We wait for our meal to come, two candles lightly glowing from the middle of our table. The family house and kitchen are perhaps two metres behind us, the open street in front.
We are in fact sitting in what would have been the front garden, now cemented over, with high concrete walls, a tin roof and a retractable gate that has been pushed to each side of the restaurant front.
A breeze sweeps through and blows out one of the candles. “Is ok, is ok. I fix,” says the daughter as she rushes over to re-light the candle. We smile and thank her before she returns to the table next to us where she had been sitting with her father, older sister and two brothers.
We sit in the living room of our Khmer teacher’s house. The ceiling is high and floor is tiled white. Our teacher has pulled together a row of seven chairs, upon which we sit, facing the discoloured whiteboard.
“Learning Khmer language is more than the words. You must learn culture also,” he begins today’s lesson, our last of six. “You must want to know about Khmer New Year, no?” His eyebrows go up with the inflection of his question.
We all nod our heads in agreement. It is two weeks until the three-day celebrations for the New Year and we are eager to know its history. “Long ago, it is Brahma, Hindu God of Creation, that holds the earth away from the fires of the sun,” he informs us.