Readers' Submissions

Culture, Friendship, Crime, Sex, Love, Cambodia Day 2 of 7




It’s been a while since I closed the bar so the next day came packed with a throbbing headache and a sincere desire to become one with my bed until the sun set again. The girl who managed to finagle her way into my bed was a little restless, but I could tell she was being polite and pretending to sleep on my behalf. I should name this girl for the sake of reference so we will call her Pook.

About 2pm Pook nudged me and said, “What you want see today?” Sightseeing had never been my strong point so I simply replied, “Whatever you wanna do is fine with me.” Well she didn’t have any clue what to do either. It was her country, but according to her she works so much and scrapes together such little money that sightseeing is a luxury she cannot afford. So I dragged myself out of bed and said, “Let’s get some lunch!”

Before lunch we made our way over to Pook’s apartment for her to shower and get some fresh clothes. I followed her up to her simple 10’ x 10’ room complete with small toilet facility. It was good by provincial standards, but unfit for an average foreigner. Afterwards we headed up for an uneventful lunch.

I told her I wanted to see the National Museum as the guidebook had spent several pages talking it up as a “must see” in Phnom Penh. Arriving at the complex it is quite beautiful from the outside. It looks like a giant traditional Thai home and costs $1 or $3 (cannot recall) each to get in. I was somewhat underwhelmed to be honest. If you have spent any time sightseeing in Thailand you have seen enough Buddha images to last a lifetime and this place offers more of the same. Plus I was a little annoyed because at every big statue there would be a person there trying to trick you into buying flowers by making it seem mandatory.

After that museum I was ready to chill and kick back some beers. My girl on the other hand was ready to see another site. So she spoke some Khmer to the driver and we wound up at what looked like a plain ordinary building, but there were a ton of tuk-tuks. Upon entering I got a lump in my throat when I realized we were at one of the Khmer Rouge museums. This was not something I wanted to see, but she was ecstatic to see it so we paid our dollar and in we went. This place was called Toul Sleng or S-21 and it apparently was a major prison camp from 1975-1979. It used to be a school so the exterior resembled one of the many generic SE Asian schools you might be accustomed to seeing. Inside it was a grisly memorial to those who suffered on both sides of the fence. There were stories of ordinary Khmers who became victims, and ordinary Khmers unwillingly drafted into becoming killers. I have read a great deal on this period in Cambodia and I was not ready to be faced with this depiction and I found myself brushing aside the tears within 20 minutes. Surprisingly I acted as tour guide for my companion as she had little to no knowledge of the Khmer Rouge. She kept telling me things like, “I don’t think this is real, why would people want to kill a baby?” I kept hearing the mantra in my mind, “Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it,” and silently mourned for the future generations. After about an hour she had become very uncomfortable and began acting rather childish. She was slapping my ass and giggling while I was trying to read stories about survivors. This all became a little embarrassing so Pook and I headed back to the hotel because I had a “headache.” I sent her on her way at that point because while I know people from this region cover sadness with laughter, I could not accept it under those circumstances. I took a short nap to clear my head.

At about 8pm I woke up and walked downstairs to the waiting tuk-tuk line. I found the first one and said, “Take me for drinking!” He replied, “Sucky?” To which I shrugged and said, “Why not!” Well I guess “Sucky” means “Sharkie’s” because we pulled up to what looked like a fairly happening place complete with the American styled theme decorations that being from the states I loathe so much. I was hoping for the ease of the beer bar environment, but this seemed more a bar/freelancer joint so my plan was one beer then head on. Well that was not to be. A group of Khmer girls a few seats down saw to that. They challenged me to a game of pool and after trouncing them each soundly they called over their best player to challenge me. In the end I barely won and for my prize I got to buy her a drink (you know the story). I really wanted to hit a regular beer bar though before it got too late (it was already knocking on 11pm), but this girl was determined to be with me. I admired her enthusiasm, but didn’t particularly find her attractive. I declined her offer to head out with me and excused myself to the tuk-tuk line.

I couldn’t believe it! I walked outside and there she was! We will call the pool shark girl Betty. Betty was standing there with a big stupid grin nodding her head. Well I am a polite person and I didn’t think she was packing a dong or set to rob me so I acquiesced and we got into my tuk-tuk. I didn’t really feel like night number 2 at the disco so we headed back to my hotel. In the hotel we had some dinner up in my room and watched some television. She insisted on Thai soap operas even though she spoke no Thai. She kept asking me, “Do you understand her? What did she say?” Finally around 1am we went to sleep. She went in for a shower and got into bed completely naked. She was ready for some serious boom boom. I really wasn’t feeling her like that though so I just pretended to be too drunk and we went to sleep.

Stickman's thoughts:

Toul Sleng is a rather moving venue, to say the least.