Yesterday in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 5th December 2010

Phnom Penh, a city the Bucks and Gallants would have patrolled with glee.  The Hellfire Club will have ‘reunions’ here for a bit of sun and carnal delight.  Still its not all neon lit bars and ‘sex-pats’.  There is a palace, some killing fields and a museum.  I must say, I quite like it.

This is a great little city, laid back.  Many people hover in hammocks, strung from street lights, across petrol pumps and in the back of tuk-tuks.  I see and elderly couple sleeping together in a cycle rickshaw, in-front of a crumbling yellow colonial building.

No boundaries, laws, no taboos.  Full of western eccentrics and nihilists who live in the night and teach English in the day.  You can tell them apart from the bronzed backpackers, they are greyer, the nightstalker variety.  Urban vampires and purveyors of hard living.  With a model Cambodian lady on their arm, a Harley Davidson outside (sometimes), theres an element of old school rock and roll decadence alive here.  There is even a bar that plays orginal vinyls.

The central royal palace seems impressive in scale and design, but I cannot bear another monument to corruption and oppression dressed up as a ‘national’ monument.  At least not a modern one.  Apparently there is alot of silver inside.  Talking of corruption and extorting money from people, I have never seen so many of those Hummer vehicles.  I remember that Chris Eubank was an early fan.  They are grotesque, especially here.  I do not know why?

The main riverside street boasts a row of restaurants selling ‘Magic Pizza’, or ‘Herb’s Pizza’.  I try one and come to realise the importance of crust.  Its a nice drag, but thoroughly uninteresting.  The spice can still be found up near the now rapidly disappearing lake side area.  Its an old area, ramshackle dead end road, where you can smoke weed freely in bars and eat much Indian food for $2.  Most people sit around, necking cold cans of Klang Beer, talking about how it used to be.  The good old days of civil wars, other wars and general chaos.  You could call them ‘hardcore’ if you like, to me they look like old crocodiles whose billabong is rapidly running dry.  They have nowhere they can just be anymore.  Be left alone that is.  Immersing themselves into something exotic, living vicariously through the culture and turmoil of others, but eating bacon and eggs for breakfast.  If Hunter S. Thompson was still in his body, he may have enjoyed the Magic Sponge Bar.

Amongst all of this I have a lovely quiet room, below a local family.  I practice yoga at sunset and wait 7 days for the prized two month Thai visa.

The temperature is gas mark 4 and only getting hotter.

In the streets, you flag down seemingly any moped driver and they give you a lift. $1 fare.

I visit the National Museum and wander around the 14,000 artifacts from the stone age to the Khymer civilisation.   beautifully sculpted Ankhor-era statues.  Hindhu initially, this civilisation blossomed for hundreds of years and controlled most of what now is mainland S.E Asia.  The time of the ‘King Gods’.  I see many effigies of Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva, unrecognizable from their Indian counterparts.  Most have a rather dandy thin moustache.  Slightly incongruous.  It’s amazing that these artefacts exist at all.  In the 70’s most of the people connected with the museum were killed and the artefacts damaged by those utter bastards the Khymer Rouge.

Outside a man sqauts and trims the lawns using a meat cleaver.  Naked kids duck and dive around the water sprinklers.  The package tourists file by, snapping away with their over sized zoom lens.  They form clumps and are seemingly recording everything.  All dressed in neutral attire and colours, similar sunhats and bum bags.  In their hermetically sealed luxury bus they have the appearance and behavior of freshly grown zombies, from a pod lab in Ohio.

A man flies by on a scooter, standing on the seat with his arms raised in a Christ like pose, eyes closed and still going strong.

I visit one of the killing fields where 20,000 people were executed and buried in mass graves by the Khymer Rouge.  2 million killed out of a population of 8 million.  Horrific.  Piles of skulls commemorate times of sheer terror, starvation and tragedy. I read many accounts of how people were butchered and feel a huge sense of shame.  The shame of being human and the realisation of our natural propensity for pure evil.  When it rains there are still fresh bones and clothes that poke up above the ground.  An eery, bleak place.

Being confronted by the wicked acts of the Khymer Rouge is inescapable to any Cambodian visitor.  The Cambodians are making efforts to leave it all behind.  With a recently arranged trial for the main Khymer War Criminals, hopefully Cambodians can finally get a sense of closure of the dark past.

When all this history leaves me feeling low, I order a coconut shake and drift off.  Washed down with chicken porridge made with wild mushrooms and deep fried batter for dipping.  The waitress is wearing pink pyjamas with bunny rabbit print.  A dog urinates on my plastic chair leg and everything begins again.

Everywhere I turn, Cambodian people smile, help, joke and generally want a nice chat.  Few agendas for money making, just curious and practising their Englsih. Not pushy or rude, happy folk.

I in sit in 3 Rivers Bar before a Jim Beam and Coke.  A TV plays some war movie, which is surely overkill, the sound of machine gun fire and screaming.  I’m seeking peace and don’t want to force an issue or a moment, or dwell on the past.

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