Cockroach Corner – September 2014

Australian confusion. It is all rather confusing on the aussie front at the moment. First we have the multi million dollar refugee deal and rumours had it that the Australians were looking for an island site (well that’s no better than where they are now) which apparently will now be onshore. Then we get the announcement that they will be shipping ten thousand head of live cattle to the kingdom. A day later there is a debacle about an abattoir they need. I mean really for which deal?

The day after someone pops up and says they are building a modern abattoir that can handle 3000 cattle a day! That would make it one of the largest in the world. But judging from the photo it seems to be a small row of shop houses which couldn’t handle 100 a day. Smells of bullshit to me or maybe they want the refugees to work there!

Another labour. Tons of questions have been asked but no concrete answers have come forth in the labour card debacle. The ministries don’t really seem to know what they are doing/or won’t say at the moment and for good reason. In 1996 the law was introduced. If you got one it entitled you to get the one year visa for $150. I know I got one for that price. The employer is responsible for providing it not the employee (take note teachers).

The problem lies in the fact that a certain ministry could lose millions in tea money every year. $150 versus $285 multiplied by god knows how many thousands a year soon adds up. When the turf war ends some concrete rules may come forth.

Just announced as we were going to press: There will be no backdating of penalties as long as you get a card before the end of the year. Ministries are now looking at creating a new type of visa for non working people and retirees.
So pop down to the Ministry of Labour and see what they have to say. Should be amusing if not confusing!

Sold up the river again. Ding ding round three! FUNCINPEC seem to be at it again. After two cases allegedly involving selling the party headquarters for personal gain in the recent past. It’s now gone again along with two provincial offices. Everyone is blaming everyone else as usual and it seems some do not know where the new offices will be! It’s a secret! No wonder why they didn’t get a single seat at the election!

Holiday alert! Please remember the 23rd and 24th are national holidays and will probably screw up the whole week. If you have something important to do around that time best bet is try and move the date!

Phnom Penh Pub Page – September 2014

Is there a month that is not odd at the Pub Page? I have been struggling with hitting the bars this month as I was recovering from my grievous research related injuries, when the Evil Publisher reminded me that the Pub Page was due and made it clear that no excuses were permitted. Since I hurt myself last time, I was told I needed the Hunchback to supervise/babysit me on my rounds this month. However, when I go out with the Hunchback, all the girls focus on him so I was forced to slip the ankle monitor, scoot under the razor wire and somehow escaping detection, hit a few bars. My drinking arm is mostly healed so I was able to do a few “raise the glass” curls as part of my physiotherapy.

Before I get to bars that I imbibed at, the pub page would like to pay its respects to Chuck Norris Dim Sum R.I.P. Pretend there is a moment of silence now – best late night snacks on 51 st have hit the dust.

On a happier note, there is a new place that should be open around when this article is published – Templar bar at 377 Sisowath Quay just a bit south of the FCC. It is/will be a wine/cocktail/champagne/ whiskey bar (I would have just said bar and not named each major type of beverage served but I am going with the press release provided). It is being opened by the notorious Rob Huxley famed for the eponymous Huxley’s but equally renowned around town for his tours at Sharky (way back in the day), Shanghai and most recently Cavern (where he also got to play with a lot of sausages). I was told there will be food available with a BBQ on weekends and with my fond recollections of Rob’s version of the Shanghai BBQ, I am already drooling in anticipation.

Wondering around this month, I was intrigued by 179 Bar on St 172. It was not the friendly staff sitting outside that got my attention, nor the exterior decor – it was the fact that they were clearly named 172 bar at some point but someone decided it needed a name change and pasted a ‘9’ over the ‘2’. Clearly the bar was in disguise and I wanted to see if it had something to hide. It was actually a fairly nice set up inside – despite the wall to wall sound dampening egg carton-esque decor – and felt spacious and comfortable. I was fairly happy with the set up and the music, I was actually able to have a conversation with the staff (always a pleasant surprise – however you want to take that). Service was good and this place is well worth a stop on my next slither through 172 st.

Actually hopped over to Spicy Girl bar on the other end of this block of 172 st as well. A number of people had been recommending it to me lately. Boisterous may be an understatement here. Staff still very friendly and the customers seemed to be having a great time. A bit louder than I usually like so I wondered off but nuff said.

Over on 136 st, we hit Cozy Bar – was quite surprised to see they had set up a patio bar as well – unfortunately, it is just a block to far west for good people watching but it makes a pleasant change of pace to sitting inside another bar all night. It was fairly busy when we came by but I have a note to come back again soon (have to reward innovation). However this place also seemed to be trying to confuse this reviewer as it had signs indicating it was also named Bob bar and Sexy Girl – luckily I know how to find it if not what to call it.

Managed to hit Helicopter bar again – it has been quite a while – it was fairly rowdy when we got there as they seemed to have a bit of a celebration going on (among some customers). It was so loud that we had trouble speaking but that was more about happy customers than about the bar itself. Overall, a fun place to drop by – standard hostess bar – but I do wish they had a real helicopter inside – in the spirit of how the Airport Club in Sihanoukville used to have the Anotov plane suspended in the bar. Not saying it would be practical here but with a name like this – it would be cool – and get much more of my business.

Also settled at VVIP bar for a bit – I have not wondered in there in many months but hit it three times in a couple of weeks. Really quite happy with the place – well set up – lots of couch space – good music levels (and when we requested them to lower the volume at one point, they did it without scowling (a huge plus that got me back there the next night)). Pool table upstairs with space to play. Staff is friendly without being annoying, I went with three different friends and everyone enjoyed.

Scooting up to 104 st, we have saved the big news for last – Barry has finally sold 104 Bar. Despite his threats to do so over the years, I was still shocked – he has been an anchor on that street for most of a decade. I have very fond memories of dropping by after work to play Croix (although we used to call it Droha) with Bob (still my favourite cashier of all time). Happily, the bar has moved into excellent hands (and even happier, Barry can still be found sauced up at Cavern), and is now owned by the sisters who brought you Oasis and Xanadu on 136 st. I was there on their last night before it closed for renovations and it sounded like they had some ideas for revamping the space and were excited to be back as owners on 104 st. The bar should have re-opened by now and the pub page will be back for a proper visit soon.

That rounds up this month – hopefully will get more of an urge to try new places next month – but it is so hard to stay away from the hostessesssss.

Bits From The Beach – September 2014

Same bus ? Queenco Casino on Victory Beach held the first ever APT poker event in Cambodia at the end of July. Over 40 nationalities were represented with the eventual winner being a Dane who raked in over $27,000 over the 4 day event. He was a tourist who thought it would be fun! Well done mate. The event was reported to be a huge success. The only complaints were about being unable to fly direct to Sihanoukville. Well that is being corrected already with chartered flights now coming in from Singapore, China & South Korea with Russia being touted to join in later this year.

The local police with a new Governor & new chief of Immigration police are stepping up to the mark and announcing that petty crime has to stop. There have already been several high profile arrests made. Nop Sambo (a policeman) posts the reports on the expats and locals Sihanoukville FB page and has been rather busy as of late with one westerner being posted on there for fraud.

They have also put a ban on the selling of nitros oxide gas in balloons, which were being sold mainly on Ochheuteal beach. This gas can with prolonged use cause brain damage (most that use it seem to have already been damaged).

Road 4 to Otres The new road from Route 4 to Otres beach is now open (see pic). Giving way faster access to that beach and avoiding having to do a massive loop through town. The turning is on Route 4 200m before the Welcome to Sihanoukville sign. This also allows easier access for the excavator to knock down bungalows on the beach (see pic)!

Clearing the beach again Everyone has known for years that you can only build temporary structures on the beachside. So if your dumb enough to build concrete structures tough shit! Mind you the authorities are going to widen the road down to Serendipity (god knows why) and have marked a line for demolition. Some businesses will lose their frontage some will lose half the building! Again. Check the demarcation boundaries before renting as Khmers always push or overstep the limits.

Taste of Greece is a new restaurant in the Ochheuteal Beach area next door to Ernies Burgers & opposite Coolabah Resort serving a good variety of Greek starters & mains lots of lamb dishes though a little over priced well worth a look.

All in all things are looking up for the high season. The governor is actually doing stuff unlike his predecessors. The power situation is slowly sorting itself out. And you can get real ale here at dirt cheap prices!

Phnom Penh Prison Diary – Part 5

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.

We walk into the hospital, through the front door, in the middle of the building. To the left and right, there are corridors leading to wards, straight ahead a ramp, rather than stairs, lead to the upper floors. There is nobody around. The hospital looks new, but dated. A little worn, a little dirty with age rather than use – certainly not the normal filthy, stinking, piss-stained, run down and broken public buildings that you would normally see.

We walk up the ramp which has a gentle gradient, up a third of a floor then turn 90 degrees right, another third then turn right, another third and we are on the first floor – empty corridors, nobody. Silence. We climb two more floors to the third floor and then take the corridor to the right. We walk between hospital wards to the left and the right, each ward is full of brand new equipment – but no patients. Through glass doors I can see empty hospital beds, trolleys, chairs, screens and all kinds of stainless steel equipment – all wrapped in plastic, all unused.

Rendition, they are going to torture me, electrodes on the testicles or perhaps they will surf-board me before they double-tap me with a stainless steel hammer. I should have made the vig.

Towards the end of the corridor we finally find signs of life, prison officers standing guard, or in this case playing cards, outside a door built across the last 30m of the corridor. I finally figure out that this must be one of the UNTAC hospitals that had been built and staffed in the early 90’s but never used.

The wards used by the prison are a simple layout; on the right is a ward of women prisoners, mostly with young babies – born into captivity. To the left, a ward for male prisoners. Just off the central corridor, showers and toilets. I am escorted into the male section and showed to a bed. The ward is around 20m x 5m with a space of a meter between each bed. Through the window, there is a partial view of a red temple and a statue. I can see the city but it’s a strange angle.

The patients are a curious bunch, a very old Chinese or Taiwanese man, I guess in his 90’s. Old but healthy and lucid. Next to me, a Vietnamese man is the only prisoner sleeping on the floor, I quickly realise that he is blind and unable to walk. Beside him he has three small water bottles, one used as an ash-tray, one with drinking water and the last, half full of urine. Being blind, he uses his sense of smell to tell them apart.

In the bed opposite is a friendly looking Khmer, he has a surgical scar on his belly and everything below that point has wasted away to skin and bone. Next to him is a Bangladesh man, I had already heard of him, a terrorist, yet he is elderly and weak, his body half crippled by a stroke, he has friendly eyes. Certainly no Bin Laden.

These are the sick and the old. The other prisoners, around seven more, are healthy looking; perhaps slightly overweight but nothing that couldn’t be dealt with at the Prey Sar hospital – curious.

Apart from the spacious ward, one other benefit is immediately clear. There are visitors in the room, wives, girlfriends, family. It all seems very relaxed, most families have brought meals in metal containers plus fruit and drinks. Through the remainder of the day, I learn that the ward has a mixture of genuine sick people, plus some very rich people. If I am considered a VIP, these guys are the high rollers; whales.

The first problem I encounter is that there is no food or drinking water provided – your family is expected to bring that. The alternative is to ask a guard to bring food from a nearby restaurant. This is a nice change but sounds expensive. The problem however resolves itself as my girlfriend walks in with most of her family behind, each is carrying a small water bottle with a couple of sips taken and the drinking straw fallen back inside. This normally means one thing – vodka. I feel better already.

Over the next hour, my girlfriend arranges food and drinking water before she is told that she must go, it is 5:00PM and the sick people need to rest. Not knowing if my heart will see me through the night, I get hugs from the family and my girlfriend promises to return the next morning.

At 6:00PM the guards lock the door to the ward and the corridor, which also means that there is no access to the showers or the toilets until 6:00AM. I had already had a shower which means that the only problem is the toilet. The terrorist tells me that everyone uses water bottles – nice.

Then at 6:30PM, I hear the doors unlock and a guard arrives with a case of Angkor beer, he is followed by another man with three girls- average age 19, who stand in a line for inspection. One of the healthier patients, a fat guy with a serpent tattoo on his back, chooses the younger looking of the three girls and the other two are lead away. The first guard takes payment and leaves, locking the door.

The other healthy looking patients immediately start what looks like a well established routine. Beds are shifted, screens are moved and bed sheets are hung from the window bars and the ceiling. This creates a private sleeping area at the end of the ward. The problem of intimate noises is negated using a TV and a DVD player, which features many of my favourite karaoke tunes from Prey Sar.

But first, four or five prisoners plus one taxi girl must drink the case of Angkor beer – in a UN hospital ward with no toilets. I start to wonder if I am hallucinating – I take a swig of vodka, just to be sure. The elderly Chinese man stands up, wobbles a bit and then takes a noisy shit into a small green bucket – nobody else seems to notice. The terrorist is praying to the East as the Vietnamese man is about to drink a bottle of dog ends. I take another large swig of vodka and hand the remaining quarter bottle to the blind man who gives a thankful smile – now he has four bottles.

As the evening progresses the case of beer is replaced by water bottles full of urine and the wealthy Khmers compete with the karaoke to see who can make the most noise. The girl is taken by the tattooed man, to the private sleeping area. Despite the karaoke, I hear complaints from the girl throughout the night.

At first light the next morning, the prisoners start work on cleaning up. The sheets are taken down, the screens and beds moved back to the original positions. The Angkor cans are crushed flat using a brick and the bottles of piss are dumped into the rubbish bin. The door opens at 6:00AM and, apart from a young woman leaving, everything looks normal.

At 7:00AM, a man claiming to be a doctor arrives, the first I have seen since my arrival. In the ward is a bunch of elderly and sick patients plus another group who are now fast asleep. The doctor does his rounds, handing out a few vitamin pills and some paracetamol. All is well and he leaves after only 5 minutes. “Hey! What about me, my ticker is on the fritz. Code blue. Bring the cart. Doctor, 200mg multi-vitamins – stat!” – yeh, I’ve seen House.

At 10:00AM my girlfriend returns, this time she brings food and soft drinks for lunch. She tells me that the guard outside has taken $20 from her so she can stay the night. Of course, this is quite acceptable in practice and who am I to disappoint my girlfriend – its my duty. But the principle is something else. Here I am, a man with a dodgy ticker, detained under the suppression of human trafficking law and I am being pimped out by a police guard in a UN prison “brothpital”.

Meanwhile the Don has put a contract out on my life, because I didn’t go to his wedding – but first I must repay my debt pulling tricks for $20 a pop. How on earth am I going to sleep with all of this on my mind. Charged under the law for the suppression of human trafficking, I have spent my first five months held on pre-trial detention in a small Prey Sar prison cell, along with a cross section of the criminal underworld and the complete Hugh Hefner (directors cut) DVD box set. A donation of 50 reil to the directors wedding party, has been taken as a sign of disrespect. As a VIP prisoner, I am expected to make the vig, on request.

To show his strength, the Don has ordered a hit. But these are changing times, it is 2011, there are human rights NGO sand the good old days of a knock on the head with a silver plated Pol Pot anniversary hammer are long gone. This needs a different approach.

First, misdirection. The prison doctor has diagnosed a weak heart, the prognosis is touch and go, 50:50 at best. My only chance of survival is a transfer to a specialist off-site hospital, built and equipped in the 1990s by the UN and then forgotten.

Step two, bondage. I am to be held in a secret prison ward, where I will be pimped out by police guards, to my girlfriend, for $20 a trick, until the Don considers the vig repaid.

Step three, the hit.

To be continued.