Posted on June 8, 2020
Could hot, humid weather, a low elderly population, mostly rural population and no mass transit system have contributed to the low Covid-19 infection rate in Cambodia? Or is there something else at play here? Something from beyond?
In the first half of January I knew Covid-19 was going to adversely affect my bicycle ride around the world. After Australia I was going to head to northern China, Mongolia and beyond. I knew that wasn’t going to happen before I left Australia. The weather wouldn’t be optimal for riding before April so I headed to Chiang Mai, Thailand. From there I rode to Siem Reap, Cambodia. I planned to spend a few weeks to deal with getting a new passport and planning the months ahead. I had no idea this novel virus would turn my time in Siem Reap from weeks to months.
Although infections were low to begin with Cambodia put into place a number of actions to curb the spread. Schools were closed, large gatherings were discouraged, museums and cinemas were closed. The much anticipated four day Khmer New Year celebration was called off. It can always be debated whether these actions contributed to the low numbers or not. As of the June 8, 2020 the official number of people who have contracted Covid-19 stood at 125 with no reported deaths.
Four years ago I noticed some scarecrow-like effigies pinned to wooden fences along the road in some rural villages. I asked around a bit but I was never able to find out why they were there. When Covid-19 reared its ugly head I noticed more and more of these scarecrows popping up all around the villages surrounding Siem Reap.
During times of disease and death the Khmer people reach back into their rich history looking for a way to protect their homes and families. Superstitions fuel their desire for good health and safety and they find solace in these homemade scarecrows – or Ting Mong.
In the United States scarecrows are meant to scare off birds from destroying crops. In Cambodia Ting Mong are there to scare off evil spirits, ghosts and disease. These human-like figures are sometimes equipped with ‘weapons’ meant to further scare the evil spirits away. Human clothes and human features are meant to fool the evil into thinking the home is being protected by a human.
Whether or not the Ting Mong had a positive effect on the Covid-19 outbreak the numbers of people infected remain low. The overall effect of the worldwide pandemic on local tourism has been devastating with restaurants, hotels and guesthouses permanently closing in numbers never before seen. In April, 2020 Angkor Wat Archeological Park brought in $29,378 compared to $7 million just a year before.
It makes one wonder if some strategically placed Ting Mong amongst the temples and along Pub Street could have made a difference.