Where I live…

It’s about like a standard American motel room, that you’d get off an interstate for $40 or so.  No A/C.  It’s $7 a night, so I’m paying $210 a month.

There are certain cultural differences — this is, after all, Cambodia. 


I’ve never stayed at a hotel with a strict no-handgrenades policy before.  I suppose it’s a good idea, although I’ve always been a bit skeptical of the efficacy of these signs.  On the other hand, the staff do come around and clean your room every so often, so I suppose they would notice if you left any handgrenades lying around.

The first place I stayed at was $40.  I got their address off the internet.  It was comparatively swanky, with a big stone Buddha head in every corridor, and one in my room, too. 

More relevantly, they had powerful A/C’s in their rooms (although not in the building generally).  But all that day while I was de-jet-lagging, I felt increasingly like someone had packed sawdust behind my eyes.  I get hayfever, and I gather that the A/C kicked some kind of mold into the air.  It hasn’t been a problem since I moved.

The swanky hotel with the bad A/C had a policy notice that all hotel staff were trained in spotting exploited or abducted children, and that papers would have to be presented for any children in a party.  Nothing about handgrenades, though.

This is downtown, a good fifteen minutes’ walk from where I live:


Motor-bikes are the primary mode of transportation.  You also see quite a few bicycles and some cars.  Taxis here are tuk-tuks, which are these wheeled gondolas pulled by motorbike — a high-tech version of the pedicabs you see in the old black and white movies about Shanghai.

I made a friend by accosting a white guy and demanding to know if he spoke English.  It turns out he’s an English teacher, and I started chatting him up to learn about places to stay and schools to apply to.  His name’s Tom; he’s English.

Tom is new to Cambodia — he’s been here about a month and a half — but he’s been working as an English language teacher in China for years.  We went out last night, to a weird local place that had a buffet where you picked out raw food that you then cooked on a live steamer they set up on your table.

It was good, but I was skittish about eating much, as the nurse who gave me my immunization shots warned me not to trust the water, or boiled veggies, or…  well, anything.  Tom waved those concerns away, and said the worst he’d ever had was a stomachache.

He wanted to go to a bar after.  We’d already had three pitchers of beer, which was more than enough for me.  We went by tuk-tuk, and then Tom convinced the tuk-tuk driver to join us for beer.  I actually spoke with the guy more than Tom did — he was pretty plastered — and got some good information out of him.

Such as:

Motorbikes — The cost of a motorbike, second-hand, is about $900 US.  (US currency is used a great deal here.  But then if it’s torn — even a tiny little rip — they don’t want to take it.)  He said a new motorbike is $2,000.

Girls — There are two kinds of girls in Cambodia, according to our tuk-tuk driver (who had a difficult name that I’ve by now forgotten):  virgins and prostitutes.  If you wanted prostitutes, he could take you to a bar down the street.  You buy a drink there and they come and talk to you.  And they’d have sex with you for 10 or 15 dollars.

Virgins you talk to, and if it seemed likely, then she would introduce you to her family.  If you’re going to get married, you want a virgin.

I explained that for us Westerners, it wasn’t important that she be a virgin.  It was just important that she be healthy.  He looked like he didn’t think he really understood what I was saying, although in fact I think he did.  It just didn’t compute.

Western women, he said, didn’t need to be married to have sex with you.  But they weren’t even prostitutes, either.  They would just do it.  — Yeah, I said, that’s true; but they had to want to.  That didn’t compute either.

I’m going from my first impressions here — I haven’t had any coversations with Cambodian hookers — but it seems to me that it’s a different deal than what we have in the US, where it’s strongly related to drug use.  I get the impression that, besides carreer hookers, some Cambodian women will do sex-work as a kind of a side-line, to help make ends meet.

Our driver explained that prostitutes made the decision for money, without thinking of their future.  He thought it was naughty-funny.

There was an awkward moment where Tom said to me, “Look, I’m going to just ask you:  You’re a fag, right?”  I leaned forward and said, “No, I’m not, and if you ask me again, I’m going to fuckin’ hit you.”  Probably not the smoothest way to handle it, but I was drunk, too.  Tom explained how he had mis-heard or mis-understood something I said that made him think it was a good question (it’s still not clear to me how).

Tom asked the driver how much a tuk-tuk driver made in a month.  He said he didn’t know:  every day when he got home he gave all his money to his wife, and she ran the household finances.  Tom asked him if getting married was a good idea or a bad idea, and he beamed.  Oh, a good idea.  He had three sons, the oldest 12, and a little girl.

It was time to go.  Coming back from the men’s room, Tom couldn’t walk straight.  He complained loudly that he wanted more to drink.  I told him that wasn’t happening; he said we were both pussies.  “Yeah, sure,” I said, and he quieted down, with a victorious satisfied look.

The bill was under $6 with a pack of cigarettes for Tom.  I put in $3 and demanded $3 from Tom, just because it was easier.  When we got the change, I didn’t know if we should leave a tip.  Tom was opposed to it.  The tuk-tuk driver said it was up to me.  I was paying, so I was the boss.

In the end, I left a 2000 riel note (which is 50 cents).  Tom took it and put it in his wallet.  He was outraged.  The driver laughed.

When we dropped Tom off, he hugged the tuk-tuk driver and told him he loved him.  I only got a handshake.  The tuk-tuk driver didn’t know what to do.  Tom kept slapping his chest and saying, “You know I love you, right?”  It’s not clear to me how much that was Tom being drunk and how much he was just screwing with the guy.

Tom weaved off down the road, and I gave the tuk-tuk driver directions to my place.  The weather is quite nice at night, when the heat is down.  I stuck my head sideways out the side of the tuk-tuk as he drove me down the long dark road to my $7 a night guesthouse.  The wind felt nice.

I think he over-charged me, having decided that I was an easy mark.

Published in: on August 15, 2009 at 10:34 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Great to see your blog and that you made it. I forgot to tell you not to pack your hand grenades, I hear they aren’t allowed in too many places. Keep the blog updated, and I hope all is well!

  2. Reviewing this post, I see I’ve left out an important piece of information from the conversation.

    Tom said he was Irish, so he was Catholic. But he hadn’t actually been to confession in “–ppffew–” a long time. I told Tom that I basically have Christian values, “…but I don’t actually believe in the Resurrection.”

    “Oh, no,” Tom said.

    I asked our tuk-tuk driver how often he went to Buddhist temple. It took a little doing to communicate the question.

    He kind of shrugged. “Every time someone hires me to take them there.”


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