On a Sunday evening the promenades along Phnom Penh’s two rivers, the Tonle Sap and the Mekong, are thronged with people. Families come out to enjoy the cooling air. Monks in traditional robes sit talking quietly in small groups. Boats ply the waters, ferrying their passengers to the opposite bank or on pleasure cruises.
And where there are people, others will be there to sell to them: flower sellers, fortune tellers, food hawkers, balloon sellers and more.
Freedom for sparrows
Near a temple we came across a woman selling live sparrows. Our guide Van explained that worshippers heading for the shrine would pay to have two or more released (never only one, because it would be lonely) and would make a prayer or wish as they flew off. She decided to buy the entire contents of one particularly small cage and did so, watched wistfully by a tiny kitten who had obviously been hoping one of the sparrows would somehow fall into his clutches. There were six birds in total, two each. So in turn we took our pair, held them gently (I had never held such a small bird before, never mind two!) and sent them on their way to freedom.
We were pleased to have released the birds from their imprisonment; although I later read that these so-called Merit Releases are not necessarily the act of kindness that they may seem. Many of the birds that are released are re-captured, only to be released, re-captured and released, ad infinitum. A cycle that can bring no good to the bird, whatever it does for the person releasing it.
With most people occupied with socialising, eating or both, it was easy to take the candid street photos I love. But there were other photo ops too, including a beautiful sunset over the Royal Palace.
When we saw this cute toddler riding in a basket at the front of his mother’s bike, Van offered to buy some of the prawn crackers the woman was selling in return for photos. The toddler seemed to think that the crackers were all his; he looked quite mournful when his mother handed us the bag. But after we had each had a couple of crackers Van passed the rest back to him, making him much more cheerful!