Traveling alone is, to be brief, very weird. You get to see a handful of strange things as you're just silently overlooking a riverside balcony: the little kids that hound you at every turn with a basketful of books strapped to their sides begin to act like kids, playing hide and seek behind tuk-tuks and motos and darting in and out and dangerously callous traffic; you see the harrassing call of moto drivers and their incessant hounding of any Westerner that leaves a cafe of restauruant; you can look in on a neighboring cafe-cum-brothel and watch the pale shaved heads of foreign men being leaned upon by petite and uncomprehending Cambodian women. And I'm just sipping my coffe and looking out at all the weird shit happening below.
Speaking of thinly-veiled brothels, the pub advertised as Martini sounds great on paper: a beer garden-type place, with a bar, an open-air seating section that shows movies on a big screen, and cheap little bites (from nachos to pizza to fried noodles) to grab at any time.
What that lying son of a bitch paper won't tell you is that Martini is little more than one of those "special" massage parlors, only here, it pretends to be a bar (albeit with a unqiue movie-showing gimmick). To be fair, the piece of paper in question was my Lonely Planet guide, and while it did indeed state clearly that there were working girls at this beer garden, it was (even by my liberal if nascent prostituion-measuring standards) pretty ridiculous.
Walking in, I was patted down by security, but despite a rather thick brick of a book being in my pocket, and my pocket knife dangling from the patented Matt Smith™ belt-buckling carbiner, I had no problems at the door. As soon as you walk in, though, you see it: it's like some kind of late-night picnic, but not in the fun, haha, flashlight tag and potato salad kind of way: it's like a late-night picnic, but with hookers. Lots of 'em.
So you walk, slowly and distractedly, toward the bar, taking in the scene: one ABC Stout, my good man, you may say to the bartender, and, beer in hand, you turn to look for a seat amid the massage madness, but all you see are foreign men getting neck rubs from one woman, their arm draped around another and even (for the truly brave) a third girl bouncing on their knee.
I sat alone, drinking my beer and watching the end of some insane Hong Kong action movie. I wanted to see what was up next, and it was X2, and trouble.
Like mosquitos converging on a sweaty fat man rolling in bacon, it was only a matter of time before I had a few girls grabbing my arm, asking "you wan baa rub?", and the inevitable exclamations on my size. They had just put on X2, and dammit, I wanted to watch it. And watch it I did, despite Rénee and her cohorts. Rénee appeared out of nowhere and seemed to take a real shine to me, despite our having just met, because she immediately sat down next to me and invovled my arm in some kind of Cambodian death grip. This alone wasn't so much a problem, but it was the hand I was using to drink, so on top of being awkward and illegal, it was also rude.
"Excuse me, Rénee," I said, rolling that r inanely and shifting my beer to my right hand, "I ... um, I have a girlfriend. No, no want back rub." A little squirming and pulling, "please ... LET GO ... of my arm ... thank you." Right about now, Magneto was escaping from prison, and it's a cool part of the movie, so naturally, I was watching it. "Hey, you like TV more than me, why? Ahh, nevermind! I so hungry, hungry for rice," Rénee pouted. Each complaint followed a tugging on my arm, which meant less attention on Magento. This was a bad thing. "I'm sure there are a ton of guys here who would just love to buy you some rice, Rénee." Roll that r! She got the message, I got another beer, and stayed to finish X2.
I saw four Chinese girls walk in, smoking cigarettes and talkiing on expensive mobile phones: patrons, I guessed rightly, some Taiwanese girls that "knew the boss," one of the waiters (an English student in the afternoon who works a day and night job to get by) told me. In the distance, I heard them speaking Mandarin; I worked over the lines a few times in my head, a nice little Chinese opener that wouldn't fool them into thinking I could actually speak putonghua but was just good enough to catch their eye. Alas, I couldn't get up the courage to talk to them, I shrugged it off as four less drinks I'd have to buy, and got back to watching the movie.
Just as the film was going into high-action climax, I was accosted by two more girls, one of them clearly impatient: "You know you me go boom boom any time one hour?" Aw, shucks, that's awfully sweet of you, Faceless Cambodian Prostitute #274. As I got back to the movie, another girl edged closer, introducing herself as Jessica, and she began to speak English that went beyond what appeared to be the limited English vocabulary of the sex trade. She taught me a few words in Cambodian (thank you: a hunh, hello: so si'dye), and I genuinely began talking to her. She kept apologizing for her "little English," but consdiering the circumstances, it was remarkable how she could keep a conversation going. She said she liked school, but "school in Cambodia, no." I didn't know if that meant there was no school or if she wasn't able to get in, but I'm guessing it has something to do with economics: an education is so secondary when you consider that just surviving can be an exhausting day's work. The movie ended and I got up to go, encouraging Jessica to find a way to practice her English and get a "good" job. She had really sympathetic eyes, and I think she knew exactly what I meant.
How have we let the world get this way? What policies grounded in greed, exclusion, and explotation have made some people so rich and others so awfully, disgustingly poor and desperate? In a world of multi-trillion dollar budgets and billions of dollars squandered on fighting wars and killing people, when will we as a race take a step back and re-evaluate our priorities? Travel overseas, witness real desperation and poverty, put a face on that poverty, see what it does to people, and then tell me I'm dreaming, that I'm asking for some hippy fantasty world where we spend that money on more food and more medicene. By all means, let's drink Coke and build another bomb.
Ah, it wouldn't be me without a half-assed left-field political rant. Enough for now. Tomorrow I go to Siem Reap and see what I came to see: the temples of Angkor.