Readers' Submissions

Delightful Cambodia – You Are Welcome (2)



A decently dressed western man and a decently, even conservatively dressed Cambodian lady walk side by side along the river.

— KHMER CHARM —

The couple's age difference is marginal, and they keep 20 or 40 centimeters airspace between them. They may be life partners, colleagues or whatever. They are boring, actually.

There are many groups of Khmer males on the riverside: clusters of motorcycle taxis, clusters of tuktuk drivers, clusters of rickshaw pilots, clusters of security guys, and there are the young men who come to play skull-football, kick-badminton or just to hang out and race their motorcycles on the pedestrian's strip.

When the boring Khmer-western couple approaches, all talk in those male groups stops abruptly. Five seconds on Pause. Then the shouting, laughter and howling begins.

The Khmer lady translates some of their remarks:

"Do they have a bigger one?"

"How much you get per night?"

There are many more phrases, but the Khmer lady refuses to translate.

— KHMER CHARM BY NIGHT —

By nightfall, the males' remarks seem to get ruder and more rancid. Motorcycle taxi drivers approach with 30 km/h; when their offer of a ride is declined, they disappear, shouting obscenities. Worse are the rickshaw drivers, who seem to bark even more insultingly and disappear much slower – barking on. All the shoppers and snackers on the pavement watch eagerly for the couple's reaction.

Some motorcyclists drive full-speed towards the boring Khmer-western couple as if in kamikaze-mode. They hectily jump onto a slimy neighbourhood waste dump, and the moto zooms off. Other motorcycle taxi drivers stand on the corner, laughing happily.

The kamikaze driving ends when you reach the busiest parts of the roads. But you won't go unnoticed. Like buffalo herders, motorcycle taxi drivers and tuktuk entrepreneurs shout after you – "hey mister", they bark, "you take tuktuk!" If you decline, they may get abusive.

Dirty slimy half-naked newspaper boys stand in your way and pad your back or pinch your arm to get attention. "Som muy roy" (100 riels, 0,12 US cents), moans a lady in rotten shirts from and shoves her dirty naked newborn into your face.

In Phnom Penh, as soon as you leave the fiercely gated confines of your 24 hour security accommodation to catch a bit of wind and view, you are surrounded by swarms and swarms of beggars, touts, hawkers, taxi drivers, shoe shiners, thieves, flower sellers, snack sellers. They treat you as polite as anybody would treat a monkey on the hill.

— EVEN MORE KHMER CHARM —

An elderly tuktuk driver brings Khmer lady and western partner to the Apsara Arts Association on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. The Khmer dance performance there is so grotty that they step back to the street after 30 minutes. There is the elderly tuktuk driver again – he waited for them. They take him to go back home.

The tuktuk arrives at their apartment building. The Khmer lady says to her man: "I go shopping for a minute, see you upstairs soon." She disappears around the corner.

The western man pays the driver, and the driver grins at the westerner: "Tonight meet beautiful lady? Massageboomboom?"

— GETTING A CAB —

For a daytrip to the popular picnic area of Ki'en Svay, 20 kilometers out of Phnom Penh, we call Dara Taxi. They say all their cars are busy. So we call Taxi Bailey's. They say all their cars are busy.

I remember an article in the "Cambodia Daily". A taxi entrepreneur said he'd need more cars – but there was no economical safe parking anywhere in Phnom Penh.

Finally Vantha Taxi has a car for us – if we wait half an hour. Arriving at our apartment window is the ubiquitous nondescript Toyota Camry, five or 25 years old. Of course our taxi is not at all marked as a taxi. From the article about the taxi situation I remember that taxis get stopped and fleeced by Phnom Penh police all the time.

Lucky enough, this car has the steering wheel on the correct, left side. Many other taxis are cheap Thai imports, steering wheel on the wrong side, made to drive Thai style on the other side of the road.

— KHMER MARINE LIFE —

Finally out in the local recreation area of Ki'en Svay, we lounge on a "roong" – a rented, shady bamboo platform built on stilts over a quiet arm of Mekong river. Food, drinks, bags, handphones, books and MP3 players are spread out all over our picnic sala – when suddenly a wet dark arm slurps out of the muddy-brown water and grabs blindly for our things! The arm is followed by the appalling face of a blind man. Then another water ghost surfaces – the blind man's caretaker. Marine beggars.

The water around our picnic sala may be 2,50 meters deep. Each guy clings with one arm to the construction, the other arm demands small change from us and fishes for our things. And while we are occupied with fending them off, one more diver appears at the other side of the picnic pavilion – again trying to grab our things. We manage to send the riverine ghosts off with some sharp words.


Later a little boy swims along, holding a plastic bag with his mouth. He collects empty cans and plastic bottles just like his colleagues on land. With rude words he demands our soda cans, which we haven't even opened yet.

The river side of Ki'en Svay that requires a short boat trip was once stress free, read beggar free. Now it has waterborne beggars and thieves – it's a hassle just like any Phnom Penh area without an electric fence.


Stickman's thoughts:

Oh my God, a classic screw up – I put #3 up yesterday….and #2 today!