I wake from my nap before we go out to the club of choice. I decide to to go upstairs to have a drink before I call on my friends. As I go up I remember that there was supposed to be an independent movie shown (The hotel has an art gallery as well). As I turn the corner I see several people at the bar mostly guys and one woman. They are waiting for the show. I take a seat and order a drink from a new batch of shapely barmaids. There is light conversation amongst us. Suddenly there is thunder heard in the distance. I look up and see nothing but dark skies. I keep hearing it but I ignore it. Then, out of nowhere it starts. As if I blinked my eyes and everything changed. Theres rain everywhere. It comes very loud and relentless. The wind starts to blow and the furniture around the outdoors bar start to move.
I look around in amazement. It's like a trillion hammers hitting everything everywhere. I stay at the bar for about an hour but it looks bleak for our evening. I go back to my room as we are slowly getting soaked at the bar by occaisional stray droplets. It's 11:30pm and it's coming down in buckets. I'm wide awake, what do I do now? I settle down to open my computer to maybe start my journal and it gets quiet. I look outside and it is pin drop silent. Erie! I say to myself, ooookaaaay so this is what monsoon season is like. I call my friends on our walkie talkies. Tash is still under but she wants to get out. We hook up in 20mins. We wave and walk past the guard out to the street that is so quiet it is almost unreal. No tuk tuks waiting for fares outside. We have to walk to the main street. The ground is slick from the rain and the smell seems almost fresh from it. Almost. We get to the familiar traffic circle and see a few straggling motorbikes but no tuk tuks. We stand on the corner and know that sooner or later we will see one because we stand out like sore thumbs. Within minutes he comes. We tell him "Martinis" and a look of recognition comes to his face. He says "ahhh, Mah tee neez", with a smile. We say "yes" in unison. We negotiate a price and jump in. He turns around and heads the opposite direction. We go through the old French Quarter where the once sprawling mansionesque estates are dillapidated and worn down. We are the only ones out it seems. In the back of my mind I wonder about being set up or going down the wrong street. After many twists and turns we finally arrive at the club. If you can call it that. It doesn't resemble one from the outside. As we approach I see three armed guards in uniform out front. They have to be off duty police officers or military. There are several other drivers outside waiting for their fares. We ask ours to wait also. As we exit the tuk tuk I look at what looks like the corner house in a back alley. As we get out I think that it is unusually quiet for a night club. Strange. They check our passports and we go through a very dark and dingy walkway and then we hear voices and music in the background. I get the smell of good food and see light up ahead. We emerge to find several picnic benches in an open space and a bar on a stagelike platform on the left. There is a diner window in the far right and the music is coming from inside another building to the extreme left. Several local girls are talking and looking at the three of us as we walk in. We are definitely different than the regulars that come through there. Tash, is 5'7", thin, Afro-Am mix with Caucasian, Mulatto. Wayne is a muscular, 6'2" Indian from Goa. I am a thicker muscular 6', dark skinned Afro-Am with sharp features and dreadlocks. Not the normal visitors here. We get lots of attention and everyone stops and looks. They all watch as we find bar stools and order drinks. I peer out and do my who's who thing. I spot several more armed security guards and it makes me wonder what has jumped off here in the past. As I look around I notice that there are many more women than men. Stranger still is the constant saloon door happenings where the music is coming from. People are constantly walking in and out. We get our familiar Angkor beer and I see a few girls looking our way. My friends say go for it. I shake my head and say they are not for me. They urge me to go inside of the "Music room" I say no and they say they will go too. Maybe I was a little hesitant but I say, "Cool, let's all go". We walk inside past one girl who looks at me as if I were lunch to find it even darker inside. I sit by the bar as two girls sit next to me. They are really close and bump me occasionally. I think that it's on purpose. Tash needs food and whispers to me that her and Wayne are going back outside to grab something to eat. I stay and sip my beer and I start talking to the girls next to me. I find out they are a couple. I look around to see several other girls on the dance floor doing some form of dance with absolutely no rythym... at all. I hold in my laughter and look around at the other westerners in the joint. I hold a conversation with two German guys who are here on business. They eye a few girls on the dance floor, look at me, smile and move in on them. There are 3 to 1 in here. Perfect odds for anyone. I'm just chillin' taking it all in. It all seems very foreign and surreal to me still. Must be the malaria pills, beer and jet lag combined. I continue talking with the two next two me with limited understanding either way. I buy them drinks and then another very attractive girl comes up to me and try to vie for my attention. The two get territorial and say something to her in Khmer and she gets pissed and leaves. I find out later that the Khmer women are very respectful to women who are obviously with their man. They purposely ignore Wayne because of Tash but they can see I am single. I also find out later in the trip that they are VERY territorial and sometimes violent when it comes to their men. A few more walk by and eye me for attention. Then it hits me like a Mac truck. @#$&% !! We're in a brothel!!! My eyes widened and I casually excused myself to go alert my fellow cohorts. I've had great nights before but this got to be too over the top. I catch up with Wayne and Tash to tell them what I found out. They say "Yeah we figured it out while sitting here". I look at them surprised that they knew. They say, "We were just gonna see if you figured it out before we finished eating". Wayne tells Tash that he won the bet. It threw me off because it looked like a regular night club and not your typical idea of a brothel. Then a guard comes up to me and asks if I want a women. I say, "uhh, naw man I'm cool". I can only assume he understood what I meant by that. Then he asks if I like ladyboys. I say "Hell no" in a louder voice. My bravado found its way to the surface because I was stunned at the ease in which he said it. I later thought about the region we were in and that lifestyle is entirely normal here. He looks sorry that he offended me. I ease up and let him know it is ok. Then he asks if I want Thai bud. I'm more surprised. This guy doesn't quit. I decline but think to my self "back in my ganjha days I would have jumped on it". We ARE right here next to Thailand. I can only imagine the reaction of my friends who indulge back home and how they would have responded if they had this opportunity. After they finish eating we decide to make an adventure of it and go back inside to check it out with an open mind. None of us has ever witnessed anything like this before but we were up for the experience. I have to admit it felt weird though. We watch as some of the guys pick out girls and leave. I see a lone Nigerian guy that comes and leaves almost immediately with the attractive one that approached me before. We sip more beer and are relieved to not see any potential slave laborers. That would have pissed us all off and as we disscussed later. I am confident that we would have called the authorities. Anyway, judging from the guards they are way too organized for that kind of activity here. Everyone seems to be happy and having a good time. We eventually leave and go back to the hotel to pack for our flight to Siem Reap
in the morning. We talk about our experience on the way home and I am thinking to myself, "Man, this is just the second day of a eighteen day trip, what could possibly be next"? FYI: -There has been a very successful movement to combat slave, child labor and prostitution in this country headed by American, British, French and local Cambodian organizations. It is a widespread problem in Southeast Asian countires but thankfully, it is rapidly declining. -The guy who originally mentioned Martinis to us, apologized the next morning thinking that he thought we knew what was going on from our earlier conversation. We took it in stride because we learned something. - Walkie Talkies are a good way to communicate with friends when traveling in foreign countries and cheaper than cell phones. I discovered this on my first trip to Prague. I advise the ones that can accomodate earpiece microphones because they are more private. -When you raise your voice or point to a Cambodian it is considered a form of disrespect.
The alarm goes off. I wake to hear skuttling around outside my room. I look outside to see a few of the girls from the hotel check-in and bar outside my window. I notice they are in front of a washer. Just my luck. The washroom is right outside one of my windows. They notice me and I realize I'm standing in the window in my underwear with morning glory. I close the curtain and hear giggling and talking in Khmer. The too small curtains do not close all the way. Funny, I didn't notice that the night before. I take a shower that was an experience in itself trying to get the water to flow right. It's one of those cool ass shower heads that have several different spouts for the water streams. I get splashed in the eye a few times before I get it right but it was a damn good shower. I get dressed to meet my fellow partners in crime at the upstairs Bar/Restaurant/Reception desk. I found out later that this type of set up is quite normal for Cambodia. The girls from outside my window are there. I choose a barstool and take a seat. I get treated well all morning. All good. One good thing I notice about the people in cambodia is that you will seldom see an ounce of fat on any of them. I smile, make small talk, flirt a little and start eating when my food arrives. As close to a bacon and egg sandwich as I will get here in Cambodia. They have great food there by the way. It was actually quite good. My friends Wayne and Tash show up and ask how I slept. I leave it simple and say "good". Then we plan the day. We decide on the local museum and hire a tuk tuk driver and take video of the locals as we ride along. We get there and it's a really cool place. Our excursion officially begins here. The museum is filled with authentic pieces from the temples of the Northern region where we are headed the next day. We get some great shots and I notice a woman pretending to stare at a buddah statue from behind her sunglasses. I play the game and look elsewhere and ignore her. She finds her way near me and I say hello. Elise is her name. She is a french teacher (she would be) on a one month paid holiday by herself. They get much better benefits than the teachers in the U.S. She seems nice enough and nice on my eyes so I introduce her to my friends. We all chat and decide to go to Metro Cafe for lunch. She has hired a motorbike driver for the day. He is waiting for her so she chooses to ride with him. We chat about her on the ride there. My friends are needling me but I brush it off. We get to the cafe and the food was great. The locals are cool and the scene was interesting with the business travelers on their computers networking with others. We talk of the state of injustice in this country's past, present, possible future and how it affects what's going on there today. I notice the more we talk about it the more she whispers. I don't want to make her uncomfortable so I change the subject. Who knows who is listening. Members of Pol Pot's ex-Khmer Rouge Regime are high ranking officials in the government today and are known to be corrupt. Metro is probably the most popular upscale internet hotspot in Phnom Pehn so its best to cool the political correctness. I find out that she is going north to the same place we are -Siem Reap-. She is down in Phnom Pehn for a few days before going back there and on to the sandy beaches of Malaysia and Thailand. She jots down her hotel info and when she will be back there. I make no promises, pay for her lunch and we all walk out. As we get in our tuk tuk a teen carrying a infant comes up to us out of no where and asks for a hand out. We don't respond as she surprises us then suddenly she lashes out as if to scare us or make us jump. We are both stunned at her actions and I look at the young girl as if she is nuts. And that changes the mood. I look to my right to see Elise on the back of the motorbike. As she rides off she smiles as if to make a lasting impression. I smile back. Vive le France. I have her info if I need it later. We move on. We go back to the hotel to drop Tash off. She is not feeling well. She thinks it's the Malaria pills we have to take. Funny, I felt like I was gonna die when I took my first one the night before. Man, you talk about side effects. Headaches, increased heart rate and shortness of breath are common. I felt like I was suffocating and my head would explode. But Tash isn't taking it as well as myself and Wayne did. She is in a bad way. Wayne and I leave her to rest and go to the open air market and then to the Palace to take some pics. It's hot and we are tired but we only have today here before flying out tomorrow. We finish and go back to the hotel to get rest and check on Tash before going out tonight. "Martinis" is our chosen playground for the night. We hope Tash will feel better. FYI: -The French had once colonized Cambodia during Napoleons era. Today there are still major visual, cultural and social influences from the French throughout the country that still exist. -Cambodia still struggles with educating their children as the government seemingly does not invest much in educating their people and are careful not to teach of their recent history with the Khmer Rouge Regime (Research Pol Pot's ethnic cleansing of it's own Khmer people). -Lots of NGO's (Non-Governmental Organizations or Non-Profits) are there to help but some have corrupt administrators. They rely heavily on foreign volunteers both paid and those who pay them for room and board and the experience of volunteer work to operate.