ASIA DISPATCH 7 // HOLIDAY IN CAMBODIA

DISCLAIMER: IF YOU HAVE NO INTEREST IN READING ABOUT CHILD PROSTITUTION, GENOCIDE, UNSOLICITED HAND JOBS, OR PHILANTHROPY, PLEASE DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER.

Woke up at dawn and made it to the travel agency bus depot just in time to find out that the dude who sold me my bus ticket misinformed me of the location of my buses departure. So I hopped on the back of some random thrill jockey’s scooter and embarked on a treacherous high speed journey through the back alleys of HCMC to the real bus depot where I boarded my ride to Phnom Penh with about two minutes to spare.

Once on board, the bus host greeted me with some complimentary doughtnuts

and a 6 a.m. screening of Michael Jackson’s video for “Man in the Mirror.”

I grabbed a seat next to a super-size Dutch girl who was traveling alone. Travel chat ensued and I asked her if she had any misgivings about traveling through Cambodia solo. She told me that as long as she’s aware of her surroundings she doesn’t have any problems. This before she told me that she’d been mugged twice in the two days prior, and in fact had come straight from the police station where she’d spent hours waiting to give a statement to decidedly unconcerned HCMC police officers about the most recent of the double late night Saigon muggings.

In the first incident, two days prior, she’d been riding on the back of a taxi scooter when another scooter pulled up along side her in traffic. The rider adjacent promptly ripped her purse off of her arm and blew town. So the next day she wore a backpack instead, and the second thief, not only took the bag, but the big girl with it, sending her to the pavement and leaving her with a considerable case of road rash to accompany her monolithic hangover.

She told she was headed to Siem Reap. I assumed she was going to see the temples, but she told me she didn’t really care about the temples, that she was really just going there to “party.”

Knocked about by a combination of Dutch Girl’s stimulating conversation, the monotonous pop music blaring through the overhead speakers and the complimentary carbon monoxide wafting in through the A/C vents of our dilapidated long haul coach, I floated in and out of consciousness until we reached the outskirts of Phnom Penh where I woke up with a crippling headache and was greeted by a creepy scene.

It began when a tween girl in a dust mask got off a ferry with a single sack of belongings and was greeted by these shady characters.

The interaction was strange to say the least, the Shadies being, well, shady, and Tween being one block south of terrified.

At this point I tried to make sense of the scene by convincing myself that Shady was Tween’s long lost cousin, some distant relative, who just happens to live at the crossroads of this vice highway, and that after a long journey though the wilds of Cambodia alone, as in some coming-of-age, feel good, foreign indie flick, Tween had come to celebrate their joyous reunion after years spent apart.

And then five more creepy dudes surround her, sharing sinister smiles, and eyeballing her like lions at feeding time.

The first creep relieves her of her belongings and hands them to another creep in the pack, then orders her to saddle up on the back of one of the other creep’s scooters. Tween’s looking visibly freaked out at this point, so Shady One obliges her a pat of encouragement on the back and sends her on her way with the gaggle of creepazoids.

And as soon as the creepazoids pull away, Shady One turns to Shady Two, slaps him five, and spreads one of the wickedest smiles I’ve ever seen a kid that age smile that wasn’t in the process of torturing a small animal.

About thirty seconds later, the bus boards the ferry and next to it pulls up a motorcycle wrapped in live chickens. The only reason I could tell they were alive was because they were vomiting all over and pissing themselves.

15 minutes inside the boarder, chaos, it seemed, had taken control. My head was spinning, and the sarcastic, rational me was laughing.

“Welcome to Cambodia, fuckface.”



I’d heard about the vice lords that swarmed the city bus stops offering guns, girls and drugs as buses of of travelers emptied out in the capital. And as we disembarked our dilapidated motorcoach, we were graced with a similar greeting.

In a matter of about fifteen minutes, you can basically buy a small child, a lifetime supply of heroine, and backpack full of hand grenades if you so desire.

And for this reason, sex tourists and mad men flock to this place like preservationists to Madagascar.

I passed on the guns and girls, but I did need some Advil.

I was offered speed and random pills from strangers, which a few years ago would’ve been a reason to extend my trip, but these days my medicinal needs are purely just that. So I went to about five different pharmacy’s in a six block square area where I was again offered random narcotics from the dirty palms of De facto pharmacists.

I finally scored twenty Tylenol (priced by the pill) from a pharmacy whose entrance was barricaded with stacks of chairs to ward off bandits, though anybody with two eyes in their head would surely question how effective such such security measures would be when tested by a band of exacto-wielding Cambodian speed freaks.

Medication working it’s way to my brain, I hit up a surprisingly delicious French bakery for lunch and after being accosted every ten feet by peddlers of wide variety of evils, decided to hit the road to Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat before my headache morphed into something more sinister.
\


I arrived in Siem Reap and was greeted at the bus depot in near darkness by another gaggle of grabby drivers and dealers. Intense would be one way to describe it. Enraging might be another.

I chose number 6328, the most calm of the pack, to take me to my luxury accommodations.

Not to a makeshift shooting range or whore house or tin shack where his great aunt carves busts of Khmer Rouge soldiers out of rare marble, but directly to my hotel, the Angkor Star, which oddly enough looked like a Calabasas McMansion owned by some Persian coke dealer.

My headache was searing and my patience wearing, and this particular driver, one of the few I met that spoke decent English, understood very clearly.

Number 6328’s name was Thon and he was driving a tuk-tuk to feed his family and pay his way through hotel management courses at the local college.

Considering his command of English, I assumed his story at least I part true and decided to hire him to drive me to the temples the next morning, somehow at a cheaper rate than the majority of non-English speaking drivers in town. So if you’re in Siem Reap and need a reliable driver you can reach him at 092277140 or by email at jhontimck@yahoo.com.

My $25 a night suite at the coke palace ended up being quite luxurious, complete with marble floors, wi-fi, satellite TV a two-person spa tub, and a killer view of the mall next door.

More specifically, the children’s play area, and even more specifically than that, the ball cage.

Before turning in, I strolled into town, to check out the night market where I was offered cocaine and a massage from the mysterious “Dr. Fish.”

But burnt from my journey, rather than taking a big step backwards to re-explore the 2-dimensional darkness, I decided to turn in early and save my strength for my trip to Angkor Wat in the morning.

Mr. Thon picked me up, hungover, but on time. My heart began to race and my mind numbed, stunned, as we approached the moat surrounding the temple complex, the sheer size and beauty of the structures just too much to comprehend for a guy who has a hard time putting a bookshelf from Ikea together.

And the old Powershot, and handy as it is, just has no way of bringing these structures to life in the same way they come alive when you’re standing before,

hiking up,

or finding your way through, them.

But to give you an idea…









The temples are still functional and every so often you’ll stumble across a passing monk,

or cowboy,

the faithful making an offering,

a sloppy, sunburnt Swedish tourist in a half-shirt,

or an old Asian woman treating herself to some sort of masochistic slap massage.

Masochist Slap Massage // Angkor Wat from Sleep Never on Vimeo.

I was dying from fever and headache when I noticed this annoying trustafarian in the monk gear, a certain “DON’T” for “white man in Cambodia” travel fashion.

I get it. You want to show how down you are with the people by rocking their style, but if you really want a decent shot at achieving nirvana, I highly suggest losing the $300 running shoes.

This chick’s a “DO” though. Looks like a character from some modern day Paul Bowles adaptation.

Many of the temples are in serious disrepair, and hiking through them, if you’re a klutzy fuck, can actually be fairly risky business.

i.e. this ladder to the sky. It’s less than a person wide and goes up about ten stories. Had to squeeze past some old lady who freaked out about half way up and nearly took us both down.


The view from the top…

This one was pretty gnarly too.

Those trees you see, down there in the background, are like redwood high so…

You fall. You die.

Fail to pay attention to what’s above you

and you might just get crushed.

One thing that I found interesting, in a country where forty percent of the people live under the poverty line ($0.45 per day here), is the amount of money wealthy foreign country’s are pumping into the restoration of the temples. The French, The Japanese…

I’m all about the preservation of historical monuments, but my question is who are they preserving them for?

Because if they don’t start putting some of that money toward helping the people, there will one day be few true Khmer’s left to celebrate the history of.


Of course you’ll get the self-righteous rich fucks who’ve been handed everything their whole lives who’ll claim that these people have been given opportunities to better themselves, but are too lazy, or stupid to seize them. I’m guessing these assholes have never crossed paths with Mr. Thon who’s driving a tuk tuk to pay his way through college, or this 10 year old kid, who stands out in the hot sun all day selling petrol out of Johnny Walker bottles to survive.

A storm brewing, my fever rising, and my head pounding,

I made the main temple my last stop of the day. The moat surrounding it is 190 meters wide,

and some crazy ass construction worker was swimming across it, in FULL GEAR, for what appeared to be PLEASURE.

After wandering the halls, I happened upon a Buddhist ceremony and an impromptu jam by the house band.

Cambodian Children’s Band Jams at Angkor Wat from Sleep Never on Vimeo.

Buddha must’ve approved of the set list, because upon ending the session, we were treated to a giant thunder clap.

Not understanding the gravity of the storm that was about to hit, I started strolling my way across the moat as locals sprinted for cover. Growing up in Chicago where I’ve hiked to class in -30 wind chill, I was actually chuckling to myself at how panicked they appeared to be.

Mr. Thon howled at me from the other end of the moat to follow him as he bolted off towards a café about a 100 yards beyond it.

So I did, and narrowly missed being pummeled by the first monsoon storm of the season. We sat in the café, and watched as people ran for cover…

and the land around us flooded.

Even the cows were freaking out.

But it wasn’t until we rode back into town that I understood the full power of the monsoon.

In the course of a half an hour, the storm pretty much shut the city down, and this was only the first of the season. They had three more months of storms like this to go.

After a long day at the temple, I headed into town

to get some dinner, work on a Cambodia-inspired NIGHTSlikeKNIVES track and to find out more about the mysterious Dr. Fish.

Who is this Dr. Fish? And what does he do?

Why are women all over town wading around in tanks full of filthy water, and how is this considered a healthful activity?


When I asked the woman running the show what they fish were actually doing, the manager responded. “They eat your skin. They so hungry.”

Gross.

Here’s some video. Try not to lose your lunch.

Dr. Fish // Siem Reap, Cambodia from Sleep Never on Vimeo.

Somehow still hungry after my pit stop at Dr. Fish, I ended up at this Cambodian version of some bad Big 10 Frat boy bar where, four alarm fever enveloping my entire being, I somehow forced down some Cambodian BBQ while I listened to drunk white kids at the surrounding tables argue over who was the most totally fucked up the night prior, and share intriguing tales of recent conquests with hairy backpacker sluts.

Kings of Leon poured through the speakers and across the way, four shirtless Matthew McConaughey look-a-likes crashed glasses and cat-called passing hookers as if playing bit parts in some sort of post-colonial borrowed nostalgia show.

Sports on the tube. Tubby dudes in tank tops downing pitchers of mixed drinks. Fist bumps. “Born in the USA.” Off-key waiters singing “Happy Birthday.” It was all too much to bear.

Patience drained, I noticed some bearded Fauxhemian across the way smiling at me. And as I would in LA, where most people that smile at you are either A) bat shit crazy or B) trying to get something from you, I ignored him. But then he started waving. Waving at me like he knew me, or worse yet, wanted to know me.

I was freaked out to say the least, about ready to stand up and holler something like, “yeah, we may both be single white males with archetypical pervy facial hair styles, both traveling through Cambodia solo, dining alone a restaurants filled with hookers, in a country known around the globe for its depravity and sex tourism. But I’m not here to fuck kids, buddy, you are!”

And that’s when I realized it was just comrade Rob, my Canadian programmer travel buddy with the great shitzer stories that I met back in Luang Prabang. So I headed over to see how his battle with Parvo was going.

After dinner, what I really wanted was a massage, but after seeing the vast and attractive selection of masseuses and masseuse/prostitutes available in town, I decided to roll back to the castle and hit the hay.

Prior to arriving in Cambodia, I guess I had this idea that any prostitute I encountered would surely be wearing neon fishnets and rubber and lace, five tons of cheap makeup, would most certainly be dying of AIDS and/or starvation, and possibly covered in flies.

And though some were wearing neon and bad makeup, and according to statistics quite a few are dying of AIDS, and/or are malnourished, none of them were covered in flies. In fact, the majority of the ladies of the night I encountered were crazy fucking hot, quite healthy looking, and dressed better than most suburban mall tarts.

On top of this, I also heard some were aggressive. You ask for a Swedish and they give you a baby. After going bone dry for a month, I was feeling quite vulnerable, so I figured I better split before I ended up like this guy.


I spent most of my dinner watching him. At first it repulsed me, the site of this Medicare Marlboro Man parading around with this twentysomething Cambodian cutie and playing daddy to her kids…

But the longer I watched, the more I realized they weren’t just her kids, and he wasn’t just “playing” daddy. They were his kids too. And that cute Cambodian chick was his wife.

The Marlboro Man was a regular at this joint and everybody seemed to like him. This guy wasn’t your typical boozy, hooker-bashing, expat rapist. The Marlboro Man actually ordered a round of kiddy cocktails for he and the kids, and then played games to entertain them until the food game. Big smile on her face, his young wife was glowing, and not in a “you feed my children, I love you long time” way.

The whole scene was pretty touching actually.

Next morning, I woke mad ill and decided against another romp through the wat.

Instead, I opted to head into town to celebrate the impending monsoon by making more musica. Within five minutes of taking my seat on the bakery patio, the rain began to pour.


As what would eventually become “Magic Tree” floated from my headphones, I noticed these two little girls dancing in the rain. The older one twirling and spinning the smaller one in circles. Both appeared fairly malnourished and yet they were giggling and beaming, just kids being kids.

You see children like these all over Cambodia, roaming dirt roads and trash filled streets, begging for food, whether put up to it by their parents or not, and having no idea how fucked up a world is that allows this to happen.

The western couple across the way, charmed just as I was by the pair, brought the kids over to their table and bought them lunch.

Being grateful I had the money to eat, I went over to the Blue Pumpkin after lunch for some dessert,

and eavesdropped as these British yuppies grilled their visibly annoyed driver about his thoughts on the mass genocide of the Cambodian people by the Khmer Rouge.

His response to their prying was this. “When you ask what it was like, if you come to dig up the things that were buried before, to dig up a dead body, and bring it into day, I do not think it is a good thing.”

And with that, as if on cue, some Cambodian mine victim with no legs pumped by on his tricycle with a smile on his face, punctuating the end of the nosey broad’s interrogation.

After a day of mulling over starvation and mass genocide, I was feeling fairly stressed, so I retired to my hotel for a massage. And that’s when shit really got weird.

As I said before, I figured my hotel would be the last place I’d end up being tempted by the pleasures of the flesh, so I headed to the pimp at my desk,

who just happened to speak better English than me, and asked to have a massage in my room. Ten bucks an hour. I handed over the dough and headed up to my suite, the one with the view of the children’s playroom that is,

where I rinsed my body off in some rusty water, and passed the time flipping through channels on the tube.

I caught bit of a Cambodian tabloid news broadcast that featured uncomfortably long takes of child murderers posing with their weapons of choice. The skinnier of the two killers was a bat man apparently

while the plumper one preferred to use the classic for his dirty deeds.

After pondering what a 24/7 Khmer Rouge News Network would’ve looked like back in the 70’s, I kicked back on the bed and settled in to watch this, oddly gripping, live weaving competition.

Like moth to flame I was drawn to the delicate, intricate action of each machine, and the deftness with which its captain commanded it. Enthralling to say the least, and why the Olympic Committee hasn’t thrown this one on the list of world competition events I will never know.

And then the doorbell rings.

I cross the room, pirate-eye the peephole and find a sad sight on the other side. A big-headed, slow-eyed, pony-tailed Elvis lookalike in a white Polo and yoga pants, frowning at the thought of rubbing another pervy westerner down. Flanking her, a slight security guard standing bored, waiting for his next smoke break.

I pop the door and a giant smile breaks across Elvis’ face, pushing the drawn on beauty mark she wears just to the left of her top lip, up towards her eye.

Me being neither fat, nor old, nor too ugly, she seems way too eager to get down to business and it’s freaking me out. But I was the one who asked for this.

So i invite her in and she motions for the security guy to take a hike. I leave my clothes on, camo shorts and a t-shirt, and sit down on the bed.

“You lay down now,” Elvis instructs me, gently, and so I lay down on my stomach and she makes an attempt at rubbing my back through my shirt. But the cotton barrier making it impossible for her to give it her all, she tugs the bottom, signaling for me to take it off.

“This okay?” she asks sweetly, beaming.

“What, my shirt? You want me to take it off?” I say.

“Yes,” she says. “This okay, yes?” She asks. So I sit up and she pulls the t-shirt over my head
with a devilish grin.

“You marry?” she asks.

“Not married, but I have a girlfriend,” I say and her eyes scan the suite.

“No marry?!” she gushes. “This is very big room for one person! So you alone?”

“Alone here, yes,” I say.

She crosses the room and gazes out the windows, admiring the view of the mall next door as if it were her first time at the hotel, then tugs the drapes shut, concealing us from the prying eyes of frolicking children.

“Very expensive this room for a man on his own,” she coos. “You must be very wealthy man.”

“If you say so,” I say, knowing the joint’s all of 25 bucks a night.

“This okay?” she asks, this time tugging the bottom of my camo shorts. “I take off?”

“Um… okay sure,” I say and she undoes my belt and tugs and tosses my shorts on the bed.

So now I’m in my skivvies, as most would be, if not in the buff, while receiving a professional massage. She tells me to flip over, on my back. I do, and she gets to work on my legs, particularly the part that’s closest to my dick and balls. And now it seems no matter what area she’s supposed to be massaging, one hand is not only lingering in, but massaging, my groin region.

“You are American, yes?” she asks.

“Yes American,” I reply.

“You are very handsome,” she says.

“Um… Okay. Thanks,” I say, wondering if that feeling I’m feeling down below is in fact me getting an erection.

It is.

Her thumbs are magic. Her hands are on my scalp, but her thumbs are somehow massaging, very deeply, the area between my cock shaft and thigh. My heart’s racing. I’m sweating. Not sure how much more of this I can take.

“You must be lonely in this big room all by yourself,” she says softly in my ear, and now I’m laying on my back, staring up at the cottage cheese ceiling, a blazing hard on tenting my boxer briefs and I’m paralyzed.

I don’t know whether to scream or blow. I haven’t even done anything, but the guilt is smothering. Is she rubbing my balls?! I think I’m about to get raped.

Should I stop her? Maybe this is just how they do it here. The Swedes have there way, and the Cambodians another.

What if I accuse her attempting to molest me and she flips out, offended? Word could spread. The entire Cambodian massage therapy community could be affected.

What if she cries?

What if she leaves and flips the script, tells the pimp downstairs that I went and forced her to view my boner tent while she was simply trying to make my stay at the Angkor Star as comfortable as possible.

Why is she getting on the bed? Is she going to try and suck my dick? What if she tries to suck my dick?! Can a man cry “rape?” Who will hear me? Will anybody care?

The harder my dick gets the less she looks like Elvis and more like Marilyn. I am only human, but I have to put a stop to this.

JESUS SAVE ME!! MOHAMMED!! BUDDHA!! HOUDINI!! SOMEFUCKINGBODY GET ME OUT OF THIS MESS!! ONE MORE WIGGLE OF HER THUMB AND I’M COMING HOME WITH A BABY!!!

In a desperate and awkward move, I flip over and stab my boner into the mattress. Picture myself being buried alive, in bloody puppy parts, in the vomit of 1,000 gangrenous rest home grandmothers, in anything that will level this erection.

“All done?” she asks. She doesn’t tell me. She asks, implying that we don’t have to be done if I don’t want to be. Do I want to be?

“All done,” I sigh, breathless and sweaty, ready for my archetypal Lifetime movie-of-the-week post-rape shower. And by the look in her sad, hound dog eyes, I’m guessing it’s not the answer she wanted to hear. I peel off a few extra bucks in hopes in might reduce the sting of my rejection, but it doesn’t.

When I hand her the bills, she holds on to my hand in hope for something more. And not for any other reason than this is Cambodia. This girl probably lives in some shack on the edge of town with five kids, no clean water, and I was her ticket to a healthy dinner.

And as she mopes out the door, I can’t help but think about how many times she returns to massage dispatch, or wherever these girl go off-duty, no extra money in hand, as her prettier, skinnier, less Elviscentric co-workers gush about the fat tips they got for allowing some pervy, old, more than likely British, sex tourist to molest them.

Shit gets twisted in countries as desperate as Cambodia. To unravel it can take centuries, and who’s got time for that? Looking back now, I probably should’ve just let her give us both a happy ending.

Only kidding, Aunt Trudy!

In the morning, I grabbed a bus back to PP for my flight out. This chatty Kathy hopped on board and plopped down on a seat next to me.

I felt her watching me, waiting for an opportunity to ensnare me in some travel chat. But I wasn’t biting. We had six hours of driving ahead of us. She was already vibrating in her seat and she hadn’t even started in on the Big Gulp-size cup of coffee she had in her lap.

I’ve spent way too many flights in my life pinned against the window by lonesome crazies, so I’m all too aware of the fact that even the slightest movement can be taken as a cause for engagement.

Here are the basic rules I suggest when taking a seat next to a stranger on a plane, train or bus for a long distance journey.

1. If you feel eyes upon you, do not move.

2. If your kooky neighbor takes the sneaky route by saying something aloud to themselves that necessitates a concurrence from you, something as seemingly benign as “what a beautiful day,” ignore them. Stare straight ahead and do not oblige their unwelcomed intrusion.

3. Do not smile at your neighbor.

4. Do not look in your neighbor’s direction (whether or not they are in the window seat).

5. Put your headphones on, open a book or take out your laptop. Let them know you have business to take care of.

6. And if they are still sizing you up for a prolonged period of time, simply stick your finger up your nose or start scratching your balls.

One form of intrusion not covered here is when your neighbor invades your sightline and engages you face-to-face.

That’s what my Cambodian bus neighbor did. I don’t remember what her opening line was, but it left me no wiggle room. I was trapped.

Lucky for me, she was awesome. She’s a nurse from Boston. Her husband, an engineer, had volunteered, earlier in the year, to help with the building of new infrastructure in Vietnam, and having fallen in love with Southeast Asia, she’d decided to donate her time to helping the children of Cambodia.

She told me that 1 in 100 children still die of dysentery or pneumonia here simply because of the lack of clean water. She works 10-16 hours a day at the Angkor Hospital for Children.

Impoverished families from all over the country travel hundreds of miles to get there. Some days start with a line outside that wraps around the block. And this lady doesn’t leave until every last patient is treated.

Amazing the effect one human being with good intentions can have on such a great number of people when an asshole like me can’t even take the time to engage a single stranger in casual conversation.

Problem is there’s only one of her and children are still dying.

The Cambodian government is useless, corrupt is fuck, and more concerned with supporting the welfare of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces than taking care of its citizens.

U.S. and other foreign corporations are pumping billions into Cambodia’s tourism, rubber, rice, mining, textile and oil industries, buying up land in perpetually renewable 99-year leases, yet doing little to improve the quality of life of its people or improve the human rights situation there.

You see these dudes in their $600 jeans and Rolexes waiting at the airport for the Lexus or Mercedes luxury sedan to pick them up and whisk them away to their 5 star resorts where they can sip martinis while discussing how to rape and enslave another 3rd world country.

Meanwhile, children are begging for food in the streets. Like these two who cleverly put on their saddest face for begging as we disembarked our bus for a break on our way back to PP, and then frolicked in the dust laughing while they waited for us to return before strapping their sad mugs back on again.

Upon my arrival back in PP, I was blitzed by a swarm of grabby teen to thirtysomething hustlers once again as I looked for a driver to take me to the Choeung Ek aka “The Killing Fields.”

They were shouting and tugging at my clothes and bags. I was sick and tired, and over it, I finally lost my cool and snapped, howling all sorts of expletives at them, and then waited for the rusty shiv in my gut.

But it never came.

I was stunned. They actually stopped talking and listened.

After some remarkably polite haggling, I boarded my chosen driver’s tuk tuk and off we went.

The sky was fast turning black, the second storm of the monsoon was on it’s way, as I headed off on the forty minute journey out of downtown

and through the slums of Phnom Penh, which that make post-riot Watts look like Disneyland.


Burnt out husks of homes, dirt roads

and abandoned construction

mine victims

tin shack dress shops.

A few minutes in, I passed a stilt house nearly identical to this one

with bars over its windows, packed with children fighting for a space to see outside.

My driver was really insistent about taking me to a shooting range, but I was pressed for time, besides the fact that I’d heard way too many horror stories about travelers getting robbed at gun point and assaulted in these parts. My driver seemed cool enough, but my laptop alone could feed a family of ten for a year so I was taking any chances.

The monsoon dumped and I was just stoked I finally had a chance to wear my poncho.

We arrived at Choeung Ek, which, at first glance, looks less like a site of mass murder than it does some sort of twisted Palm Springs golf course.

The rain let up just enough to hustle into the small museum on the grounds where smoking, among other things, is not permitted.

I perused the collection of visual aids displayed to help explain the gruesome history of the site, the Khmer Rouge gear, the pictures of victims, and the like, but my brain for whatever reason, was unable to make a emotional connection with the truth of it all.

That is until I came upon the case containing this anonymous child victim’s sweater, pinned the way it was, as if in motion, as if it still held the ghost of the young girl who’d once worn it.

I could see her in my head, running and playing and laughing, in the dust like those little girls begging at the bus stop, or in the rain, like the ones dancing together outside the café in Siem Reap. And I nearly lost it.

I’m still about to lose it, typing this now, months after my visit, and thirty some odd years after this stranger lost her life.

I moved outside to the fields where some of the graves were excavated after the regime fell.

Others were left covered, the names, and the number of occupants still unknown, though the rainwater, especially during monsoon season continues to bring the bones and clothing of those buried to the surface.

The clothes are occasionally collected by groundskeepers and put in this tank


though there are so many buried here that it’s hard to keep up, especially during monsoon season.

Same with the bones, they’re popping up everywhere, and there are just not enough hands on deck to keep up.

And I found myself inadvertently treading across random bits of bones and clothes…

until I realized that not only the excavated parts were graves, but that the entire site itself was.

This is “The Killing Tree” where the Khmer Rouge, known to kill three generations at a time, as to avoid future retribution, would smash and kill the babies and small children, swinging them by their legs.

And this is the “Magic Tree.”

From its branches, the Khmer Rouge soldiers would hang a P.A. speaker and blare music out towards the city

to cover the screams of their victims as they were stabbed, shot, smashed or buried alive in pits. Skulls of some of the victims are kept in an on-site shrine.


I left Choeung Ek numbed at first by what I’d seen.

And seeing these children playing in the parking lot on my way out only tightened the knot in my brain.

It wasn’t until I arrived at the airport

and found a bone fragment stuck in the bottom of one of my boots

that my head found a place for the ghosts of Choeung Ek to settle.

I felt and helpless and sad and selfish.

In the great scheme of things, I’ve lived my life in a mirror, seeking only to do what puts a smile on my face. And in result, what I’ve worn for the larger part was a frown.

It was time to step up. The only problem then being, where to begin.

I racked my brain for the majority of the 21-hour flight back to L.A. and came up with a thousand solutions, and none of them practical. I like to think big which sometimes dooms the simple forward movement.

But as luck or fate or whatever would have it, upon my arrival back in Los Angeles, I found an email asking if I’d like to DJ A Moveable Feast event for Drop in the Bucket, an organization that has constructed more than 80 wells and a number of sanitation systems at locations in Tanzania, Mozambique, South Sudan, Chad, Kenya and Uganda.

Needless to say, I leapt at the chance.

All it costs is a measly 5 Gs to change these people’s lives forever and the well in Uganda we raised money for began pumping August 17, 2010. You can see some photos of the well-building and dedication here.

The next Moveable Feast to raise money for A Drop in the Bucket will be taking place at a farmhouse in Ventura on November 13, 2010. For event details and to buy a ticket or donate, go to www.amoveablefeastla.com.

And if you’re a fellow Angeleno looking for a way to step up today, you can always check out L.A. Works to see what service opportunities are available around town.

On the flip side, if you need somebody to shoot, cut, spin, write, produce, pick up, move or plant something that will benefit somebody in need, feel free to hit me up at chrisk@sleepnever.com.

Until then, I leave you this old school Khmer proverb “Tork Tork Penh Bampong,” or “Drop by drop fills the (Bamboo) Container”

chouay soum,
kostrzak

0 Responses to “ASIA DISPATCH 7 // HOLIDAY IN CAMBODIA”


  1. No Comments

Leave a Reply

You must login to post a comment.