Stickman Readers' Submissions March 22nd, 2007

Delightful Cambodians – Three Couples

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— 1 —

"But you have a son", she screams, "YOU – HAVE – A – SON!!"

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Chea is a simple woman, working at the night market. Married to Sokha, a Phnom Penh tuktuk driver. Married – until today.

Now she sobs: "And I have TO WORK. Who takes care of the SON?? He is just three years old!! He needs HIS FATHER!! I need TIME!! Can he VISIT YOU?"

"Ok, you leave me, you go away, you have a new one already, up to YOU, ok, but you can't cut off YOUR SON, can you??"

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Chea sobs, Chea screams. Sokha, Chea's future ex-husband, is visibly embarrassed. In a rare benevolent outburst of empathy he had announced that he would leave for good today. So he didn't take the usual surprise exit without any
notice. But now, in spite of his generous advance notification, the stubborn future ex-wife screams at him. Who is she at all?

"Can – he – VISIT – YOU," Chea howls?

Sokha has better things to do. He doesn't appreciate discarded ex-wives screaming at him.

"Bhad, bhad, bhad", Sokha grunts, "son can come to visit if he must." Sokha off.

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Today Sokha moves back to his mother. Hers is a much better base camp in his ongoing research project "Karaoke and Massage Parlours in Phnom Penh Suburbia". Sokha is on an upward scheme where his simple wife from backward Prey Veng
province no longer fits in. He managed to buy a tuktuk, he managed to chauffeur western customers on their nightly tours, he saw it all. Simple marketeer Chea was his wife, but now she is no longer part of his plans.

So Sokha moves back to his ageing mother. And see, three days later the little one arrives at their house. The ex really dares to pester him with his offspring. A motorcycle driver brings the baby for overnight, because mother/ex-wife Chea
has a shift at the night market.

8 p.m. in Sokha's home, baby falls asleep in front of the TV. Sokha's mother carries the boy into the communal sleeping room and prepares the mosquito net.

"Boy won't sleep here", barks Sokha! "Put him in the corridor!"

"You can't, son", whispers his intimidated ageing mother, "we have no mosquito net in the corridor…"

"He needs no mosquito net", barks Sokha, "he WILL sleep IN THE CORRIDOR".

His mother ducks and puts a blanket on the corridor's stone floor. She beds her snoozing grandchild between sideboard and wardrobe. "But he has no mosquito net here", she moans one more time.

Sokha doesn't answer. Women.

Next morning, the little boy returns to his shocked mother: He looks like a warfield, with at least 250 mosquito bites all over his tiny body and all over his face too. Clever Sokha has reached his aim: He doesn't have to see his son

— 2 —

"Uncle, could you bring something else from the fridge", Pheap calls?

Pheap is a lively, self-confident, mid-thirtyish Phnom Penh lady. She is calling her husband Tee, a ditto lively Khmer businessman just a few years older than her. They have two cute sons. Today Pheap and Tee have invited family and neighbours
to a whopping New Year's feast. About 15 people lounge on the tiled floor of Tee's and Pheap's town house located on a dirt road not far from Pochentong airport.

"Uncle, the Fanta from the fridge please."

She calls her husband! But why does she call her husband "uncle"?

This is what some nieces on the far end of the food mats, between spring rolls, sour vegetable, mountains of spicy salad and grilled chicken, immediately start to discuss. Khmer women should call their husbands "older sibling" (bawng)
and in reverse get called "younger sibling" (own). This talk is also considered sweet and romantic. It's not at all usual that a wife calls her husband "uncle", not even if the husband is 20 years older. And Pheap's
husband is only five or seven years older. So why the "uncle" tag, the nieces wonder?

"No, uncle, not orange, I'd like the *green* Fanta please!"

The nieces are too curious. Funny talk from Auntie Pheap! Why does she call her husband "uncle"? Fortunately, Pheap is a down-to-earth, approachable lady, and so the nieces move over to Pheap's end of the food display.

"Excuse me, Auntie Pheap – one question okay for you?"


"And you not angry?"

"Ah, why, come on!"

"Som tik, Auntie Pheap, please – why do you call your husband 'uncle'?"

"Ah…" Pheap smiles shyly.

"Why you ask that", she goes on? "Oh well, you asked me… so… you know what…" Pheap hesitates… "how to speak, you know, I am just shy to say 'older brother' in the public, it sounds too intimate for
me! So I call him 'uncle' today."

"Oh, okay, thanks Auntie Pheap for that explanation."

But now, with her secret unveiled, Pheap has more to say: "Yes, I call him 'uncle' in public." Then her voice drops one octave, but her face lights up: "But don't worry – I don't say 'uncle' in
the bedroom."

— 3 —

"And you know, Aunt Nahd, please give us just two years. We just need that time, Aunt Nahd, and then he will come back to you!"

Nahd presses End Call on her pre-war Nokia. This young lady on the line has stolen her husband, and now she says don't worry, he will come back later!

Nahd is a shy, mid-fortyish lady. Every day she sits in her living room garage with a sad face and stitches wedding dresses or bed sheets for Phnom Penh's middle class ladies. Nahd must have been a beauty. People guess so from the look
of her shy, sad, but beautiful early twentyish daughter who helps out in Nahd's job: Two sad ladies in a gloomy stitching garage.

Nahd's husband – or could you say she has one – well, the man who was known to be her husband – he only returns about two nights per week.

He has a new one, a younger one.

As an air-con mechanic with good connections to hotels and offices, Nahd's what was her husband makes a whopping 400 USD/month. He is in his mid-forties, but he exudes the look of a man in full.

"Kick him out", Nahd's family had urged, "he sleeps with the young thing and only comes home for your Khmer curries, that's not decent." – Sad, shy Nahd refused: "At least I have a husband two times a week",
she reasoned apathically. – "Does he leave you any money", they asked? – "Até, I get nothing from him."

When the husband started to stay away, and stopped sharing his income, sad Nahd stepped up her tailor business in her damp backyard stitching garage. When he chooses to pop along for a few hours or the night, she cooks good Cambodian food,
repairs and washes his dresses. Well-fed and well-dressed, her husband then returns to his mistress.

A slice of revolt from Nahd could only be noticed when her rival, a young cute shopkeeper from near Monivong Boulevard, when her rival started to call Nahd!

"Aunt", said the rival (this girl who stole her husband called her "Aunt" (ming), which may be respectful or insulting), "Aunt", her faithless husband's mistress said on the phone, "you know, Aunt Nahd,
I do have this stationary shop near Monivong Boulevard, and the competition grows, I want to refurbish everything, some new expensive items too, som tow tik, Aunt Nahd, could you lend me 1000 USD for a year, bahn te?"

Nahd presses End Call on her pre-war Nokia. This lady on the line has stolen her husband, and now she wants to borrow one thousand US from her!

But Nahd is too polite, or whatever, to reject further impertinences. Several days later, and without any husband sightings to report, Nahd again sees that now familiar Hello GSM number on her pre-war Nokia: her rival again. Nahd stops pedalling
her black Singer machine and presses Answer Call.

"Oh, Aunt Nahd", she hears, this young, charming, energetic voice that's in her husband's ear every night, "now we two have to stand together and fight together for the man we love! Will you help me? It's important:
He has another new girlfriend now! Let's work hard together to get him back."

Stickman's thoughts:

Stories 2 and 3 made me laugh, but story one is just disgusting. How on earth could a parent be so cruel?

The author of this article can be contacted at: hansmeiermail at googlemail dot com.
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