Stickman Readers' Submissions April 30th, 2004

Pnom Penh Dreaming Part 2

Mr Daelim pulled up outside the Heart of Darkness, which was abuzz with activity. Loads of bikes were parked outside, including a few Honda XR dirt bikes that reminded me of my own bike back home. I fished my wallet from my pocket and Mr Daelim immediately piped up.

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"Two dollars."

"No, I'll give you 4000 riel. 2000 to Sharkys, another 2000 to here."

"Two dollars, you say before."

"Bullshit I said, here's 4000," handing him the notes.

"One more dollar," he insisted, now drawing the attention of the other motos hanging around. Within seconds we had about eight of them circling us, nodding and agreeing with Mr Daelim. A sea of moto grins framed some pretty bad dental hygiene. As I stood there considering my options, circled by a pack of hungry dogs moving in for the kill (One More Dollar, One More Dollar, One More Dollar, You Pay, You Pay), I rationalised that one US dollar is worth less to me than the hassle of dealing with these guys, and way less than dealing with the shit that could quite possibly eventuate if things got out of hand. I had already witnessed the lightning speed with which Cambodian charm can turn to violence when I crossed the border from Vietnam, so out came the dollar and we headed for the door.

Now for the next taste of Cambodia, Land of Contrasts. The Heart of Darkness' security guy has a hand held metal detector that he uses to check each of the guests coming in the door. It's the same type of detector used at airports these days to uncover any weapons of mass destruction hidden in your pockets before you enter the ‘sterile area’. The detector whined and chirped as each patron entered the Heart. Apparently we weren't packing anything more than a handful of useless coins and were allowed to proceed.

The Heart has a reputation that precedes it, and lived up to previous claims on this evening. Dorky NGO expats sat at the bar sipping beers and keeping to themselves. English footy lads stood around in packs yabbering to each other and groping taxi girls as they walked past. Plump female backpackers scowled from various corners of the bar, ignored by all while a group of wealthy and aggressive Khmer lads hogged the dance floor and were given a wide berth by anyone with half a brain.

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The overall atmosphere of the Heart is very un-Cambodian with a reasonably sophisticated layout, nice lighting and a well stocked bar. One could be forgiven for thinking that you were in a club somewhere in Europe if it were not for the incredibly sexy Khmer women circulating about the place. It was at about this time that I also started to really notice how attractive Cambodian women could be. The previous few days I had been out in the sticks, eating at fly blown restaurants and avoiding dishes of pig intestines and fried insects. The rural women were not at all unattractive, but certainly hadn’t bothered to scrub up like the specimens I saw at the Heart. There was something otherworldly and different about them that set them apart from their neighbours in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. I had been cycling overland through Laos and Vietnam for a number of weeks at this point and had spent plenty of time inspecting the local talent. The Laos women were 'pretty' for want of a better word, somewhat like Thais but with more rounded faces. The Vietnamese girls were 'beautiful', with more sharply defined features to match their razor sharp personalities. The Khmer women however were very different. There was something exotic about them that I couldn't quite pinpoint, a gentle but alert feline quality and grace that I found very appealing.

It soon became obvious that the assigned task of these stunning women was to play games with the backpacker boys in an attempt to snag the most profitable (and usually most pissed) one they could find. I spoke and flirted with a few lovelies, but soon tired of the fact that they would be sussing out other possibilites while engaged in conversation and then would mysteriously disappear. I was however impressed at the high level of English spoken; something that I could say was the case across the board in Cambodia. Even small and very poor towns like Neak Luong have affordable English schools where kids can learn English for around $5US a month, and many of the locals attend. This I can confirm, after walking the back streets of Neak Luong and being stalked by young-uns amazed to see Westerners wandering the streets and desperate to practice their English on us. I’d say that in a few years Cambodia will have an entire generation that speaks English to a far higher standard than any of its otherwise more developed neighbours.

But back to the task at hand: we spent a good two hours dancing to the solid beats on offer in the Heart of Darkness, sunk a couple of beers and decided to visit the next stop on our list: Martinis.

We exited the Heart and while going through the same tortuous moto driver interview process, I overheard a couple of hefty British girls discussing the taxi girl phenomenon:

Lard arse 1: "It's bloody disgusting"

Lard arse 2: "Yeah, I can't believe these girls would go with these old blokes for just a couple of dollars. It makes me sick"

Lard arse 1: "I don't know what they see in these girls anyway, they've probably all got AIDS"

No doubt the poor girls were afflicted with the well-known “Fat Lass in SE Asia Syndrome”. It’s hard enough for them to get lucky in Manchester, but damn near impossible when surrounded by beautiful and willing temptresses in SE Asia. I’ve noticed that your average backpacker bloke will deny any involvement with bar girls when amongst respectable company, but we all know what a load of BS that is! I know what happens to my resolve to be a nice boy when confronted with the sexiest women on the planet!

To be continued…

Stickman thoughts:

You wouldn't wish that syndrome on your worst enemy.

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