Responsible Extreme Ho-ing

Trip Start Mar 03, 2005
Trip End Apr 08, 2006

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Flag of Cambodia  , Khétt Kâmpôt,
Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Insanity. Madness. Bedlam. Three words which describe my last 24 hours. One thing is for sure, and that is if you scratch a little below Cambodia's surface, you will see that it is one twisted crazy place that simply cannot be understood.

I'm in Kampot, a beautiful small city perched on the edge of a stunning river below the looming Bokor mountain range. The scenery here is the most amazing I've seen in Cambodia. In fact, it's my favourite place in the country so far! The ride here was uncomfortable to say the least, sharing a Toyota Camry with seven Khmer's. Two in the driver's seat, two on the passenger seat (one of which was me, with a handbrake wedged up my ass), and four in the back. Two and a half hours of pain. On arrival in Kampot I checked into my guesthouse, and then went for a wander around the city before deciding it was the ideal location to learn how to ride a moto. So I handed over my passport, and nearly killed myself on the main strip before finally getting the hang of the throttle and gunning it 10km up river to a nice spot where the locals go swimming. The night ended quietly...

The next day involved a trip up Bokor Mountain to see the abandoned French hillstation. It was only 41km to the summit, in the back of a ute. Doesn't sound so bad, but try and imagine what 35 years of rain and wind can do to a poorly sealed road. There is no word in the english language which can describe just how bad it is! The scenery was amazing, and we checked out some of the abandoned buildings before trekking for an hour to the old casino. Perched on the edge of a cliff, and straight out of "The Shining", was one of the creepiest places I've ever been. This huge building has been abandoned for over 60 years, and walking through the old hallways and ballrooms while the clouds poured on through really was eery. Really considerate of the French to build a casino on top of a cliff. Rather than having to live with the loss of a house, car and savings, an unlucky colonial could simply walk ten metres from the rear entrance and throw himself off the cliff! The ride back down involved part of our ute falling off and us being stranded for an hour, but that's just normality now.

I returned back to my guesthouse at 10:15pm, ready for bed after having dinner with a German couple I met on the trip up to Bokor. At this point, the night was supposed to end quietly, like the previous. It didn't...

I met a girl from Sydney named Allison in the bar at the guesthouse, and it didn't take long for her to talk me into getting a drink and joining some people outside. Seemed harmless enough, just the swedish owner and another German couple. After about half an hour, a very drunk English guy showed up. It only took about ten minutes for him to tell the German couple about his days as a skinhead where he and his mates travelled to Berlin to fight other skinheads. The couple left, and it was just myself, Allison, the owner, and the skinhead, who called himself Adam remaining at the table. The next two hours degenerated into a confrontation between the owner (an expat of 4 years) and Adam (an expat of 7 years) about everything in Cambodia. Nothing was agreed upon. Whether or not the Khmer Rouge (KR) were still active. Whether they deserved US support. Whether they really killed 80 Khmers and three foreigners in 2001. The price of hookers. The attitude of sex tourists in Cambodia participating in my new word for the day (see title). Whether the owner was actually Buddhist, because by giving his point of view on the KR he was an arrogant selfless lying bastard. It went on. And Allison and I could do nothing but drink and watch these two verbally annihilate each other. In the end the owner told the skinhead to go back to his room (but not in those words). Allison and I then got the owner's entire life story, which is simply too disturbing for me to write here. Conclusion - expats are INSANE! Completely, totally, utterly INSANE!

So I awoke at 7am, feeling very seedy, eager to check out the nearby beach town of Kep and Rabbit Island. I could go on, but I won't. Kep was ugly. Rabbit island contained the most beautiful unspoilt palm lined tropical beach I have ever seen and could ever imagine. It was a good day.

Returning to Phnom Penh tomorrow, I decided I had to see my third beautiful sunset over Bokor Mountain once I returned to Kampot from Kep. However just as I was about to leave the guesthouse (literally, as I stood up to go), a Welsh girl I was briefly chatting to asked if I wanted to join her in giving an English class at the local high school. I decided why not, it'll be good practise before I start in Phnom Penh. Well, we arrive at this school, and upon seeing the two of us, the local teacher who the Welsh girl (another Allison) met ran off to find another teacher. This second teacher decided to split us up so two classes could be given with native speakers. Fair enough! So I'm walked over to a classroom of 40 students, about 17-22 years old, and this local teacher says "teach English". I am seriously not kidding when I say it was 5 minutes earlier that I stood up to go and watch the sunset! So I spent an hour talking about myself, explaining the conjugation of the present simple tense (on the local teachers orders) and then answering questions from the students (you have girlfriend? you go Angkor Wat? where you girlfriend? you want get married? when you get married? you like Khmer girl?). It was bedlam! Students coming and going, people talking, moto's zooming by outside, and random people watching from outside. It was completely crazy! Everything I was told about the way Khmer students were used to being taught English (the opposite of what I was drilled in during my CELTA course) during the CamTESOL conference was true. All I can say is that I am even more glad I got a job at ACE!

Now I'm here, writing down my experiences of the last three days. This is nothing compared to impressions I now have of this country, and what the people go through. The area I'm in was occupied by the KR until the early 90's, so it's quite disturbing to think that just about every person here over the age of 40 is KR. I was completely lost in my own thoughts riding on the back of a moto out to Kep today. The people here are so poor. The history so incomprehendible. The politics and corruption simply mind boggling. I can't even imagine what experiences I will have had in six months time, considering what I've seen in just 2 weeks in this country. Then whilst I'm waiting for my moto after I return from Rabbit island, a local guy points at the Vietnamese island offshore, and tells me that the island is actually Cambodian, but it is occupied by the Vietnamese. Six months ago, a boatload of Khmer fisherman came in a little too close to shore, and were blown away by the Vietnamese soldiers on the island. Six months! Then I'm chilling back at my guesthouse, before my impromptu English class, and I ask Elvis (one of the locals who hangs around) whats happening in the world, as he's reading a Khmer newspaper. "Ooh very bad in Phnom Penh" he says. "Someone murdered by gangster. Old french building fall down and kill 5 Khmer's."

There's just no logic to anything here. I don't get it. Every day brings some new crazy experience which just leaves me stupified. Six months here...

Post script - 27/3/05
The swedish guy I thought was the owner of the guesthouse who blasted the pommy expat was in fact not the owner of the guesthouse, and he wasn't even an expat. Now there's a classic example of what too many beers can do to your interpretation of things. He had been in Cambodia 4 years earlier, and returned a month ago. He was painting a mural in one of the rooms at the guesthouse and looking after things whilst the real owner was in Malaysia. A man who's seen a lot in his life, that's for sure.
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