Phnom Penh is a sprawling city, though its urban poor, copious and helpless. There are women sleeping in the streets with their arms around their infants, and herds of hungry children follow me everywhere, rubbing their stomachs and sobbing.
But on the plus side, I got to share an Angkor beer with a monkey! He was just chillin by himself, so I got to chill with him until some tourists came and took so many pictures that he ran off. They chased away my drinking buddy!
I’m currently in the only mall in all of Cambodia. There are “escalator helpers” to make sure people understand how to approach a moving staircase. I can get a pair of pants at the market just outside for about $4, a Versace’ shirt for about $6, and a normal shirt for $2. This is normally considered over-priced, and if I hunt enough I can get all that for about half as much.
The “New Market.”
The backpacker district in the capital is hard as hell to find, but it’s a paradise of extremely cheap food and beer, and hotels overlooking a gorgeous lake where children in rowboats offer rides around the lake for a dollar. The kids here are quite industrial, and unlike their parents, they know how to make a real deal. They follow me everywhere, helping me pick out the cheapest things, perhaps only pretending to be on my side to make more money. Either way the children are some of the best resources in Cambodia for good deals and underground fun (shooting ranges, extremely cheap alcohol).
On that note, child sexual abuse in Cambodia is well-known around the world, and to warn tourists there are gigantic posters and even highway signs that show foreigners going to jail for child sex crimes:
Today I was handed a brochure by a little girl with numbers to call and methods to take to ensure these sex criminals are found out. Then I think about my days in graduate school:
“Don’t brochures like these just reinforce the ideology of arbitrary anti-child sex values, values brought on by the Western hegemonical force of global capital? Shouldn’t we learn to respect–“
I quickly shook such evil from my thought-process, and gave the girl some money to fund her program.
Other terrible things that have happened to this city, beginning with the Khmer regime’s infamous “Year Zero.” One day, a man named Pol Pot decided to go to France, where he was indoctrinated with Marxist agrarian philosophy. Twenty years later, the most horrendous genocide in East Asian history takes place (est 1.7 million people) due to the poilitical actions of a Cambodian named Pol Pot. His main goal was to emulate Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” with the Cambodian “Extreme Leap Forward.” Needless to say it worked. He did exactly what Mao did, only moreso–resulting in hundreds of unmarked mass grave sites, turning the cities into ghost-towns, and displacing an entire population.
The skulls go very far back.
Perhaps because of their familiarity with violence, the Cambodian people don’t stray from a fight. Only after two days here, already I’m used to seeing street fights occur by drunk Cambodians. It’s considered a “rough spot” for travelers, because they get jacked. I met an Aussie who had his wallet and camera stolen. There are pamphlets around that suggest:
“If you are the victim of an armed robbery, do not panic, simply hand over your wallet. Many times the robbers will return your important items to your hotel, so do not resist.”
First of all, money IS an important thing in my wallet, if not the most important thing in there. Second, how the hell is the criminal going to know which hotel I’m staying at, unless it’s an INSIDE JOB? God-damn! I might as well buy a knife!
On an end note, I discovered the next greatest thing about this trip: SE Asian ice cream! For $1 a cone I think I might return to America in my teenage form–that of a FATASS.