Keira the Bar Girl

Domingo directed me to a road that stretches along San Pedro’s malecon, which is the sea-side of this coastal town. Southern side of the road, the one closer to the sea is lined by small booth like, independently owned and run bars. These look like roofed hot-dog stands you would take with you to a fair to sell from, but inside they were full of shelves with booze and fridges with cold beer. It was already almost 10pm and there were many cars parked along this side of the street but I was able to find one spot and poked my rental there. We sat at the booth closest to the car.

The booth seemed served by a mother and daughter. One young lady in her early 20’s and one in her 40’s looked strikingly similar to not be mistaken for family. Pretending I was joyous I ordered myself one large beer (Presidente Grande) and a small one for Domingo (Presidente Pequena) as he insisted he couldn’t do the large one – he’s a non drinker, but made an exception for me. Young bar lady served us these beers right from the freezer with frost covering the glass. We were just meters from the sea so the sound of waves bashing against rocky shores accompanied our drinking time. Unfortunately, as it goes in the Dominican Republic, many of surrounding bars were competing in who has the most powerful speakers and played that atrociously irritating Dominican Music extremely loud. Luckily, the tiny outdoor bar we were in was a bit further from main sources of noise so we could actually talk to each other and hear what we’re saying.

I was eager to try to forget the ordeal I was going through at least for a couple of minutes which was luckily not difficult since Domingo was a really nice and positive guy who made me feel comfortable even though I was still in the country I started to perceive as extremely hostile. To top it all up, young bar girl who served us beers joined the debate and tried her English skills with me. It was funny because she lacked knowledge of fundamental vocabulary, but was familiar with phrases I would not expect a beginner to know – such as “give me five”.

Despite difficulties and utter sadness, I felt happy for a moment. Domingo was a great companion and that bar girl added her gracious presence to the equation so I could take my mind away from the pain I was feeling inside. Domingo told me that he’s seen way too many people like me being robbed by bad people of the Dominican Republic. He confirmed that I was not the first, nor will be the last who had something valuable stolen from them. He also said that relying on the police in the Dominican Republic is completely futile not only because they won’t do nothing, but also because if they did find my stolen laptop, they would not give it to me. They would simply keep it for themselves. That’s the way it works in the Dominican Republic and whether I liked it or not, my presence was not gonna change it.

When we were done drinking I had to take Domingo back home to his wife. he had school to go to the following day anyway so I couldn’t keep him up too long. I was really happy to have found a friend in this country despite of all the trouble I was experiencing because of bad Dominicans. Domingo was right – there are too many dishonest Dominicans in this country who will not hesitate to steal from a person who is helping them, but he also insisted that among all the bad apples, there are some good people here too. I knew he was one of them and after the bar girl learned about my ordeal, she offered a great deal of compassion and support too. This day I made two new friends who made the rest of my stay in the Dominican Republic more enjoyable. As we were leaving, the girl introduced herself to us as Keira. It’s not a typical Dominican name but it’s cute and suited her well.

Pinpeat Orchestra

Pinpeat Orchestra is basically a Cambodian musical band playing traditional Khmer music on traditional Khmer instruments. Pinpeat Orchestra music sounds very oriental but for the most part it doesn’t appear to have any beginning or end, rather the musicians just improvise by randomly striking notes on their instruments that then blend into a musical piece that sounds just as any other musical piece by Pinpeat Orchestra. Still, even though lacking in variety, Pinpeat Orchestra is the classical music of Cambodia and does have the oriental feel you would expect from such ensemble.

Photo: Pinpeat Orchestra with Roneat Ek on the Left, Sampho in the Middle and Skor Thom on the Right
Photo: Pinpeat Orchestra with Roneat Ek on the Left, Sampho in the Middle and Skor Thom on the Right

Pinpeat Orchestra Instruments

Vast majority of Pinpeat Orchestras I’ve seen playing in Cambodia had their music based on percussions. Most Pinpeats were solely percussions based, while few smaller ensembles that make their living by selling CDs at Angkor Wat temples also used fiddle like string instrument called “tro”.

Roneat (Khmer Xylophone)

Roneat is the most typical instrument found in a Pinpeat Orchestra. Some traditional Cambodian bands use Roneat as their sole instrument. Roneat looks like Xylophone but uses wood bars suspended on a string. Person playing Roneat usually holds two mallets one in each hand and strikes two wood bars at the same time in what seems as completely random order.

Photo: Pinpeat Player on Roneat - Khmer Xylophone
Photo: Pinpeat Player on Roneat - Khmer Xylophone

Sampho Drum

Sampho is a barrel shaped drum with heads on both sides. Person playing Sampho uses both hands to strike the drum each on either sides of the barrel. Sampho player usually sets and keeps the tempo of the song being played.

Photo: Sampho Drummer Playing Part on One Head of the Drum
Photo: Sampho Drummer Playing Part on One Head of the Drum

Skor Thom

Skor Thom is a set of two barrel shaped drums played with sticks. Not all bands use it. Sometimes Sampho is enough to keep the beat going.

Kong Thom

Kong Vong Thom is a gong circle which along with Roneat makes for an important part of a Pinpeat Orchestra. Gongs of different sizes are hung on the strings of a circular frame. Just as it goes with Roneat, player playing Kong Thom holds two mallets in his both hands and strikes two gongs at the same time in what appears as random order.

Ching Cymbals

Ching cymbals are the most irritating part of every Pinpeat Orchestra. It’s a pair of small cymbals held between the fingers of hands which when struck together sound like those ringers on old bicycles. You can typically hear it long before you can hear the rest of the band. If you are walking towards the temple and can hear a sound which sounds as if someone was running their bicycle ringer amok, you may actually hear the whole Pinpeat Orchestra once you get closer.

Photo: Pinpeat Orchestra with Sampho, Roneat, Skor Thom and Kong Vong Thom
Photo: Pinpeat Orchestra with Sampho, Roneat, Skor Thom and Kong Vong Thom

In Siem Reap, there is a Pinpeat Orchestra with members who are victims of landmine accidents. They play each night on Pub Street in Siem Reap. You could be sitting in the Temple Bar with loud music and this ringing of Ching cymbals will be in your ears, giving you the headache non stop. If you go to a quiet restaurant a block away, you will be too far to hear the band, but ringing of Ching cymbals will be there tearing your eardrums like there’s no tomorrow. It’s an extremely loud and invasive sound and it comes from two tiny cymbals each size of half of your palm. Luckily, not all Pinpeat Orchestras use Ching cymbals so you don’t have to go shoot yourself in the head each time you want to watch Apsara dance.

Yes, Apsara dancers always dance to traditional Khmer music which is played by a Pinpeat Orchestra. My first exposure to live Pinpeat Orchestra was at Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine and when I saw amateur Apsara dancers at Wat Keseram they were also dancing to the music played by live Pinpeat Orchestra. Even though I was told on several occasions that typical Pinpeat Orchestra also uses wind instruments, I have never seen one that does. Fiddle like Tro was the only instrument used on top of the above mentioned ones. Both bands mentioned in this paragraph only used the instruments listed – no wind, no Tro. That’s my personal experience.