Memoirs of a Nobody in Cambodia.

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Kung-fu Hillbilly
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Memoirs of a Nobody in Cambodia.

Post by Kung-fu Hillbilly »

I've a small collection of stories I've written over the years from my experiences in Cambodia, held privately as well as posted online, that I thought I could drop in one place here on CEO over time. Before anyone goes searching for them elsewhere to scream "plagiarism", save yourself the effort. I am the author and owner of the work.

Image

Barang Cargo. Why the Rush?

Call me old fashioned, but the idea of jumping on a speedboat and tearing up the Tonle Sap river from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap crammed in with thirty others and their luggage, doesn't imbue me with an enormous amount of joy, and having become a little more financially prudent with age, I estimated the thirty five dollar fee for that pleasure would be better traded with my favorite publican in thirty five separate transactions leaving us both feeling the better for it.

I'd been told of cargo boats that sometimes took paying passengers from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, and if I took time to wander the dock area of these that ply the river with their weighty trade, I may find a boat owner willing to offer me a ride on his return journey for a small fee. This option to Siem Reap would allow me to avoid the hordes that prefer travel life on the "pancake trail"of Asia, and perhaps more importantly, I'd be able to escape the ticket price of thirty five beers.

The dock was about five hundred meters up stream from the tourist boat departure point and I found it as dusty, noisy and chaotic as I hoped it would be. Bouncing thin planks of wood jutted out from the top decks to the shore from the fifteen or so cargo boats lined along the river's bank, and you couldn't be anything other than impressed at the speed and assuredness of the swarms of bare footed laborers as they navigated the thin pathways carrying immense loads of bricks, lumber and even toilets on their heads to waiting trucks and couriers below. My first attempt at walking "the plank" to talk with a boat owner saw my foot slip off one side of the thin walkway causing me to plummet legs splayed onto the plank below. It 's fair to say I would prefer coming into contact with other less solid objects with that region of my anatomy, but the resulting grazes on the inside of my thighs reminded me for days later of the agility, fine balance and sure footedness of the men who humped those heavy loads along these bowing makeshift path ways. I should also probably mention here the universal hilarity of a man getting "it" in the balls, many of my Cambodian brothers doubled up with laughter for a little too long at my clumsy expense.

Mr Pen was an scraggly bare chested leathery faced old man who wore a lopsided grin on account of the permanent cigarette that hung mostly unlit from the corner of his mouth. We neither spoke the other's language but with a little mime and dance I could convey my wish to travel with him up the river, and with a little finger numbering we were able to agree on ten dollars for the two day trip. Mr Pen had already released his cargo and was returning to Siem Reap without a back load, so this meant we would be leaving soon. That meant immediately.

I've put my hammock in some places over the years, but having the rustic smoothly worn wood of an old cargo boat as a shelter with the languid scenes of rural Cambodian river life sliding almost imperceptibly by has very nearly got to be at the top of my "Ten Best Places I've Slung a Hammock" list. Watching children splashing around in the water or being pushed and spun quickly in plastic tubs, cows grazing lazily on the banks, fishermen repairing nets, women attending to their daily laundry, wildlife and the lush greenery of it all were the perfect backdrop to the muffled "pop" of Mr Pen's diesel engine, all the time me swinging in my bed eating a piece of fruit, napping, or strumming my cheap ten dollar guitar. A tourist fast boat passed us in a blink of an eye at one point and I did wonder "why the rush?"

Approaching night fall Mr Pen pulled his boat toward the bank, stopped his engine and moored our home to a tree. He walked past me in my lazy repose and gestured for me to follow and lead me down to the bottom deck toward the rear of the boat where to my surprise I saw an old woman, presumably his wife, cooking over a small gas stove. I had no idea she was there. Asked to sit on the floor I was given a dish of plain rice topped with two small dried fish and an egg. Eating dried fish never gets any easier for me and it takes a big glob of rice to surround each piece I eat as I attempt to swallow it whole trying to avoid the crunchiness of fish head and the texture of fish organs.As our dining room sat directly above the engine bay, and next to a drum of fuel, the thick smell of diesel helped over power my revulsion toward the aroma of week old dry fish. Mr and Mrs Pen sat in silence as we ate offering a small smile and a nod of their heads when I'd finished dinner. I watched Mr pen finish his dinner and replace his soggy cigarette with a dry one.

The night was still and perfectly quiet apart from the occasional rustle of leaves from the river's bank as a bird readjusted its position on a branch My position remained unchanged through the night and I slept deep and heavy, a welcome change from the cacophony of noise that often interrupts sleep in Asian cities such as Phnom Penh.

Watching the river slowly come to life as the night sky turned from purple to orange then to the light blue of morning is a very relaxing way to wake up. I'd brought some coffee, sugar and a cup with me and asked Mrs Pen for some hot water which she readily provided, more than a few times. It would be a six hour push up river this morning and I would drink coffee and smoke cigarettes for most of the way enjoying the solitude this type of travel offers.

After a couple of hours the banks of the Tonle Sap began to lose their tranquility with kids and cows now replaced by dwellings, restaurants and shops that jutted out onto the water. It seemed people were more intent on going somewhere or doing something than those of earlier morning and the day before, they didn't seem that concerned about doing .much at all. Sadly, it also seemed in a few hours my little cargo boat adventure would be coming to an end. The first tourist fast boat of the day screamed by. Why the rush?

With the help of a man on the shore, a plank was laid out from our boat's bow to the river's bank and with a hand shake I thanked Mr Pen for the ride. With my inner thighs still tender against my shorts I measured my attempt at the wooden foot path leading to land remembering my first go at it. I'm pretty sureI disappointed Mr Pen with my smooth exit.

It wasn't the normal time for a barang to arrive at this part of the river, so there were no taxis or motodops to ferry me into town. I'd have to wander around and bargain with a local who had a motorcycle to get me there. But that was ok, I wasn't in any rush to be anywhere. And I was happy not to have to contend with a throng of those on "the pancake trail" intent on making their way into Siem Reap at the same time as me. I'd also saved the equivalent of twenty five beers by taking a cargo boat from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, and I would no doubt enjoy every one of them a little later that early afternoon.
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Re: Memoirs of a Nobody in Cambodia.

Post by Username Taken »

Well written. :thumb:
Who let all of this riff-raff into the room?

https://BooksAboutCambodia.com
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Re: Memoirs of a Nobody in Cambodia.

Post by reggie perrin's dad »

Outstanding stuff! Thoroughly enjoyed reading that, thanks KFH. It makes me miss smoking with coffee when on the road / river...

A couple of questions: Around how long ago was it? Do you think such a trip would still be possible? Can you really drink 25 beers in an early afternoon??
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Re: Memoirs of a Nobody in Cambodia.

Post by Kung-fu Hillbilly »

reggie perrin's dad wrote: Mon Nov 18, 2019 2:48 am
Around how long ago was it?
This trip was taken in 2001.
reggie perrin's dad wrote: Mon Nov 18, 2019 2:48 am
Do you think such a trip would still be possible?

Yes.

reggie perrin's dad wrote: Mon Nov 18, 2019 2:48 am Can you really drink 25 beers in an early afternoon??

Define "early afternoon".
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Re: Memoirs of a Nobody in Cambodia.

Post by reggie perrin's dad »

Define "early afternoon".

2 till floor?
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Re: Memoirs of a Nobody in Cambodia.

Post by kgbagent »

I thought it was a Pieman piece
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Re: Memoirs of a Nobody in Cambodia.

Post by Kung-fu Hillbilly »

Image

Her name was Binh

The cigarette smoke stained ceiling cast a yellow hue over the small space below giving the guesthouse room an air of jaundiced ill-health. A grimy single mattress flopped on the floor in a solitary attempt at furnishing, and two bare wires snaked out of a hole in the wall offering an alternative for lighting a smoke if need be. It was a dirty, desolate, depressing place perfect for junkies and whores like me and Binh.

Time and abuse have blurred my memory of her somewhat but I do remember she was pretty in that Vietnamese girl next door kind of way. Binh was a delightful young woman who didn’t have to be with me on her time off from the bar, and I'm not entirely sure what she gained by being with a junkie - she was far too good for me. Maybe we were just two lost souls swimming in the fish bowl of Phnom Penh both as lost as each other. She would repeatedly say she liked me and, well, I guess we all need to be told we’re liked by a pretty woman, don’t we? Regardless of its truth.

When my torso slumped over onto its side with oblivion coursing through my veins, Binh would slide the needle from my arm with smooth well practiced precision. And then while I drifted into nothingness Binh would wrap her body around mine and rock me slowly while singing softly in Vietnamese. Her song would drift through the fog, sweet calm echoes swirling through my addiction. Maybe she did like me.

Phnom Penh was a different place then. Where in the west you might enter a mall signed with the forbidding of theft, the riding of skateboards, bikes and other management irks, entering a market in Phnom Penh you’d be greeted with a sign prohibiting explosives, guns and hand grenades. It wasn’t uncommon to hear the occasional “pop” of a hand gun at night, and you didn’t wander the city too long in the small hours - well, I didn’t.

Phnom Penh may have been edgy but most of the working girls weren’t. Binh was a simple girl whose profession had failed to corrupt her human decency, caring or kindness - she was just another girl in the world doing the best she could with what she had. Her dreams were no different to any other early twenty something woman - she just wanted love, security and someone to share the journey. Sadly I wasn’t going to be that guy.

Half a syringe of morphine topped with ketamine was my cocktail of choice. I’d do the pharmacy rounds every few days, the glass vials stuffed into my cargo pant pockets clinking in time with my steps as I made my way back to the room, always hoping Binh was still there or not far away. No, we didn’t share deep conversations or challenge each other’s thinking and we had no common interests, nor had we any shared reference points in life. We just shared the now. We just shared Phnom Penh.

I never knew what became of Binh over the years of my coming and going, but I hope she eventually got the opportunity to pursue a different life. I hope she got to pursue a different life before her occupation tainted her idea of men, or subverted her ideas of security, love and someone to share her journey because she was just a sweet young woman doing the best she could with what she had.
Last edited by Kung-fu Hillbilly on Mon May 25, 2020 4:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Memoirs of a Nobody in Cambodia.

Post by Duncan »

Yea , I knew a ''Nobody's'' girl.
Spoiler:
HIV Positive and she passed on to a better world
So I wrote a song about her and her daughter who followed in her footsteps.

You play the music and I will sing , OK.

One Way Ticket.

She's got a one way ticket to heaven,
On a one way street to hell,
But she know's where she's going,
She know's the road so well,
All her friends have been before her,
And they showed her the way,
Travelling down that one way street ,
Every single day.

Now the road is lined with dollars,
And all the men will pay,
City life brings problems,
She picked up on the way,
And as she travels down that lonely road ,
She carries a heavy load,
The problems on her shoulders,
No-one has been told.

She's got a one way ticket to heaven,
On a one way street to hell,
But she know's where she's going,
She know's the road so well,
All her friends have been before her,
And they showed her the way,
Travelling down that one way street ,
Every single day.

-------------------------------------------------------

Copy writes apply to this verse

------------------------------------------------

Now as the days slowly fade away,
Like the years have gone by,
No longer does she give a damn ,
No longer does she cry,
And when it's all over,
And her memory fades away,
There'l be another lonely girl,
Walking the street every day,

She's got a one way ticket to heaven,
On a one way street to hell,
But she know's where she's going,
She know's the road so well,
All her friends have been before her,
And they showed her the way,
Travelling down that one way street ,
Every single day.
Cambodia,,,, Don't fall in love with her.
Like the spoilt child she is, she will not be happy till she destroys herself from within and breaks your heart.
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Re: Memoirs of a Nobody in Cambodia.

Post by Duncan »

Dont know why but every time I sing that , it brings tears to my eyes.
Cambodia,,,, Don't fall in love with her.
Like the spoilt child she is, she will not be happy till she destroys herself from within and breaks your heart.
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Re: Memoirs of a Nobody in Cambodia.

Post by Khmu Nation »

Pinning up gear and cocaine, aka a snowball, is popular when really both substances are best ingested individually. It feels like you are being pulled apart. But pinning up morphine and ketamine at the same time? What's that known as a 'curve ball'?

Sounds like a waste of morphine to me.

(Disclaimer: I don't indulge in such practices these days.)
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