Southeast Asia Journal 16: April 10, 2010

Journal April 10, 2010

Okay, so I didn’t make it into Vietnam as I thought I might: with ease.  Unfortunately, after leaving from Phnom Penh, I was denied at the border because I had the incorrect information that I purchased online to get in.  The paperwork that I had only allowed me to fly into an airport and at airports throughout the country, they have a network of visas on some mainframe they can all access.

Transport takes on a whole new meaning in the markets of Cambodia

This database clearly does not exist at border crossings.  Nor do the border guards care to lift any extra fingers over to the phone and dial the number to any of these airports in which my proof of valid entry exists.  But that’s okay, because I got to experience the capital of Cambodia a little more.  And it was quite interesting.

Firstly, the people are great… swindlers.  They love to try and take you for every penny you have.  I don’t blame them, though.  I suppose if my people had been oppressed for about a thousand years, I’d be doing everything I could to get a little bit ahead, too.   The people are nice enough and there is definitely a limit to their greedy nature.  It’s just kind of strange having three people following you, tugging on your clothes and all of them trying to sell you the same things.  You don’t really know whether they are selling you something or coordinating a quick dip into your back pockets.

At any rate, beyond all the personal interaction that takes its toll on the weary traveler, there are plenty of cool things to do here.  And by cool, I mean dangerous, cruel, illegal, immoral and outlandishly deplorable.

Phnom Penh will forever ring a note with me that reaches into the very depths of the most deviant parts of my soul.  And it’s one hell of a deep cavern, let me tell ya.  Here in Phnom Penh, if you so choose on any given

Open gambling along the streetsides

day, you can wake up and take a ride outside the city where you can blow up farm animals with old machine guns left over from the Vietnam war; you can then head over to the killing fields where you can still see the bones of victims of the communist torture machine poking up out of the ground; then you can go and gamble on the latest Muay Thai match — Cambodian fighters, of course; then head out to lunch where you can eat pizza cooked with marijuana seasoning and a side order of deep fried tarantula; walk around the markets and buy everything from brand new illegal movies and computer software to used shoes and sex toys; then head to your tandem hotel/massage parlor and have an afternoon nap while tiny Asian women rub your toes (and whatever else you pay for); in the late afternoon you can dash out and see a genocide museum where thousands of innocent men, women and children were shackled to beds and

Torture beds used in Pol Pot's liquidation in Cambodia

tortured and brutally slain; then head home and sit out on your balcony and listen to the propaganda trucks buzz down the roads with loudspeakers blaring communist noise about the rise of terror that is soon to return; by the evening you could stroll down into town and have your choice of all manner of drugs from peddlers who walk right up to you with briefcases full of a colorful assortment of pills, baggies and needles.  And after (or if) you’ve come down off your undoubtedly intense high, you can have a beer at the local club and pay a little extra for some late night boom-boom.  It’s all in a day’s fun for the learned traveler.

And if you really just don’t have a taste for any of that you can simply pick a streetside cafe and sit with a coffee and watch the truly amazing world of Cambodia walk right by you – or more likely, come up to you and ask you for money.

The Phnom Penh Transit Authority

It’s really striking what you can see walking down the street at any given moment.  You will see all kinds of interesting things – and not all of them human.  But definitely all of them interesting, foreign and mostly enjoyable to remember when you leave.

Just about anything can be seen in the streets of Cambodia

The markets are really a world all in themselves.  There is meat hanging in the open air waiting for hungry buyers.   When a place is so dependent on the black market, cost goes down, but so does quality.  Take your pick.

Meat and all other things sold here sit in the open air.

The gun range was interesting.  You can choose any number of fully automatic armaments, grenades, even a grenade launcher, and fire them at any number of animals that happen to be running around the field abutting the firing station.  I wasn’t allowed to take photos – though I managed to still sneak a few in that I will upload later – but I did get to see some interesting things.  For about $40 you can fire a fully automatic Chinese- or Russian-made AK-47, a number of Russian- and German-made automatic rifles or a .308 U.S., ground-mounted machine gun.  I saw an Australian tourist make a rooster-swiss cheese and dirt sandwich with one of the 9mm versions.  For $50 you can chuck a live grenade at one of the farm animals.  I didn’t get the pleasure of seeing anyone send off one of these.  And for $350 you can launch a shoulder-fired rocket from a grenade launcher.  For this, the target was a cow that they bring out and tie to a fence post.  Someone

The shipping department -- everything falls off trucks here

goes out and paints a big, black “X” on it and then instructs the gunman on how to place the sights so that the blast will send the animal’s insides out to the maximum coverage on the hillside behind it.  I didn’t get to see this.  I wanted to.  But I missed that by about an hour.  However, I did get to see the remains of the last poor karmically deviant incarnate to have been born into the bull that now drips from the karst formations jutting up from the Cambodian soil about 150 yards from the viewing area.  It’s truly something to behold.  They told me they would sell me the gun, but of course, there was no guaranteeing I would be able to leave the country with it.  It’s like the hooker-rule: It’s not the prostitute you need to worry about – it’s her driver.  That might not make much sense now.  But come out for a visit.  You will know what I mean.

A man sits looking out into the action on the streets

In all that I saw, I was glad that I had been denied at the border.  And though I didn’t partake in any sexual or murderous activity, I did enjoy a “happy pizza.”  All you have to do is go to the Happy Herb Pizza shop and ask for it “extra happy.”  Of course, when I got the receipt, it came with a hog-leg joint the size of my middle finger, rolled tight as a drum and stinking like a hippy’s undercarriage.  So since I had a fourth floor hotel room, I sat out on the balcony and buzzed into the evening.  Hadn’t done it in a while, so I figured, “why not?”

It’s sort of funny, the way people think of pot, here.  The way they see it, it’s pretty childish.  They kind of see it as a thing that kids do (e.g. huffing glue) – especially since the grown-ups have moved on to quite harsher things.  They have pure heroine, uncut cocaine, tons of undocumented UXO (unexploded ordinance), enough armaments to field-suite every man, woman and child in all the neighboring countries and enough of a volatile overpopulation of impoverished women to deploy an infected band of prostitutes to the far reaches of every nation on earth.  So what’s a little weed gonna do?  I guess they figure they have bigger fish to fry.


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