The ceremony following the Koh Pich tragedy in Phnom Penh
  • The ceremony following the Koh Pich tragedy in Phnom Penh

This Thanksgiving Day, I wore black and white.

No turkey, pumpkin pie or celebrations around a dinner table. Just bananas, rice and salt -- traditional offerings laid out by Cambodians in their individual shrines to honour the victims of the tragic incident that left more than 340 people dead.

In stark contrast to other years, we didn’t awaken and prepare festivities for the holiday. Instead we rode with SomOn, our tuktuk driver friend, to the site of the Koh Pich (Diamond Island) bridge and watched one of the first memorial ceremonies to take place after the tragedy.

At the foot of the bridge, hundred of black and white clad mourners had gathered. But, despite the numbers, the air was silent and the mood sombre. One by one, people from various regions solemnly walked the path to the bridge, carrying single flowers and sticks of incense, each group following two army officials bearing huge garlands of yellow and white flowers.

We'd heard about it from SomOn. After spending hours browsing Twitter, Facebook and Cambodian news sites to find out about memorial activities, we learned about this morning's ceremony from our tuktuk friend when he picked us up today. While we were meant to be headed to work, we asked him to make a detour and walked along with the other mourners to the bridge.

It was tragedy which touched everyone in this country. Prime Minister Hun Sen reportedly wiped away a tear and burned incense at the site while his wife, Bun Rany, wept openly. A military band played a mournful tune and there were none of the ever-present Cambodian smiles in the crowd.

Along with the sorrow, there was also fear. Fear of the ghosts of those who died and a burning desire to appease their souls by making offerings to the pagoda and to the spirits.

Everywhere you walked in the city, pavements were scattered with tiny shrines containing bananas, water and rice; candles shimmering in the warm air and single sticks of incense burning throughout the day.

For us, as westerners living in and learning about this part of the world, this day was about Cambodia.

We stood alongside our new neighbours, colleagues and friends and mourned with them on a day which is usually filled with joy and celebration.

But, it’s never about the turkey, the pumpkin pie and the celebration.

It’s about the people.

Take action! This post was submitted in response to My Story: Miracles.


Gabi, you capture the miracle of truly crossing the "border" into another culture and opening your heart and soul as you learn the ways and passions of others. It is a wonderful thing to hear and I imagine if the world was full of these interactions, there would be an easier understanding across the continents. Thanks for sharing this.


Hello Frances,

Thank you for such a delightful and complimentary message. It made my day.

Living in Cambodia has been a wonderful experience in getting close to a culture we knew very little about. People here are so incredibly warm and openhearted and we continue to be amazed how everyone smiles constantly and bends over backwards to do the right thing, despite their gruesome history and devastating past.

How could anyone not fall in love with people like this?

If only people in the western hemisphere realized how easy it is. Live by the credo of "What can I do for you?" instead of "What can you do for me?"

Best, Gabi

Hi Gabi,

Your article has touched my heart, made me remember my Cambodian people died at the Koh Pich. We all were so sad with this tragedy. I am happy to see you on PulseWire and also thank you so much for sharing this wonderful article to the world.

Love, Sarvina

Regards, Sarvina from Cambodia VOF 2011 Correspondent

Thank you for comment, Sarvina.

It was such a memorable time for this country and our hearts broke a little that day in observing the tragedy which befell your beautiful people.

Blessings, Gabi

Dear Gabi,

what a beautiful story! Frances captured the feeling I had when reading it by acknowledging your ability to open your heart (and mind) to being truly present where you are. Thank you for sharing.

ps: Happy Valentines' Day Beverly

Hello Beverly,

Thank you for taking the time to write. There's nothing like being immersed in a new culture to open your eyes to new ways of doing things. The people in Cambodia quickly endeared themselves to us like people we'd never met before and it broke our hearts to see them suffer -- once again -- in this awful tragedy.

And blessings to you for the good work you are doing in your life. Gabi

Of course I had heard about the tragedy at Koh Pich through the news at the time, but your account of the memorial service made it more personal. Thank you!