Friday, November 9, 2018

Independence by Peace?

There was an article just today where a university history professor stated that Cambodians can be proud of their independence since it was achieved by peace and not by bloodshed. 

This is the way an experienced expat views the history as it really happened.

Taken by itself that statement is true as back in 1953 Sihanouk indeed obtained independence from France by negotiations. One should remember though that France normally did not grant independence without a prior bloody war, e.g. Vietnam, Algeria. In 1953 though France had become tired of waging wars with their colonies and the sentiment in the French populace was turning. After all France had survived a brutal World War against Germany and her allied powers not too long ago.

But what this dear professor seemed to have forgotten were the intervening years between 1970 and 1997 which was practically a period of interminable skirmishes, coups, and internal wars. Or did he forget that Sihanouk had given the U. S. a pretext for the illegal and unjustified bombing of Cambodia by granting the Vietnamese army access to Cambodia territory to wage their war against the puppet regime in Saigon? Or did he forget that Sihanouk was toppled by Lon Nol because he was not able to contain the emerging Pol Pot forces? Or did he forget that Lon Nol fought a bloody war against the Pol Pot forces? Or did he forget the Vietnamese invasion (for the benefit of Cambodia though) that led into a prolonged jungle warfare by a coalition of unlikely allies against the Vietnamese invaders? Or did he forget the jungle warfare by Pol Pot forces against the Vietnamese installed Cambodian regime until 1993?

A fragile peace came only after the U. N. finally brought itself to vote for an unparalleled rescue mission that brought the first free elections to Cambodia, which was promptly disputed by the losing governing CPP which then threatened to secede with the Eastern provinces. Only after Sihanouk brokered a deal came a less violent period that was still occasionally threatened by the remaining Pol Pot loyalists who had fled into the jungle. Again, did the good professor forget the bloody coup by the minority partner in the government in 1997?  Only after that coup began the time when real progress in terms of peace was achieved. The current regime in short order secured a lasting period of quiet and a sort of tranquility by all sorts of sometimes questionable agreements – although at what cost? Yes, today there is peace and growing prosperity in Cambodia but still at the expense of certain human values.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Phnom Penh Noir – An Anthology

Since there is not much to report about life in Cambodia, or at least nothing that hasn’t been in the papers or online social networks I am going to review another book that is set in Phnom Penh. It’s not that I don’t read anything else; since my last posting I read two other books but they didn’t deal with Cambodia.

The Hearts and Minds – Roland Joffé

This is about an English guy working for an agricultural NGO who has been in Cambodia for seven months feels somewhat detached from it all. So he does what most NGO workers do they hang out in bars catering to those well-paid foreign NGO staff. They are a prime target for bar girls who like nothing better than to relieve those sex-craved barangs of their undeserved dollars. He just broke off his relationship with his girl friend back home and pines for a foreigner beauty he regularly sees in that watering hole. His female overweight fellow NGO worker had fallen in love with him but this love was unrequited. He finally gets a chance to meet up with the purported Brazilian beauty who persuades him to engage in some nefarious business. Meanwhile his lady boss runs over the pining and at that time drurk, overweight chief account with her SUV who then needs to be evacuated to Bangkok for treatment, but not before whispering into her boss’s ear something about double dipping. So much for the contents – I won’t divulge the ending for obvious reasons.

This story is very well-written and very much believable. It could have happened in reality. Great novela.

The Fires of Forever – James Grady

James Grady is a fine writer but in my opinion this story does not do him justice. This is too much of an American-style hard-boiled crime novel the locale of which just happens to be Phnom Penh. The writing style is not my cup of tea; it’s too much in telegram-style. Again, here too this reminds one of James Elroy who obviously influenced many - not only - American writers.

The story itself is a little far-fetched with an IT-guy managing to hack into his employer’s computer stealing the source code for financial transactions that can make hackers rich or get them into prison. Far-fetched inasmuch as you wouldn’t expect this kind of hacking to happen in Phnom Penh of all places, at a garment factory at that. He wants to sell this code but doesn’t know how to go about it. Therefore, he asks the main character to help him with that for a cut of the proceeds. A meeting is set-up with a buyer who wants to re-sell it for bigger bucks. The ending is typically noir as one doesn’t expect it. Our minds are too much tuned to more favorable endings.

Love and Death at Angkor – John Burdett

Now this is the weirdest story in the context of noir fiction I have read in a long time. Here is a guy who acts as a guide to a friend who is on a SE Asian sojourn. In Siem Reap on a visit to Angkor they meet a group of 3 ethereal European beauties accompanied by an Oxford-educated Indian lady in a sarong and her elderly assistant. I won’t go into detail but there is a lot esoteric mumbo-jumbo with regards to reincarnation achieved by the ultimate sexual pleasure. This insinuates that those pleasures can only be achieved through immersion into Asian philosophical thinking and at a particular spot near Angkor Wat. There are scenes of explicit sexual description that border on the pornographic. Sexual scenes can convey deep romantic feelings but there was no feeling whatsoever in that description, especially if you call a vagina a cunt in this context. This is not a literary work like ‘Lady Chatterly’s Lover”. His friend who fell under their spell was tragically killed by a guard for entering Angkor Wat in the dark. The main character wants to find our more about that insidious group which he somehow connects to his friend’s death. He gets further info from an MI6 operative in Bangkok while sleeping with her. He knows her from way back when. He goes back to London and visits this sect’s, I guess you could call it that, address which he connects to a particular street by absolute miraculously deductive thinking. That sect or group was formed in late 1800s. He promptly falls under the same spell and travels back to Angkor Wat to participate in the same ritual to find the ultimate sexual fulfillment which will later lead to a propitious reincarnation.
I am averse to things religious and spiritual, especially when they are so far-fetched and contrived to be utterly ridiculous as this story. I don’t know what this writer thought he would achieve when writing this weird story. It may have been inspired by the author’s readings of D. H. Lawrence but is nowhere near that. This story does not belong in this anthology.

Reunion – Christopher G. Moore

This is more of journalist’s account of a boy named Rith Samnang, or Sam for short, who survived the Khmer Rouge, a refugee camp and hard years in the U. S. Like many young Khmer without education he ran afoul of the law in California and was convicted of armed robbery and attempted murder in a gang-related case. He served 7 years, which he also survived more or less intact. The U. S. deported him back to Cambodia after his release as he had not obtained U. S. citizenship (like many before him). Here he reinvented himself and became a translator for the U. N. Tribunal for War Criminals. Nothing spectacular about this story as expats forums and newspapers cover those stories extensively. One rumor or possibly fact, if you will, got some exposure early on in the story. The Khmer kid claims to have been forced to eat human liver by his superior cadre. After his return he locates this cadre who is now a restaurant owner. The journalist is invited and they eat the restaurant’s signature soup. Sam says to the journalist, “Eat this it will make you a man”. This is the same sentence the cadre told Sam at the Khmer Rouge camp so many years ago. The journalist is disgusted and leaves the restaurant, not knowing whether cannibalism was really practiced or was it just a make believe story to frighten people.

Broken Chains – Kosal Khiev

This is more or less in the same vein as the previous story. However, it was written by a Cambodian young poet who had suffered the same fate and once back in Cambodia became a writer/poet.

Darkness is Faster than the Speed of Light – Prabda Yoon

I couldn’t make head or tails of this story written by a Thai author who sets it in the Olympic stadium in Phnom Penh. A young Thai lady is taken there by a tuk-tuk driver who thinks this is a must-see sight for tourists. The young lady observes some weird scene at the stadium that makes her leave it in fear. There is also some insinuation of some foul play in her hotel room she left that morning. However, this is not really explored and fleshed out with more details. An altogether unsatisfying read.

Dark Truths – Bopha Phorn

The author is Cambodian and worked for the now defunct Cambodia Daily. Obviously she is the editor in the story. If she actually wrote it herself we really have to commend her as the English is perfect. The story itself is about pedophiles for whom Cambodia exerts a magnetic pull for reason we all know. Finally, the 72-year-old accused is indeed sentenced to 8 years in prison. He had a very long record but always managed to be acquitted, whether by bribing the judge, the police, or whoever, remains unclear. The journalist, Mark, covering the court case is ambivalent about all this. It is a well-known fact that child protection NGOs sometimes do trap innocent men making headlines and thereby securing their continued funding at the same time. Mark has a history in the U. K. where he was accused of pedophilia as an accessory himself because his room mate was a pedo. He was acquitted but something always sticks. He becomes so uncomfortable to cover a new case that he decides to excuse himself for a 3-day sabbatical and then actually leaves the paper for good without giving notice. Subsequent internet searches reveal his history to his colleagues who are left flabbergasted or revolted by such a deception.
Surely, there are dark truths in many people’s lives; this could well be a true story.

Play with Fire- Giancarlo Narciso

The initial chapters reminded me of The Postman Always Rings Twice, only set in Cambodia with the characters switched around and a somewhat changed plot. It follows the same pattern with the one difference that the main character gets lucky in the end. Not too bad.

Orders – Christopher West

The author is not an expat but demonstrates intimate inside knowledge of the way Khmer society works. He uses the police to depict both the righteous and the indifferent, both complacent in their way of life but still with a keen sense of what will serve their ultimate purpose. One is the police captain and the other one is a police inspector. Both understand what their place is in this post-Khmer Rouge society without rubbing anybody the wrong way. They each play their role the way it is expected of them by their superiors. This way people in Cambodia survive and some even prosper. Nobody has the will or the desire to rock the boat. Well-being comes before convictions. It may and probably will change but in the meantime this is the way life is in Cambodia.

Sabbatical Term – Richard Rubenstein

Art Pepper is on a research trip to the Khmer Rouge governed Cambodia. An avowed communist he wants to see how the transformation to an agricultural society without money, without personal property, without any freedom progresses. He is coming from China where he had seen the results of the failed Cultural Revolution. Art Pepper meets with the Minister for Social Welfare, a woman who is also married to the Minister for Interior Affairs. At this occasion is also introduced to a small man who turns out to be Pol Pot.
He is then taken on a tour of a new irrigation system in the province and meets a cadre there who does  not hesitate to speak openly about the inner workings and failings of the system. His minder, a beautiful Khmer lady with Indian ancestry, appears also a little disillusioned with the system by now. He goes back to his lectures in the U. S. with a different view of the Khmer Rouge experiment.
It is a well-written inside account as it is known these days - nothing new to people who are familiar with Cambodia and its history. These people might want to skip this story in the book. Others, less familiar, may well like it.

Hell in the City – Suong Mak

This story is recounted by a young Cambodian writer. This is not a polished narration of events but a realistic account of tragic events that happen almost daily in Cambodia. It might be fiction but at the same time it could be true. A look in Cambodia’s papers will confirm this. A worthy read.

Khmer Riche

The defining statement of this story is: “Cambodia had swapped the Khmer Rouge for the Khmer Riche.  The Elite had turned the entire country into a huge tribute system. So much money was concentrated in so few hands.”

A fixer is hired by a rich Khmer son, who inherited his fortune from his father. A foreigner partner in the business has disappeared. He is though to have stolen something valuable and the fixer is charged with finding him and with it the lost item. What the item is first remains secret. He is accompanied by one of the Khmer’s bodyguard who happens to be one of the Cambodian returnees the U. S. sent back after they ran afoul of the law in the U. S. Eventually they trace the disappeared foreigner via the death of a fortune-teller and the story runs its course with a typical noir ending. Great read.

A Coven of Snakes – Bob Bergen

An analyst of all things is asked to look into the death of 7 foreign tourists in the Siem Reap area with fresh eyes. Cambodia is known for its attraction to pedophiles and the 7 (with the exception of the one woman who was into kinky sex) were reportedly after underage kids. So far so good, but then this story takes a turn that really makes the whole plot ludicrous. There is a place near Angkor Wat where certain rituals are performed by Khmer Apsara dancers with a sexual twist. They enthrall the foreigners with their nubile bodies shedding their veils so they stand naked in front of the men. Once the men try to touch the bodies they meet with their sudden death by means of a severed spine executed from behind. Remember, these are pedophiles being seduced by naked female dancers? Give me a break!!!

Rebirth – Neil Wilford

Another implausible story dealing with a barbaric General, also ex-Khmer Rouge of course, who impregnates a girl and wants to keep the baby. Certainly, the country is full of superstition but this story just takes it a little too far. The girl does not want to have the baby and seeks refuge by a down-and-out foreigner looking for an abortion. Eventually, the general’s goons dig up the hiding foreigner who had fled after discovering the girl butchered to death, her fetus ripped from her womb and otherwise mutilated. The general keeps these fetuses in his belief of a multiple after-life (what?) He then frames the foreigner placing him in his room with a bag of white powder and the girls bloody panties. The ending is noir but the story is just plain asinine. Sometimes I wonder whether the writers get off on these stories themselves.

KROM – Christopher Minko

I am not much for poems. Some of them are good, some less so – in my humble opinion. Read for yourself.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Cambodia Book of the Dead – About a Sinister and Cynical Book

I was intrigued by the first book in a Cambodia setting so I went on to read another one that had a few good reviews on This one is by a German author named Tom Vater who wrote his novels in English. He studied English literature in England where he got his English language skills. His German language background shines through with the occasional literal translation of German sayings and similes. Native speakers might sometimes be wondering at that but in general it does not diminish the book’s overall readability. His style of the first few pages is reminiscent of some classic American noir writers like James Elroy. He doesn’t come even close to the dry style of an Elmore Leonhard or the sarcasm of a Carl Hiassen.

The story is set in 2003 in the seaside town of Kep. Maier, a former war correspondent turned private detective, was hired to bring back the wayward son and heir of a rich German family who bought into a dive shop in Kep to get away from the constraints of a staid Hamburg upper class family. Vater narrates a lot of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge history and the fact that many old Khmer Rouge fighters and generals are still very much involved in the daily running of affairs in Cambodia at that time. In Kep it is a general Tep who seems to be styled after a notorious Khmer Rouge general named Tak who in the 90ies after the UNTAC-sponsored elections attacked a train and took three Western young tourists hostage and later killed them. In fact, former Khmer Rouge are still very much present in today’s Cambodia too but the number is slowly decreasing on account of natural attrition. For the most part they have turned into self-styled, often very successful, rich capitalists. Stone-age communism had never been part of their lives, now, had it?

He depicts the desolate and depressing life that some Western expatriates led at that time not only in Kep but almost all over Cambodia. Cambodia, because of it lawlessness at the time, was a haven that attracted social outcasts from Western society and lured many a Western backpacker into the life of drugs and cheap sex – which even to this day is motive enough for quite a few young Western people to settle in this country. The writer of this blog lived in Cambodia from 1990 until 1994 and part of 1995 and had traveled to Cambodia many times after 2002, has been living here since 2010, and is very familiar with the events that took place during those years.

The author’s historical excursions are mostly correct. However, his description of the old Bokor casino is pure fiction. Apart from a few hardy young tourists hardly anyone ventured up that potholed broken path of what was left of a previously fine paved road. The casino was inaccessible for fear of collapse. The walls were pock-marked with bullet holes dating back to the time this mountain served as a hideout for the Khmer Rouge. Guards prevented tourists from entering.

The scene of some occult celebration in the casino and Maier’s being clubbed unconscious there seems a little far-fetched. His German quarry and he rode up to Bokor on their mopeds all alone with not a soul in sight but then, all of a sudden, you had quite a few people populating the scene, the guards, a Russian expatriate, the policeman he had met in Kep had shown up at the casino out of nowhere, not to mention the mysterious Khmer beauty and the general’s son who partook in that occult scene.

There was a lot of talk of investing in a golf course in the national park there, which in 2003 may have just been a rumor but there were no active plans under way at that time. Nobody really thought of investing in Cambodia at that time to begin with. After the 1997 coup d’état by Hun Sen and the grenade attack on the opposition leader and the 2003 riots against Thai property the country was considered unsafe for any serious investment. Only some fool-hardy adventurers tired of their Western dreary life used what little money they had to open a (oftentimes girlie) bar or a small restaurant there.

Of course, now in 2018 we know that the rumors were not without foundation as the road is now paved and there is indeed a new casino, hotel, a golf course, etc. There was no involvement in the development of Bokor Mountain by former Khmer Rouge members. It has once again become a popular destination not only for tourists but for Khmer people on holidays and weekends.

Tourism in Cambodia did not develop on a larger scale until 2008. There were no hotels on Rabbit Island. Backpackers slept in fishing families’ homes, not in cheap guesthouses like nowadays. There was one major hotel in Kep at that time – the Beach House, which was run by an Australian lady with her Khmer husband. Of course, you had the odd bar in a wooden shack run by some run-down Westerner. A lot of them knew how to tell a tall tale, like the bar owner of that expat bar, a Vietnam vet who told of Vietnamese soldiers who had syringes filled with heroin strapped to their arms and when they were killed the heroin was used by the GIs to shoot up. Come on - give me a break!

The first part of the book deals mostly with the description of Kep and its strange assortment of people, both local and foreign. The second part of the book takes you on a wild ride. The private eye meets up with the sinister and powerful former Khmer Rouge general. Following a dinner invitation to Rabbit Island Vater is received by black-clad Khmer Rouge girls with AK47s, and sitting down with Tep he is unexpectedly and incongruously interrogated by a character called White Spider, who turns out to be a former German SS-officer. This German suspects he is some sort of spy working for whichever secret service, out to destroy the little nest he has built for himself there. Vater is subsequently drugged and inexplicably ends up some 550 km north in Siam Reap. As the story develops it movers farther and farther away from the original quest he was charged with, getting that son home. Instead he gets drugged repeatedly, has some life-threatening encounters with the SS-man’s thugs, uncovers a secret project by the SS-villain to train young gullible orphaned Khmer girls into assassins. There is also a Khmer lady with a German passport who obviously hired a contract killer. Who she want to have killed  is never revealed. On her trip to Cambodia she herself gets killed by people unknown, which is also never clearly revealed. There are a few of these holes in Vater’s story.

 It is not worth going into further details as the story is so wildly unbelievable that it verges on some fantasy horror novel. Of course, the author is German so it might appear only logical to him to paint the two mean characters as survivors of two genocidal regimes of the 20th century.

It seems that after the first part the author ran out of ideas how to create a mystery plot out of the search and attempt to return that wayward son, after he found him, saw that the son was in trouble already, and was deeply in love with a prostitute. So what could follow from that? Maybe a kidnapping with a demand for ransom might have been more logical but would have been too much run-of-the-mill stuff? The Khmer Rouge and SS-angle seemed to be too tempting for the author. Of course, all of these evil characters end up dead as the title suggests.

I am sure there are readers who will like this book. I am not one of them.

A few pics from scenes described in the book.
 Sambo -the only elephant alive in Phnom Penh at the time that tourists could ride.

2012 – Sihanouk’s Retreat on Bokor mountain
2003 – The casino ruins

2012 – The casino being renovated

2018 - Bokor Palace

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Hunters in the Dark – About a Novel set in Cambodia

Hunters in the Dark book cover

I am an avid reader and except for the occasional context of the Vietnam War I really haven’t read a book that is set in Cambodia. Of course, I read a couple or so written by Cambodian authors but they always dealt with the Pol Pot era and its aftermath. Although one would have to understand that the aftermath of that era is still continuing. As an expat having lived here for 4 year in the early 90ies and now for 8 years I can attest to that. One encounters the intrinsic consequences of that era daily.

I once tried one book that was written by a British expat but that was so lame and badly written that I stopped it after about 20 or 30 pages.

Recently, however, an expat forum pointed out a few websites that would have mystery books set in Cambodia. So I downloaded a few of them, one of which had the a. m. title.  The author is Lawrence Osborne, a British expat living in Bangkok. This author is of some acclaim and his books are well-worth reading. I just finished reading this book.

There is this 28-year-old English teacher who comes to Cambodia on his summer break. He comes by land from Bangkok via Pailin. He is hard-up and promptly wins $2,000 on his first night in one of the many casinos dotting the border towns in Cambodia. He then hires a driver who takes him to see the local sights where he meets an American fellow nicely decked out in a white suit and a pair of expensive shoes.

The American invites him to his house to stay there so he wouldn’t have to sleep in one of the dingy hotels in town. I don’t want to spoil it by giving out too many details but our nice young Englishman meets with a few surprises there that he could have done without.

He also copes with those surprises in a most unlikely fashion borne out of a premature world-weariness. Arriving in Phnom Penh he is looking for a job so he can support himself and luckily he finds it right away, practically on the same day. A doctor is looking for a tutor for his 25-year-old daughter. She is a medical doctor who studied in France and happens to speak English quite fluently. The need for a tutor is quite superfluous but the doctor wants her to improve her English anyway. The doctor is so nice that he even gives him $500 on that first meeting. The young people go out together and promptly fall in love ending up having sex the first night. The father is quite wealthy with a mental clinic for depressed people. Of course, in Cambodia only the very rich can afford such a treatment and the book is a little short on detail about that but it appears as if the rich tend to send their spoilt offspring there, getting them treated for the ills boredom causes. Otherwise, mental illness is a somewhat unexplored field in Cambodia to begin with. You can hardly find psychologists or psychiatrists. One can read almost daily about some horrendous crime, murder, rape of small children, etc., that one wonders whether they even recognize that there may be some form of mental disorder involved there. They just stick them in a prison cell, and you never read about them again.

The father is a former Khmer Rouge doctor who doesn’t fail to state that he was forced into this unless he wanted to die. Even the Khmer Rouge needed doctors. The daughter, obviously a pretty thing, is heavily influenced by her time and studies in Paris where she also had a French lover, in other words, a fully enlightened young Khmer girl.

 There are some more twists in the whole story which I won’t divulge here as it would really spoil it for any future reader.

This book is well written and got a rave review in the New York Times, in fact, it is so well written that one wants to keep reading it in one sitting. However, as an expat in Cambodia who has traveled the breadth and width of the country, who has lived in a Cambodian, not expat, environment all this time, having a Khmer wife of impeccable background, speaks, though cannot write, the language, I would like to point out a few, let’s call them, implausibilities. One could say it is about the transformation of a respectable young English teacher into a drifter.

Would a young man get plastered and do drugs with a fellow Westerner whom he just met, never mind the nice clothes and his educational background? The American is a Yale man, you know, but a conman nonetheless.

The doctor is really generous and it appears he is also of Chinese descent. It is hardly likely that he would advance the young man $500 just because he liked the young man’s looks and demeanor. Equally unlikely is that he would hire a tutor for a daughter who speaks the language fluently already. The foremost thought in Khmer parents’ minds is to get an equally well-situated husband of superior standing for their daughter. A fly-by-night English teacher hardly fits that bill. He gets invited to family dinners, which is not unusual as the Khmer people are very hospitable, but such an invitation is nothing but a courtesy. Sometimes Khmer educated people would like to discuss life in the West with an educated foreigner, but that’s the extent of it.

Although the girl has some Western experience she was raised as an upper-class Khmer daughter and would be very conscious of her reputation. By ostentatiously cavorting with a foreigner she would certainly harm that reputation among upper-crust Khmer society of which she undeniably is a firm member. Of course, it happens that some rich Khmer girls do have flings with foreigners but this is usually carried on in secret or in another city. After all, Khmer husbands still value their future wives’ virginity very highly, so as to make a union almost impossible if he were to find out that she has been sleeping around. Sleeping around is only for the lower classes and the poor girls who can only gain from a relationship with a foreigner, or so they believe. Sometimes, there is a rude awakening, though. Young beautiful Khmer girls get a rich Khmer husband – they have the choice of many suitors. Poor, less beautiful girls seek out the naive, often older Western man who can’t find a young woman in the West for exactly what they lack to get a nice beautiful Khmer girl – money.

The writer published the book in 2015, so probably researched it two or three years before that date. He clearly was in Cambodia before the 2013 election. There were quite a few demonstrations at that time and he mentioned some violence in Freedom park near the place the young man was staying. A lot has changed in the meantime. The last 5 years have seen a tremendous development in Cambodia and life has become a lot more consumer-oriented. Political life has come to a virtual standstill. A few of the locales were not described quite correctly but that does not affect the overall book. After all, most of the readers would not know anyway.

The American fellow travels up to a mountain lodge and encounters youths with guns guarding a bridge as if they wanted to extort some money from him for being able to cross. Despite his fear he just pushes through. In Cambodia those youths could have been in their early twenties as Khmer people look very young with teen-like face until their thirties. It is quite common that private companies hire them as guards and they do sometimes carry AK-47s but in general are quite harmless. The writer made it appear very dangerous to travel on country roads in Cambodia. It is not. It was different in the 90ies but if it is one thing authoritarian regimes know how to do is bring security to the roads, if not safety, judging by the many traffic fatalities in Cambodia. So it is very unlikely that people would get held up on the roads as opposed to Phnom Penh where bag snatching is still very much present.

There is one distasteful character in the book that is very aptly described. He is a policeman on the make. This type of people is still around and one best not get involved in any shape or form with them, be it as perpetrator or a victim of a (even petty) crime or even in the context of a traffic accident with injured or even dead victims.

He also depicts the down-and-out foreigners in Cambodia quite well. Many a native English speaker with a TOEFL certificate comes to SE Asia, or all of the underdeveloped world for that matter, to teach English as a second language as they usually wouldn’t qualify for anything else. They often just scrape by on their $7.50 to $10 an hour in one of the many private schools, of which the majority would not make the cut anywhere else. Getting a gig as a private tutor for a few well-heeled clients would get them in the range of better pay but it is too unreliable to be based on as a long-term solution. It is true that Khmer people usually regarded Westerners with some sort of amazement about their behavior and with some curiosity, sometimes even admiration. The Westerners, despite their sometimes grungy looks, surely  must have some money. How else could they afford to come to Cambodia? Later on the influx of the dirty, drug-consuming, sex-starved detritus of the Western world changed their perception dramatically. Now they look down on them with mild amusement or detest them outright. If you are a businessman, dress accordingly, their approach differs hugely and is usually quite deferential – nobody should be fooled by their nice smiles, though.

Reading the papers I am really surprised by the many young foreigner deaths from overdosing. So his description of one of them floating down the Battambang river every month or so doesn’t seem exaggerated at all.

There is a lot of introspective ruminating, sometimes to the point of being depressing, but it distinguishes this book from a mere crime novel making it a very thoughtful read. One thing is absolutely true – the belief in ghosts and the afterlife is omnipresent in Khmer society.

I was not quite happy with the ending, especially concerning the Khmer girls in the story. I don’t believe either one would act or react that way, especially the daughter after a very distressing experience towards the end.

Despite all this, it is eminently readable.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Disposal of an Unwelcome Patient

This happened a while ago in Phnom Penh. In short: A drunk soldier riding on his motorbike in Tuol Kork in Phnom Penh hit the median divider and crashed. An ambulance took him to Calmette where they determined the patient had died.
The ambulance then took him back to the exact site of the accident and placed the dead body at the spot on the road where it happened and where the family was still gathered.
My personal guess is that the hospital told the ambulance to take the body to the family so they could prepare for the burial. Those dumb drivers then just dropped him back on the road.