Phnom Penh Pub Page – June 2014

This month’s Pub Page almost became a restaurant review or a movie review or a “I am too lazy to type anything but the letter ‘a’ page; I am not certain if the Evil Publisher’s small heart grew three sizes that day, if the ghost of Christmas future had visited him or if he just had a brain fart – but he paid me in advance for this article – there goes the last vestiges of motivation or quality control J But then I ran into the Hunchback sipping tea with some New York banker type at Sharky Bar and he somehow convinced me to get my ass onto a few bar stools and pretend that being surrounded by pretty girls is somehow a motivating factor in my life – actually he just threatened to throw me down the stairs and break open the mostly unscarred side of my face but I am not supposed to talk about that.

So what happened this month – a lot of parties – and I went to none of them – I even got invited to a couple but could not be arsed – love those cash advances – by the way SKIRTS. Some news to start with I guess – ho hum…. Candy Bar closed – and reopened in another confusing 136 st episode up there with 136 Bar moving to 130 st . Candy which had originally been located 2 stores over before taking over the old Huxley’s space, has now moved back to its old digs and seemingly vaporized Swinger bar. I understand the staff has been distributed amongst the 136 st conglomerate’s other establishments. Good luck tracking down your favourites. I wonder if we will get another hostess bar in that space.

Swiss Cam Food – in Golden Sorya Mall – seems to have expanded – I guess they got tired of people walking through other bars and stopping before they could get all the way to Swiss so they now have taken over another stall with street access and added it to their collection of units.

Vixen Bar on 104 st has changed hands – it is now owned by an ex cashier out of Zanzibar – great tunes, new management was friendly – no substantive changes that I noticed except to the staff – I will give it another try.

While not directly bar related, I think I have to mention the passing of Chuck Norris Dim Sum – the coolest dim sum place in the world has left the building – I can only assume the local hot dog carts took Chuck down so they could regain my early morning drunken munchies business.

In terms of bars, given that I had already been paid, I just lazily wandered by some hostess bars this month. My tour started with DV8 Bar. I had not been there for a while and will probably give it a pass for a bit longer – the place was basically empty when I arrived and the over eager bar staff just cranked me the wrong way. Don’t get me wrong, it is good to see the staff eagerly trying to entertain a customer and get some business but the cacophony drove me out without even finishing my drink – even the bartender apologized. I was surrounded by hostesses who each took turns asking the same question or confirming the answers I had just given. After about 5 rounds of this I gave up.

That does not win for the oddest experience of the night – I went to the enticingly named Same Same No Different Bar – I mean how can you resist an establishment that promises you absolutely no reason to go there as opposed to its competitors. Well it turns out there is a difference – perhaps the absolute dumbest question I have ever been asked as an opening line in a hostess bar “Do you speak Thai” – really – the first thing after the staff member got my order was that? I thought perhaps I was drunker than I had any right to be and was either mumbling in tongues or had shifted countries when I only meant to change streets. I figured it would only get worse from there so I left. Strike two – I think I need to head down to Martini and forget all this hard work.

How to fill the rest of the Pub Page this month???? Ok – the laziest possible thing would be a montage but difficult to really get the drunken blurry lens effect on paper – instead a quick round up – Rose Bar/Calvary Bar – getting pretty pricey and still REALLY loud – but both had friendly and helpful staff and quite large numbers of them. Pretty Woman – definitely a well deserved name – and certainly more alluring than “Broken Air Con Bar’ which would have been equally well deserved. Oasis – not sure what is happening over there but it has been packed the few times I have tried to go in lately – as in almost every seat taken – surprisingly un-rowdy (yes I know that is not a word but I don’t want to bother thinking of a real one). 104 Bar – alternates between being completely dead or completely swamped – still a lot of fun (most of the time). Starlight – on 110 st – had not been in here ages – seems to have a good regular group of customers enjoying themselves (they are quite noisy) – will have to put this on the rotation.

That is about it – motivation has expired – even the Hunchback could not get any more investigative reporting out of me this month.

BP behind explosion in Takhmau?

No this not the BP of the infamous Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but your very own BP Bayon Pearnik after its feature last October on Kandal’s Black Grandfather provincial capital.

It seems there are now many more visitors especially foreigners, probably taking advantage of the “beer wars” that gives you a jug of Angkor for as little as 5,000 riels (US$1.25). And if you do over-imbibe and need a rest, the “guesthouse wars” mean no problem finding a bed any time of the day or night! There is a proliferation of new guesthouses. Two have replaced the former garment girls’ ghettoes that stood empty since the demise of the Yung Wah factory – the one that housed the sun bears! And to accompany this uptake, the town has added three new banks to the existing four. They must be expecting new business with the new Chinese bridge across the Tonle Bassac about to open.

Takhmau’s cosmopolitan credentials, that already boast Pizza Company and Lucky Supermarket, now have its first classy café -bar “Nexión”, rather peculiarly located in a back street. Three Khmer owners have been inspired by Phnom Penh’s burgeoning coffee culture. They serve Italian coffee, cocktails at $2.50, and a half yard of Tiger Beer while some young acoustic musicians try to entertain themselves. (Facebook – connexion.coffee.pub)

A more traditional restaurant, “99c”, turn left at Westland School on the main road, has an enterprising Australian Cambodian owner, Channa invites any BP reader to go there for a meal, and he will give you your first drink free!

Cockroach Corner – June 2014

UNICEF. How much! We are all used to the outrageous amounts of money UN agencies lavish on themselves now Myanmar is experiencing the aid bubble. Last week The Irrawaddy reported that the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) is paying an exorbitant fee for its Rangoon office, which it rents from Nyunt Tin, a former general in Burma’s previous military junta. The next week, Unicef clarified the matter. It said it paid a “steep rental” of $87,000 per month. “However the rent is fixed for 7 years and it is a competitive commercial price in a tough market,” the agency said, adding, “Some international agencies have had to pay considerably more than our $2.9 per square foot for suitable space.” Nice to see your tax dollars at work!

The government in principal have agreed to take Australian boat people as refugees. The latest plan, which Australia has staunchly defended since news leaked out, has come under criticism by international rights groups who point to Cambodia’s weak infrastructure, insufficient social services and spotty human rights record. Of 68 asylum seekers or refugees already living in Cambodia most are desperate to be relocated to another country, welfare groups say. They have not being given work permits so they cannot work officially and they cannot open bank accounts or send money overseas, meaning laws and regulations will have to be changed to give greater rights to any refugees arriving under the Australian agreement However the Cambodian government is reviewing the terms of the proposal (meaning give us more dosh).

Phnom Penh Prison Diary – Part 2

A serialised story of the judicial system and its processes in Cambodia. A work of complete fiction. Any resemblance to people alive, dead or locked up is purely coincidental.

I am handcuffed to the back of a police pickup truck on a wooden bench. I have no idea where Prey Sar prison is located, but I am told the journey is around 40 minutes. After three days of police and court nonsense, the court has managed to prove beyond all reasonable doubt, that the system is total bollocks.

I am now to be held on pre-trial detention, while my case is to be investigated. In truth, I have no idea what is going on. The British embassy did bring me a list of local lawyers and a paperback book. The list of lawyers may be quite helpful if I wanted to open a soup restaurant or a hostess bar, but for criminal case, it is a worthless box ticking document. The paperback book is slightly less useless, but I have now read it three times.

We drive across the city from the central police station, near the Intercontinental, along streets 271and 721, past what was, three days earlier, my home and out towards the killing fields. The city falls away to the familiar Khmer countryside, palm trees, fields of rice and a potholed gravel road, lined with discarded plastic bags.

We arrive at the prison compound, the 5m walls are topped with broken bottles and razor wire, guard towers spaced at regular intervals, each with a single guard and an AK47. The truck stops outside a massive green metal gate, a smaller door opens to the main guardhouse and the visitors area. I am taken inside the guardhouse and my police escorts leave.

With the instincts of a magpie, one of the guards searches my trouser pockets, where an hour earlier, I had placed $80 handed to me by my girlfriend. I am briefly left to my own devices while the guards aggressively discuss the redistribution of my recently received wealth. Only after the excitement, and the money, passes does a guard return to ask for my name and the details of my case.

I am taken through the guardhouse and the visitors area, which is a group of concrete tables, the type designed to look like noddy trees, in a quiet, well maintained garden. It is lunchtime, everything is silent, there is no sign of other prisoners. On through another green metal door set in another 5m high wall, the scene changes dramatically.

It is a large site, at least one square kilometre – a wasteland with some buildings – but no people. I am escorted left, to the prison “hospital”, I am met by a medical professional who’s eyes are pointing in alarmingly different directions, he simultaneously measures my weight and height before I am escorted away.

There is still no sign of other prisoners as we approach one of three cell blocks, a massive two story concrete box for keeping people, measuring around 100m x 30m. I hear the first signs of other life, the combined hum of 1000 voices shouting, banging and drumming. I have arrived at block A, which is the remand or pre-trial block. As the door is opened, I feel a wave of heat, noise and the stench of shit and rotting garbage.

I am taken into one of 48 cells, this one containing 24 prisoners in a space of 5m x 4m, which includes a hole in the floor bathroom, with a small water tank half full of brown water. There are no locks and doors as prisoners are allowed out to exercise or work. I am taken to meet the block chief, this time I have the help of an American Khmer translator, named Tank, one of many incompetent fixers who are generally best avoided – but I am new blood.

I am offered the one-time opportunity to move to a so called VIP cell, where for a convenient monthly fee, the number of prisoners will be limited to only 16 and I will be allowed to have an electric fan and sometimes electricity. I wonder how I got to be so lucky and accept the upgrade as if I had just been bumped from cattle to business class. I concede to the fact that, within hours, I am now $50 in debt for the move and $30 more for my first VIP monthly payment.

On the plus side, however, my new cell is less crowded, cleaner and an arrangement of electric fans helps keep the hot air moving. The bathroom is the same, a little less filthy but it also has the same brown water tank. I am allocated a sleeping space on the floor, between the bathroom and the cell door, which means that whenever the door is open, I must pack away my bedding and move. I will spend my first sleepless night, shoulder to shoulder with prisoners either side and four hammocks suspended inches above me.

Another prisoner explains that bottled water must be purchased for showering, cooking and laundry the cost is 1,000r for 18ltr. The standard blue 20ltr drinking water must also be purchased for 5,000r. Water will cost around $30 per month, ten times my household bill, I calculate that the prison water business is worth $90k per month, or $1.08m per year – a sole water company has the contract. We are locked down at 4:00pm, some prisoners secrete mobile phones while others crack out the ice. A portable DVD player is showing back to back porn, featuring an alarmingly high proportion of animals.

The porn, drug and gambling marathon continues through the night while I read my embassy paperback, again. I finally manage fall to sleep around 3:00am only to wake at 5:00am to the early morning noise and the awful reality of where I am. This starts with a strange pumping sound, a kind of sucking, followed by a splash, it’s not the porn, I hear the same noise coming from other cells, through the plumbing.

I can now see in the early morning light, a young guy drawing brown water through a homemade hand pump for the toilet tank. There is not enough water for every cell, so this early morning milk race is essential to prevent the problem of unflushed toilets later in the day. I start my second day, tired and not only broke, but in debt.

Normally, prisoners are not permitted visitors during the first month, however, for a small $40 charge, it would be possible for my girlfriend to meet me briefly with food and much needed funds. We spend an hour together, before we are given the option to extend the visit for another small fee. I decline. My girlfriend will return later in the week with more supplies, but for now, she has to find a new home for herself.

I set off for my cell, only to discover yet another scam, between the visiting area and block A, there are six gates or doors. Each is staffed by guards wanting to check any supplies, which were already checked at the front gate. The choice is simple, pay 2,000 to every guard, or they take some of your food. Another $3, the scam reminds me of watching traffic police extorting truck drivers at every intersection – over time, it mounts up.

The prison provides two meals per day, these arrive in large aluminium buckets, one of nasty rice, often burned and another with nasty soup of the day. Normally nasty pork fat, otherwise nasty fish head – it all stinks. I learn the rice is deliberately over produced, more than half goes uneaten. This isn’t careless public sector waste, it is carefully planned public sector waste. Guards have prisoners dry the uneaten rice on mats in the sun, to be sold on to pig farmers as feed. All money going to prison officers, the benefit for prisoners? Flies. Millions of flies.

I later learn that there is also a similar pig and fish scam. The prison orders a certain amount of pork or fish every day, rather than steal the meat, there is an agreement with the supplier to short deliver. For example, 300kg of pork may be ordered and signed for, but only 200kg delivered. The missing 100kg is paid for by the department of prisons and the supplier and the prison guards can split the cash – around $400k per annum. Along with theft in the kitchen, finding a prime pork nugget in your bucket, is far less likely than finding prisoners taking their pick of three taxi girls waiting in the cell – but that is, a story for another time.

The sad result of malnutrition and days locked in overcrowded cells is a sickness which I am told is called beri-beri, or something. Affected prisoners cannot walk unaided, more able bodied detainees help the sick to walk in large circles in the grounds, literally lending a shoulder to lean on.

The first western prisoner I meet is Mark, he is a friendly, intelligent Australian (yes they found one and locked him up), he appears at the hatch in my cell door with a can of Fanta, demanding that I be allowed my exercise. In just 60 seconds, I learned more four letter words than I knew existed – but it got me out of my cell for some exercise.

Mark, was arrested two months before myself. He was charged with buying sex from his wife, who was currently missing, along with their baby and the baby sitter. All three were snatched by a well-known NGO with Hollywood connections and were now detained in a secret NGO detention center or shelter – depending on whether your perspective is as a donor or a hostage.

This NGO was subsequently exposed for lying to donors – several times. His Khmer mother in law was now frantically trying to trace the location of her daughter, however nobody, not even the police, knew where they were being held. It seems that the new anti-human trafficking law allows a certain latitude for kidnapping and illegal detention.

Eventually, much later, the girls were released from NGO captivity after months of imprisonment, having been subjected to a number of intrusive physical examinations, as well as being coerced by NGO staff. Years later, they are now all free and living, once again as a family.

I sit with Mark on a curb stone, which is in the shade of the building. He introduces me to a number of other foreign prisoners and I start to realise that my lawyer hasn’t been entirely honest with me, over time, I will get to hear each of their stories and how, guilty or innocent, the system has taken everything along with their freedom.

I learn also the purpose of block A, which is to apply maximum stress, in order to extort the most money, before the courts can. Cells are searched at least three times every week, personal belongings ransacked and thrown around the cell. Anything can be taken and sold back to you – even money is against the rules, Khmer prisoners often trusting foreigners with their cash or the guards will take it.

It has now been several weeks since I arrived at Prey Sar, I have not seen my absent minded and absent bodied lawyer – who not only failed to arrive on the first and all subsequent Mondays but neglected to inform me that pre-trial detention can last up to 18 months and that during this period, nothing will be investigated.

After hearing number of negative reviews of my current lawyer, mostly regarding high fees, theft and an absence of communication, I reluctantly decide to meet a second lawyer, who is recommended to me by a friendly Malaysian named Robert, who’s crime was running a business importing casino equipment but he had failed to pay the vip and was now in prison. The lawyer is a mature lady, who’s gold teeth seem to be causing some kind of speech impediment, she bubbles and fizzes (at the mouth) as she talks – I find this strangely disturbing. However, she seems friendly and keen to represent me.

The case file includes a number of photographs submitted by a fruity NGO from which the initial statements and conflicting stories were based. None of the photos are date or time stamped, inadmissible in the real world, however, one of the alleged victims stated that the time was 17:00 hours, just before the alleged crime. Or crimes. Or just before nothing happened (depending on which statement you read). I had previously hired a professional photographer to re-create the same scene, at 12:00 midday and again at 17:00hours. My instinct was right, shadows in the fruity NGO photos prove that the time was in fact between 12:00 and 13:00, not at 17:00 as stated.

At this time, I was self-employed, working UK time – 13:00 to 22:00 Cambodia time, computer records and documents, in the post from England, would prove this. My new lawyer helpfully informed me that this is an alibi.

To be continued.

Bits From The Beach – June 2014

Sihanoukville now has its own radio station only available thru the internet at present. In the future it will be on FM. Radiosiahnoukville.com has DJs from the local expat community some of whom are rather good. They have had some teething problems which included having their site hacked into and the Russian owner of all the equipment decided to withdraw all his equipment in the middle of a show. The station was off air for a few days while new equipment was shipped down from PP. All is good now so tune in.

As the place slowly gets busier year after year people’s plans and lifestyle change and in the past month two well known establishments have changed hands. Coolabah and Reef Resort both have new owners. Coolabah still has high standards and Reef Resort is in the process of transition with Tim still there for the next month to ensure a smooth handover.

Sihanoukville International Bike Festival 30 May – 1 June at Queenco Casino will be over by the time you read this. We haven’t heard a lot about it. One local expat emailed them about a stand but didn’t get a reply!

Antanov on the roof An update on the new car show room on Victory the first floor is just about complete with some amazing cars on show. The second floor is going to be a jewellery floor specializing in diamonds and the top floor where the Antanov now sits will be a hotel.

The power of the internet and social media sites especially make the world and Cambodia a smaller place. A recent renter of a bar absconded without paying his bills but he has been immediately tracked down to another town in Cambodia. And his future employers in said town are already aware of his burnt bridges in Snooky.

As the season slows right down on the coast the building work seems to have increased it would seem we need more apartment blocks and hotels. Well I guess the hotels have been very full over the last few months but would you make enough money in those months to see you thru the rainy season. with so many coming on line it’s hard to see how you can. But if the rumours of the airport accepting international flights from three regional hubs to be true then bingo, maybe. Somebody has defiantly given the green light for investment in Snooky to begin on a bigger scale maybe just maybe the airport will go International.

Snooky police car Snooky police department have a new toy! Completely impractical the worst gas guzzler on the planet. We suspect donated by the Ruskies as nobody in their right mind would want to run one. To be fair policing down here has improved dramatically in the last few months but this is not the type of improvements they need.

Dao of Life which is located in between downtown & Victory Hill is one of the few Vegetarian restaurants around. This one has some tasty options and they also have just started yoga classes up stairs on their breezy terrace.

Pop down for a break. It’s nice and breezy at the moment with a few rain showers to keep a lid on the temperature.