In Cambodia There’s Dancing and Then There’s DANCING

November 3, 1954

Dear Dad & Russ,

Since I last wrote you I have received your letters dated October 14 and October 22. Thanks so much for the colour photo of Sylvia and me and also thanks for the letters from Kay, Clara and Russ. I am going to try to dash off a letter to all of them sometime this week.

Now a wee bit about my activities during the last few days. Well, to begin with, we’ve been working like mad for the past week. Just today, however, things began to slacken up a bit and we were able to take a breather. During yesterday’s mad rush a very humorous thing happened here. I think I’ve already told you about our fabulous filing system here. It’s one of those systems where you just sort of close your eyes and guess, you know. Well, yesterday, one of the cypher boys was doing the filing for us and in his confusion he filed our File Directory under “SUPPLIES AND EQUIPMENT”. Why he filed it there let alone file it at all, I shall never know. Well, after searching and questioning we finally found the thing, tucked away down deep in the file. It’s bad enough not being able to find files, let alone not being able to find the File Directory! So far, however, the Sgt.-Major (who does clerical work with me) and I have found every paper requested in a surprisingly short time at that. The only trouble is that he and I are the only two who understand the filing system and have our own little methods of filing things, so that when an outsider starts filing for us, things really get mixed up.

Last Friday evening a whole bunch of us went to one of the local theatres to see a show. We had no idea what was on because outside the theatres here they advertise movies that were here last week, here now, coming next week, coming next month, and, I have no doubt, even coming next year. However, when the movie started imagine our surprise when it turned out to be “KISS ME KATE” starring Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel. And what was even more surprising was the fact that the film was in English! It was really quite enjoyable and even though I had seen it in Ottawa last summer I liked it just as much the second time. The fil, by the way, had French and Cambodian subtitles at the bottom of it. I wish you could have heard the Cambodians giggle and gasp and scream with delight when a real jazzy dance was shown on the screen. The Cambodian dances (like the Cambodian people) are very, very slow. I guess it just never occurred to these people that anyone could dance that fast.

Over the last weekend and for most of this week, the people of Cambodia are celebrating their King’s birthday. I might mention here that out of 365 days of the year, here in Phnom Penh 150 of them are legal holidays. The people here celebrate Cambodia, Chinese, Vietnamese and French holidays! They certainly don’t miss any chances of getting off work for a few days. Well, anyways, on Saturday night a few of us went over to the Palace grounds which were open to the public. There were thousands of people there all laughing and pushing their way into the grounds just to gaze at the Palace and surrounding buildings. The Palace itself, I might add, is a fabulous building! I am going to try to get a picture of it and send it to you and you shall see what I mean.

Palace Gate

Palace Gate

To get on with our visit to the Palace, while were walking around we heard strange music coming from a sort of pavilion just to the left of the Palace itself. We investigated. I should never have forgiven myself if we hadn’t, for there we saw the Royal Cambodian Dancers! There were about twelve young girls all dressed in native costumes. On their heads they wore gold spiral-shaped head-dresses. Their faces were painted a sort of bluish-white colour that made them look like porcelain dolls. They had gold shoulder yokes that curved up at the ends. The rest of their costumes were made of jewel-encrusted cloth that dazzled and sparkled under the lights. Listening to the weird Cambodian music played on native instruments and watching these dancers sway gently to the rhythm is an experience I shall never forget as long as I live.It was absolutely spellbinding and I don’t think an earthquake could have moved me.

Dance Pavilion

Dance Pavilion

Royal Cambodian Dancers Today

Palace at Night (modern)

On Sunday we went to Church again and enjoyed the service equally as much as had the Sunday previous. A special highlight of last Sunday’s service was a young Cambodian Christian boy who sang a beautiful hymn in English. He seemed to put his whole soul into his singing and it was a very stirring sight indeed.

Well, I guess that’s all for the time being. I’m getting more and more tanned every day because each noon a bunch of us go over to the pool for a swim. I find it very difficult to believe that it’s November. Right now, for example, as I sit typing this letter, the sweat is just pouring off me! The heat here, however, is a very dry heat and other than making you feel very lazy all the time is not too bad at all. They say that next month, around Christmas, the temperature drops way down to 80! Then in January it warms up again. Ha, Ha! Oh well, it should be a nice change for a couple of years, spending the winter down south and believe me, if I went any farther south I’m sure it would start to get cold again.

Well, as I said before, that’s all for now. I shall try to write you again real soon. Keep up the good work at Carleton, Russ, and lots of luck.

Bye for now,

Love, Dave


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