Cambodia mourns a king
A Cambodian Buddhist monk watches fi reworks from the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh on Saturday. [NICOLAS ASFOURI / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE]
The flags on roadsides are at half-staff. Black ribbons frame the King Father's official portrait at the airport and in hotels.
It is not difficult for a first-time traveler to Cambodia to realize that this is a nation grappling with profound grief.
In the past three months, ever since the body of the former King of Cambodia Norodom Sihanouk returned home from China, buses full of heartbroken Cambodians have traveled from the countryside to Phnom Penh to pay their respects.
"In fact, many people could not afford the transportation to the capital to pay their respects, but they managed in one way or another because we all love him and we are so sad," said Miu Wana, a tuk-tuk driver.
Wearing black ribbons and clutching framed pictures of the King Father, the mourners burn candles and incense outside the Royal Palace, where documentaries are broadcast on big screens.
A week of mourning began on Friday, when the body of the late monarch was taken from the Royal Palace to a specially designed crematory pavilion at the Veal Preah Meru Square.
The past weekend was reserved for the public to pay their respects to the former king's body. Relatives took turns to sit with him in the pavilion.
"Tears and sorrow are observed from my interviewees, who are lining up to bid their farewell to the King Father," said Srey Iov, a reporter from local Bayoun TV.
She said over the past two days she has seen thousands of people from across the country wearing white shirts and black trousers or skirts, lining up to bid farewell to the King Father.
Foreign visitors are also allowed to pay tribute to the King Father at the cremation site.
The King Father is to be cremated in a traditional ceremony on Monday afternoon. The funeral will be attended by a number of foreign leaders, including China's top political adviser Jia Qinglin, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and prime ministers from other Association of Southeast Asia Nations member countries.
Meas Sereyrith, who is in his 60s, is unable to attend the funeral on Monday, but will watch it on television.
The live coverage of the funeral is expected to be on the televisions in all coffee shops and restaurants, and 14 large screens will be set up across the capital city.
Sereyrith's family, including his 3-year-old grandson, traveled about 100 kilometers on Sunday to Phnom Penh from Kandal Province, where he lives.
"We have to say goodbye to our beloved King Father as he is on his final journey and he is the father of the whole nation," said Sereyrith, the principal of a secondary school.
He said the former King is the father of independence and led the country into a golden age.
Massive crowds and traffic jams are expected on Monday, and the city authority has blocked several roads in the area and stepped up security forces to ensure the funeral proceeds smoothly.
Traveling around the city for a foreign visitor will be more difficult than usual. But the choice is always there, one can just walk away or join more than a million mourners on the streets of Phnom Penh to say goodbye to such a significant figure of this Southeast Asian nation.
Contact the writer at email@example.com