ooh, I think someone has a crush on me.

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At least one of the two farangs here knows how to boogie.

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This dude (man, I do love how Korean has the word ajossi to denote older, married, should-know-better sort of Uncly characters) was running around grabbing every woman he could find and insisting I take pictures of them.

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Different Ajossi, same game.  This is most definitely not a traditional Khmer dance move.

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Badass Ajossi.

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The prettiest girls at the party.  I danced the odd circle dance with them for a while, got some moderately flirty tips on how to do the wrist convolutions properly, and then saw Kate giving me the evil eye.  A little more chatting revealed that these girls were 16, lived in the dormitory just behind the tent setup, and would be in my class the following afternoon.


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Am I an ajossi too?

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My lord, this is so awkward now.

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The happy couple!  Or so I presume.  I didn’t think to ask whether or not it was an arranged marriage.

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I don’t understand a word anybody’s saying, but I can read their faces:

Douche Friend:  “Dude, you’ve gotta pick her up.”

Groom:  “No way, that stuff is stupid.”

Bride (to herself): “Oh no.  They’re not talking about what I think they’re talking about.”

DF:  “Dude, you HAVE to.”

G:  “No, she doesn’t want me to.”

B: “Anything but this.”

DF:  “Stop being a pansy.”

Older lady behind G, either regretting that her husband didn’t do it, or wanting not to be alone in regretting that he did:

“DO IT!”

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I guess this was the moment that made it official.

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Congratulations!  Thanks for inviting this unannaounced, unshaven, unwashed, underdressed, but not ungrateful Fauxbo to your major life event!

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The previous couple of photos were truly precious, but I think this one takes the (proverbial – in reality, there wasn’t one) cake for me:  the Groom busts a celebratory move in his two-size-too-big rented tux.  This is gonna be me someday!


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3 Responses to You’ve Been Virtually Invited to: A Khmer Wedding!

  1. lea moreau says:

    so nice !!!!!!!! special mention for badass ajossi , just kidding .
    love your pictures and the way you describe it 😉
    hum hum … too close of your futur student , so baddddddddddddddd
    i think i will never guess their young age neither .
    by the way ~ love it 😀

  2. kate says:


  3. Leo says:

    Amazing Mike – great photos.