Thursday, January 25, 2007

Christmas in Cambodia (Scene 2)

"No Bye-Bye After Boom-Boom"

In a town where most visitors are looking to sleep with teenage girls and/or buy marijuana by kilo, it’s important to find the right place to stay. Our port in the storm is Otto’s Guesthouse, a wooden house built on stilts in the Khmer style to protect against floods in rainy season.

Finding a moto-taxi driver willing to take us to the guesthouse is difficult, because Otto refuses to pay drivers a commission for delivering customers. An older driver in dusty clothes finally agrees to take us to Otto’s, where we arrive to find four balding European men silently smoking cigarettes in the sitting room, along with one buck-toothed young prostitute in a shiny red tube-top and an ancient white-haired lady in a wheel chair, who turns out to be Otto’s 90 year old mother. Hearty German Christmas carols boom from a dusty stereo, turned up too loud for conversation. I feel as if Ryan and I are crashing a Bavarian family reunion – one that was already plenty awkward before we arrived. A man with leathery skin and piercing blue eyes moves aside to make room on the sofa.

“Thanks,” I say. “Merry Christmas.”

“Christianity does not convince me,” he replies.


I leave Ryan to hold down the fort at Otto’s and set out to score a bag of weed. It’s getting toward sundown and a stiff breeze shakes the coconut palms along the riverfront. Moto drivers pull alongside and ask me where I want to go, but it’s pleasant to walk and I wave them away.

Three Westerners at a bar by the ferry dock shout for me to join them. It seems like a good place to ask about vice, so I pull up a chair and ask a shirtless man with a huge tattoo of a snake on his shoulder if he has any ganja.

“Oi!” bellows Mr. Snake, and a Thai woman in tight designer jeans and a sparkly black tank top strides over. “What you want now?” she asks.

“Go down to the corner and pick up some smoke for this gentleman, ” he says, tossing her the keys to a shiny Honda Dream motorbike

She shoots her husband a look like daggers and peels off, swerving around a solitary cow.

“My wife will be back soon,” Mr. Snake tells me. “The weed here is mostly shit, but at least it’s cheap. The rolling paper is the most expensive part of the joint.”

“Is it safe to smoke outside?”

“Well, don’t blow it in a cops face, but yeah, you shouldn’t have a problem. The Khmers use ganja for cooking and can’t understand why we like to smoke the stuff. Eventually the police will learn there’s money to be made by busting foreigners, but it hasn’t happened yet.”

“Great fookin’ cuntry, Cambodia,” burps the sunburned man to my left in a beery Scottish burr. “I meant to stay for a day and I’ve been here two weeks. Great fookin’ cuntry.”

Another Honda Dream pulls up to the curb and I look to see if Mr. Snake’s wife has returned. Instead, it's a thin Vietnamese man with high cheek bones and, sitting side-saddle behind him, a beautiful woman in her early twenties with glossy black hair, red lips and downcast eyes. The pimp dismounts and makes a big show of slapping everyone on the back.

“Merry Christmas! Yeah!” He turns to the sunburned Scot. “You like same lady tonight? Yeah!”

Mr. Snake and the other tourist lean forward as if anticipating a cherished scene from their favorite movie. The Scot glances sideways at the prostitute, who stands by the bike. “Well, last night she fucked off, see,” he tells the pimp. “Kept sending text messages to her boyfriend. I don’t want her if she’s gonna fuck off again. But if she wants to stay…”

“Yeah! She want to stay!”

“No Fuck-Off Bye-Bye after Boom-Boom,” explains Mr. Snake. “You understand?”

“Yeah!” says the pimp, sending a few sharp words at the prostitute, who comes over and sits down, shoulders hunched, hands folded in her lap, between The Scot and Mr. Snake.

“See, she’s not happy,” says The Scot. “She’s going to fuck-off again. I need TLC, not just Boom-Boom. I’m a sensitive man.”

This last comment sends Mr. Snake and his friend into stitches.

“TLC! Tender Loving Care. TLC like this!”

The two shirtless men demonstrate for the confused pimp, giving each other long whimpering hugs.

“Sugar bunny. My sweetie. Honey pie. I love you.”

The Scot gets red under his sunburn.

“Forget it, not tonight.”

“You tell me what kind of lady you like and I bring for you,” says the pimp irritably, rocking on his toes with nervous energy.

“A companion!” chortles Mr. Snake. “He wants a lover!”

The woman looks fixedly down at her fake fingernails.

“Not tonight,” says the Scot quietly. “Not tonight.”

The pimp tells her to get up and they zoom away on his bike. Mr. Snake’s wife comes back with a packet of marijuana. I pay her $5 and, instead of going back to Otto’s, turn left and walk along the river for a while.

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