Phnom Penh Prison Diary – Part 6

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.

It’s been a week since my arrival at the brothpital, just enough time to get an idea of the routine and in between tricks, I have spent this week getting to know my new neighbours.

Cambodia’s very first terrorist is a friendly and witty Bangladeshi named Bob. The right side of his body is affected by a previous stroke but he maintains his pride and sense of humour. Today his wife has brought a terrorisingly good curry for us all to share and after serving, mid-meal she casually mentions that she has had to sell their baby, in order to pay the requested $500 prison medical costs. The awkward silence is broken as I crunch another excellent poppadom.

Clearly Bobs case is a big misunderstanding. While going about his normal business of buying and selling old watches, he somehow got confused with a group plotting to blow up a number of embassies – well, who hasn’t? The thing is, I really think he is just a nice old man. Yes, he prays five times a day, and he certainly knows his curries – but surely a terrorist would be a bit more aggressive? Then there is the evidence; bombs? No. Encrypted jihad emails? No. Guns? No. Just old watches.

After a week, I finally decide that his case is purely political and that Cambodia is now elevated to the list of those top nations which have been targeted by international terrorist organisations; it is therefore now a real country. Hopefully, this will mean membership to some ineffective organisation, an annual dinner and dance, plus, of course, more NGO funding.

The neighbour to my right is a quiet, blind Vietnamese man who’s physical condition has deteriorated so much during imprisonment, that as well as his sight, he has also lost most of the use of his arms and legs. Sleeping on the floor, he is constantly bitten by bugs and mosquitoes and has taken to itching these with a razor blade. As a result, he is covered in bites and cuts.

He speaks only a few words that I can understand; coffee, cigarette and Dung – which is his name. I imagine his situation as a kind of torture; he is in darkness, on the floor in a room full of foreign voices and Khmer karaoke.
The sister of my girlfriend takes the kind initiative of cleaning his bedding, possibly for the first time in months, emptying his piss bottle and his bottle of dog-ends. Every day, I make sure he gets some coffee and cigarettes, and despite the torture, I see this once handsome man offer a friendly smile.

The doctor arrives for his daily rounds, which is a standard 5 minute show, to convince somebody, somewhere, that this is a hospital, he is a doctor and therefore deserves a salary. I am not convinced. In the hour before, a young, epileptic prisoner has taken everybody’s blood pressure and in between his own seizures, recorded the results in a small school notebook with a picture of a cucumber on the front.

The doctor pretends to read the results as he hooks up an IV bottle containing a fluorescent yellow liquid, which is either radioactive waste or the blind man’s piss bottle. Next, he administers a daily “vitamin injection”, into the bare arses of the younger Khmer patients. This puzzles me as I try to work out if; a – he is a pervert, b – a sadist, c – he is conducting secret drug tests or d – he has some huge stock pile of old military or NGO drugs.

Finally, he hands out some Paracetamol tablets and leaves after 4minutes 20 seconds – his best time this week.

The men’s ward is separated from the woman’s by a corridor which also lead to the communal showers and toilets. One of the odd benefits of this is that the women often visit with their new-born babies. Personally I find the sight of over-swollen glands and the smell of milky vomit quite disturbing, however the young mums carrying their miniature motorbike thieves, together seem to bring a ray of sunshine into the ward.

The oldest guy in the ward is a Chinese man who is aged around 90, he lights up at the sight of the young visitors and performs a wobbly jig pulling a face which brings welcome laughter all around.

It is genuinely appalling that children can still be born into punishment and imprisonment but these young mothers do what they can to provide for their kids and the guys in our ward offer all the support they can.

One of the young mothers is believed to be a fortune teller, who clearly failed to predict or avoid her own incarceration, while pregnant. She is now reading my girlfriends palm and speaking in tongues.
My girlfriend listens intently, looks at the baby, the swollen breasts and then at me – I get the trafficked feeling that she is about to spend another $20on a quiet night in.

And this is about the limits of the “brothpital” routine, by day a respectable medical facility, a doctor, glow in the dark medicines and family friendly visiting hours – by night, a sleazy, alcohol fuelled knocking shop.
Prisoners are not permitted to exercise outside as there is no security beyond the corridor. Despite the benefits; the cost of food, transport and conjugal visits (the payments for my own trafficking) are well above my now limited budget.

After a month and having made the vig, I weigh the pros and cons of the brothpital and then request a move back to Prey Sar in the hope that the Don will cancel the contract and restore my VIP privileges.

On the return journey to Prey Sar, I start to wonder if I have made the right decision, but this time, I am not handcuffed and there is only one guard armed with an AK47 – rather than five. I sense that the Don is pleased with my earnings as a prostitute and that I have been accepted back into his VIP family.

I arrive back at Prey Sar and I am admitted to the on-site prison hospital, which is a collection of six filthy, infested wards with a slightly different class of sick and wealthy prisoners. The toilets are blocked with human waste and the water tanks empty but a friendly Taiwanese man named Meng finds me a bed between a TB patient and another guy with a serious pornography addiction. But the big difference for me is that once more, I can get outside into the prison gardens. It appears that the hit has been called off.

After a month of being a prostitute, at an offsite prison hospital, now dubbed the “brothpital”, I have returned to the squalor of the Prey Sar prison hospital. The cell is around 6m square, with 18 rusty metal beds which look like they were stolen from the set of M*A*S*H. There are three main problems with the sleeping arrangements; first, 28 prisoners share the 18 beds and its only after the first night listening to my neighbour coughing his lungs up, that I am told he has ebola.

The second problem is that the beds are too short for your average big nosed white man. The metal beds have a tubular steel head and foot frame. As a result, you cannot lay flat or straighten your legs, which is very uncomfortable. And third, there is no bedding. Just a base of rusty metal slats which serve the dual purpose of allowing the easy drainage of vomit and other bodily excreta, while providing an ideal environment – and easy access to flesh – for swarms of mosquitos.

The bathroom consists of two squat toilets with a small brick tank of swamp water for flushing, which is carried in daily from a ditch in the hospital grounds. There is no electric light and no sunlight reaches the bathroom – as a result, it is filthy and rarely cleaned. Once again, I will have to pay for clean water for showering, drinking, cooking etc. This amounts to my biggest single expense of $35 a month. Together with a charge of $15 for using an electric fan, around half of my now very limited budget is spent paying for my prison stay.

My hospital cell mates are another mixed bunch of super-contagious coughers, spitters and vomiters, plus mid-level VIPs who have paid the $500 change for a “comfortable” hospital bed – the alternative being the bare concrete floor in the block. For the $500 charge, those who have declared themselves more important are allowed the privilege of being let out for exercise before the sick people, who are generally considered an unsightly nuisance and who are just getting in the way of further business.

This discrimination results in frequent bundles and fights at the doors, the authorities have respond by appointing a group of Khmer prisoners as doormen, giving licence to use violence against any non-paying sick person.

My immediate neighbours include the ebola patient zero on one side and yet another victim of the much more serious Prey Sar pornography addiction syndrome. His treatment includes a 14inch TV and a DVD player, which he somehow manages to fit in his bed.

To be continued.

Cockroach Corner – October 2014

So the wrangling begins. Kem Sokha first deputy presidency of parliament said that he would rally lawmakers to move votes of no confidence against corrupt and long-serving CPP ministers.

The PM then threatened to boot him out.

A reminder that that this can now work both ways seems to have calmed things down with the PM now supporting the summoning of government ministers for questioning by National Assembly commissions proposal.

However National Assembly President Heng Samrin stepped in and issued a circular essentially taking the commissions powers away. The opposition is of course crying foul that the circular had not been approved by the standing committee of parliament as per their political agreement.

This one will run and run until a certain person truly understands the meaning of power sharing!

Done deal. By the time you read this Australia will have signed a deal with Cambodia for the resettlement of refugees!
Can’t really think of anything more absurd.

So the three choices a refugee has are:
1. Stay on Nauru
2. Accept money and fly back to your home country.
3. Be resettled in Cambodia.

Taking into account Cambodia doesn’t have the policies or resources to protect them and a less than stellar record on human rights They are probably going to use the third as some kind of deterrent!

True to their word. A friend decided to try the new “Rouge” taxis on a primo job.

“Take me to the airport in 40min please.”

“Ok sir.”

He waited outside the house at the due time and saw two of them sail past. After a few minutes he rang the office to ask where his taxi was and was told they would ring back in five minutes.

They did. Only to tell him his booking was now cancelled!

Last time he uses the Khmer Rouge service. But as the advert says they want you to ring them again and again!

Just for the wrong reasons!

A bullshitting war criminal. On NPR’s Weekend Edition, Henry Kissinger told host Scott Simon that the ISIS problem could be fixed by thwarting the group’s goals with “superior air power.”

Sound familiar? That was the plan President Nixon undertook – in Southeast Asia more than 40 years ago – with the help of Kissinger, his then-national security adviser.

The policy not only failed, it left tens of thousands of civilians dead. And that’s a conservative estimate. Nevertheless, he asserted: “I bet if one did an honest account, there were fewer civilian casualties in Cambodia than there have been from American drone attacks.”

Reliable estimates put deaths due to drone attacks at just over 1000..

The estimates of deaths in the US bombing of Cambodia put the number between 50,000 and 100,000.

Public Transportation Finally Comes to Cambodia

Phnom Penh is probably the only city of its size in the world that doesn’t have a public bus system, but finally a start has been made. The city has managed to live without a public system, but that has resulted in hardship for some and excessive traffic congestion for all.

There has been a single line operating on Monivong Blvd. since March of this year which in the beginning of September was extended to the outskirts of town in both directions. Two additional lines were inaugurated in the middle of September. One goes from the Night Market on the riverside to Takmau town about 9 km south of the city. The other goes from the Night Market to Cham Chao in the east, presumably passing right by the airport, so if you’ve got the time and you’re not too burdened with luggage you’ll be able to go airport to town for 1500 riel – 37 cents – a bargain.

There still are lots of scoffers, people who will never take one and think it’s a waste of energy. In response to a facebook post about the expansion, one fellow insisted that the current system of relying on motodops (motorbike taxis in the local lingo) and tuk-tuks, (3-wheel taxis) works just fine. They’re cheap, fast and convenient, he said, so why bother with buses. I and another fellow pointed out that they’re cheap for a ‘rich’ expat but for many locals going any distance it’s prohibitively expensive.

For instance, I knew a young Khmer college grad quite a few years ago who spent a short time working in the office of a garment factory about 5 kilometers south of the city center. With the cost of a motodop 6000 riel ($1.50) each way she was spending 60% of her income on transportation. What she had left of her salary after transportation costs was so minimal that she quit after a short time.

The high price of going anywhere outside the neighborhood does two things. It limits people’s mobility and therefore their economic opportunities; one of the great advantages of living in a city. It also encourages those of slightly higher means to get their own transportation since the out-of-pocket cost of fuel is minimal. Many times when people are displaced by development they’re given small plots of land just outside the city, but with no jobs out there and transportation costs so high, they soon wind up back in the city center where they can earn their minimum $2 to $4 a day. So the biggest losers of the city not having public transportation are the city’s poorest.

In some ways it works the same in an American city. With the exception of the biggest cites, most people who ride the bus outside of commuter hours either don’t drive, can’t drive – think of the young, old and infirm – or can’t afford to own a car. Without public transit they’re screwed. Thus one of the two primary reasons why public transit in the US is heavily subsidized. Farebox revenue typically covers only a third of operating costs. The other factor is traffic; a full bus takes up far less street space than the equivalent number of cars needed to carry the same load, especially since most cars carry only a single person. It works the same way here in Cambodia. Even though motorbikes take up only a small fraction of the space of cars, when you add it up a full bus uses much less street space than the equivalent motorbikes to move the same number of people.

Motorbike taxis have two great advantages: time and convenience. Nothing could be quicker or easier, especially in Phnom Penh where there’s a motodop waiting on every corner and in front of every business ready to whisk you on your way. They are very maneuverable and are able to get you there as quickly as possible.

Using public transportation, on the other hand, is very time consuming. First you have to walk to the bus stop, then wait for it. Once aboard, it goes relatively slowly and has to stop often to pick up and drop off passengers and when you get off there’s still the walk to your final destination. A less than 10 minute door-to-door ride on a motorbike could easily take half an hour or longer using the bus. For that reason most Phnom Penhers would not immediately sell or park their bikes if presented with a bus alternative. Still, many in fact would save the money and use the bus. With the extra time, students for instance, could use it to study or just diddle with their smart phones. Most importantly, every person who opted for public transit would help ease traffic problems, reduce the need for parking, cut pollution and save energy.

Bus transportation would not put most motodops be out of a job, in fact, many people going long distances on the bus would hop on a motorbike taxi for the short hop to get them from the bus stop to their final destination. It’s mostly for the long haul that people would use public transportation.

On the other hand, buses have some great advantages. Probably most important is that they are 1000 times safer than riding a motorbike in Phnom Penh’s traffic. And nothing beats the comfort of proper seat in an air-con bus when Cambodia is brutally hot or in the middle of a tropical downpour. There’s also the pollution you breath in to consider when you’re on the street in an open vehicle.

The capital had a short-lived bus system back in 2001 that was financed by Japan; it even had proper bus shelters. I’ve heard conflicting reports about the experiment. One was that people weren’t riding it; the other that the city didn’t want to continue the subsidy after the six-month trial period. I believe time would’ve solved the first problem. Traffic wasn’t so bad then and people needed time to get used to the bus. The other problem is the need for public subsidies; big bus systems almost always need public money. If you try to pay for it through the farebox, it’ll cost too much and people won’t use it in sufficient numbers, which defeats the purpose of getting as many people as possible to use it for its traffic reduction aspect.

The government has been trying for years to get a private company to run the buses, hoping to relieve itself of the burden – the Cambodian government is hardly noted for its efficiency – and avoid the subsidy regime, but has not had any takers. Even the company that ran the single line since March quit after the city wouldn’t grant a tax break on its other operations. After six months of operation, the government just couldn’t close it down and has pledged to keep it going regardless of the cost.

For a system to be successful it needs to offer wide coverage: there aren’t that many people moving around the city who have a starting point and destination on the same street. The fact that the single line was showing progress bodes well for the system as a whole. For best results there also needs to be free transfers between lines since a significant percentage will need more than one line. Even after the complete system is up and running traffic will seem just as bad. The city is growing so fast the bus system will only keep congestion from getting much worse, a worthy enough goal.

Ultimately, large cities need rail transport in the form of sky trains or subways or at minimum dedicated bus lanes to get beyond street congestion. It’s only then that public transit can begin to compete timewise and provide a reasonable alternative to the comfort of a private vehicle. Either way, the cost of those systems is far beyond the government’s finances so they’ll not be happening anytime soon.

Meanwhile, Siem Reap is about to have a solar bus system, one of only 3 or 4 in the world. Star8, an Australian company, will be building and running the system. They’ll be exclusively solar-electric, no back up combustion engines needed. The buses will have solar panels on their roofs to help provide power and there’ll be solar charging stations on the routes where extra batteries will be charged. The batteries will be able to take the bus 90 kms on a charge and when they get low, they’ll be able to make a quick change en route. There are other ways to charge batteries without removing them: microwave chargers can be placed in the road so they can be juiced up at stops, but that’s probably a pretty spendy option at this point.

There are great advantages to electric transportation, in this case one of the most important will be the reduction of pollution at the temples. With more than a million tourists visiting every year, all on combustion engine vehicles, the pollution has become a threat to the temples.

Electric vehicles are far superior to combustion driven ones even if the power comes from central generating stations. Electric motors are more than 90% efficient compared to combustion engines in which half the fuel expended is lost in waste heat. They are nearly silent, which in fact has resulted in problems for blind people as they can’t hear them coming. There’s talk of adding sounds to electric vehicles to protect those people: that applies mostly to small vehicles. They’re pollution free in the cities, where it counts most. Besides, it’s easier to control and limit pollution from a single large point source than spread amongst large numbers of small engines.

They are super efficient, especially in urban use as they don’t idle; that is, they expend no energy while stopped, except for accessories. When I lived in Bangkok in 1993, traffic would come to a complete stop for an hour in many places. All those vehicles were chugging away for an hour, wasting energy and creating pollution while going nowhere.

They also have what’s called regenerative breaking. When the brakes are applied, the motor helps to slow the vehicle down: it turns into a generator. It sounds complicated but it’s really very simple. Motor and generator, when wired properly, are fundamentally the same machine. If you put electricity in one direction it does work. If you put work into the other direction it generates electricity. In this case the work is helping to stop the vehicle. In the case of a bus that makes many stops, regenerative breaking reduces energy use by about 30%. Electric vehicles actually get better mileage in town than on the road for that reason. Also they accelerate faster than diesel and the motors last longer and require less maintenance.

Up until now, with solar cells becoming so cheap, electric buses required overhead lines or lots of very heavy batteries. The Australian company that’s building and will be running the solar bus system currently has a solar cell factory in Phnom Penh and is now building one in Siem Reap. It’s truly gratifying to think that our lowly Cambodia will soon pioneer with one of only 3 or 4 totally solar bus systems in the world.

But it’s also depressing and dispiriting to think that conversion to solar could’ve happened long ago. Back in the 70s during the OPEC oil embargo and resultant turmoil the Pentagon did a study that showed if $5 billion were spent buying solar cells for their remote locations, the ramping up of production would’ve made the cost of solar competitive with fossil fuels, and that’s when gas was 50 cents a gallon. In response to the crisis, Jimmy Carter called the need to switch to renewables the Moral Equivalent of War. He proposed a drastic change in priorities and did his little part by putting solar hot water on the White House roof. The people didn’t want to hear about it so they elected Ronald Reagan.

When Reagan came into office in 1981 he removed the solar water apparatus from the White House, ended Carter’s solar tax credits and trashed everything environmental. He insisted there was plenty of fossil fuel and environmentalists were just a bunch of do-gooder hippies who wanted everybody to live in caves (I’m paraphrasing, of course). His first Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, said the environment didn’t matter because the End Times were coming soon and the world would be destroyed anyway so why bother trying to save it.

Now we’re at the brink of irreversible change and the world continues to increase CO2 production; last year saw the largest increase ever. That’s in spite of great successes like Germany where one day last spring they got 100% of their power from renewables. There is also one district there with 100,000 people that now not only gets all of its power without burning fossil fuels but often sends another 100% back into the grid. Texas and Iowa now get 25% of their power from wind, something that could’ve happened decades ago. Yet, in the height of folly and insanity, the US government still subsidizes the oil giants, some of the richest corporations in the world, to the tune of $8 billion a year. America consistently provides more in subsidies to old technologies than renewables.

China is making great strides developing renewables, and is the world’s biggest exporter of solar panels, but still builds a new coal fired plant every week, that in spite of many of its cities having the worst air pollution in the world. How can we go forward if we’re still going backward?

Even Cambodia is joining the death march to destruction with a new coal fired power plant being built in Sihanoukville… just what a tourist town needs, air pollution.

Not a penny should be going into new fossil fuel facilities, not when we know renewables can work just fine. If we stopped right now, we might have a stab at mitigating the worst impacts of climate change, we might be able to just barely make it without totally crashing the planet. But we won’t because there’s lots of money to be made in not giving a shit. At least it’ll be an exciting ride, a race against reality, a true extravaganza of extraordinary events.

Which I expect to witness in my lifetime, which at 73, isn’t all that long.

Of course, I’ve been wrong before.

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.

Bits From The Beach – August 2014

Another fire to report this time it was a boat well in fact three. It was reported that an electrical fire stated the fire but witness statements suggest arson.

The triple decker Sun Boat which has been plying day trips to the islands for some time and the German owner has been quite successful. So jealousy could be a factor especially considering a new contract had been signed meaning a second boat would be needed. The second boat arrived about a week after the fire so business was not interrupted too badly.

The other two boats were speed boats moored alongside. One belonging to the same owner as the Sun Tours and the other belonging to a tycoon.

New restaurant to try is The Spot which is located at the very end of Ochheuteal beach just before the head land with Otres and one road back from the beach. The Dubai/Russian owners with an Uzbek chef have been cooking up a stir with some suggesting that this is the best restaurant in Snooky. Baked lamb is their speciality, but it has to be booked a day ahead. But there are other delights including a sumptuous beef stroganoff. Word of warning. The restaurant is currently BYO beer & wine & closed on Monday.

Ochheuteal beach was the site of an unfortunate incident recently involving some American military. This prompted the American embassy to issue a warning to the effect that Ochheuteal beach is dangerous late at night with gangs of youths fueled with drugs & alcohol. Big thank you to the American Embassy for promoting Sihanoukville’s tourism.

Maybe just maybe the military personnel were fueled by the same drugs & alcohol and were acting like complete arseholes and got what they deserved. Two were stabbed and one succumbed to his injuries passing away in hospital a few days later. As a result the new chief of Immigration police and the new governor visited the area late at night, well 11PM. Probably late for them but I doubt you would find too much going on that time of night!

There are rumours that the late night bars may be forced to change the style of bar are even force them to close. The owner of the bar where the incident happened is a local police officer so he should be alright.

On the long road to Independence beach from Eckhareach is the 5 Men Fresh Beer brewery run by the brewmaster that set up Cambodia beer. They are Sihanoukville first micro-brewery and offer a blonde and a dark beer for an unbelievable 50c & 75c a mug respectively. They also offer some Khmer style snacks and BBQ. The beer is a bit cloudy but this is only cosmetic as it is true LIVE ALE (not pasteurized) and does not take away from the beers wonderful taste. Check it out.

Phnom Penh Pub Page – August 2014

It’s been another odd month around the Pub Page – I actually got back to doing serious research – and have certainly paid the price for it with a 24 hour hangover and a torn muscle in my drinking arm.

Only hit only two new bars this month – I saw that Rovio had finally expanded its empire to incorporate hostess bars and opened a beachhead facility in Phnom Penh on 130 St – unfortunately this was a beta version that was not really ready for release based on my first visit.

Hopefully the brains at Rovigo will retool and re-release quickly as there seemed to be a few issues. The place looked good, it was well lit and the music was quite reasonable while I was there. However this expansion lacked even basic user interface or interactivity. When I walked in, the entire staff was either playing cards at the bar or watching other play and enjoying their beverages. They were actually louder than the music by a significant degree. I felt lucky that one broke away from the flock long enough to serve me a beverage but there was no reaction when I decided that listening the card game hysterics was not the best way I could spend my evening and no one even looked up when I slipped money onto my table and walked out. If Angry Birds is a ladies card club, it seems like it will be a great success. If it was meant to be a hostess bar, serious debugging is in order.

I also wandered into Happy Girls bar on 110 St. It has only been open for a month if I understood correctly (actually to be honest I was so drunk that I just could not remember what was probably very clearly explained. The bar is really basic and for some reason feels particularly long and narrow but the place still seemed spacious which I enjoyed. In sharp contrast to the other new bar I tried, the staff here was attentive – perhaps a bit too attentive as I was the only customer so the entire staff surrounded me. To be fair, they were not annoying and except for a few odd bits of conversation seemed willing to wait for me to decide on the level of interaction. Overall big points for the staff – I was too drunk to really speak and they were content to be available while allowing me to consume my beverage in relative peace. I have already recommended the place to a couple of friends who I think will enjoy it.

The rest of my month has been occupied skulking around more familiar hangouts – I realized I have not bumped Larry’s 110 St Bar & Grill lately. I mostly go for meals – one of the few times I promote food on the pub page is remind people that the food there is great – but I decided to stop in for a couple of beverages this month. Well worth it – it was not too busy but there were enough people to keep the staff occupied. It is clearly a place where regulars hang out but all are welcome. The staff is friendly and service is quick.

Speaking of good food SKIRTS!!!! – the evil publisher has noted my lack of product placement and seems to be with- holding payment until I satisfy my contractual obligations – Skirts!! Skirts!!! Skirts – by the way, if you go to Skirts early you can get the best Fish & Chips in Cambodia shipped in from The Pub next door – just a thought.

Basically the rest of my bar crawl- ing this month was filled with old regulars – spent more time on 136 St – Oasis was quite busy every time I dropped by but I was pleasantly surprised at the reasonable volume being maintained – except by the other customers – it actually seemed almost mellow last time.

I went in Xanadu – much more boisterous and unfortunately I was greeted with the site of male customers dancing on the bar – fully clothed but still not what I want to see when I walk into a bar.

Best 136 not sure it is the best but it is still a fun bar to drop by with attentive staff and good atmosphere. Candy – used to be one of my favourite bars (and really loved the lunch time pizza specials) – it was probably the first hostess bar to go 24 hours and was a great hang out after it took over the Huxley space, I thought it took a real dive and was looking forward to enjoying it back in its original location. Unfortunately, it is my least favourite of Chea’s bars and I have a much better time at 69 and Mister Butterfly.

I was supposed to be reviewing bars in Sihanoukville again this month but I was so hungover that I missed my bus and did not feel up to the trip – honest more new bars (well new to me anyway) next month – really – this time I mean it.

Unfortunately our reviewer was let out unsupervised this month resulting in some injuries. Next month he will be under adult supervision courtesy of the Hunchback! ED

Cockroach Corner – August 2014

Do as we say not as we do. Nice to see the boys in blue out and about the other night. They may not be fining everyone at the moment but were out at 4am in a jeep on St 51. Only problem was they were going the wrong way with no lights on and had blacked out windows! Don’t know if they were drunk or not but at that hour it seems highly likely!

Duhhh. A guy sat at Golden Sorya mall on 51 and was approached by one of the local ice queens. No surprise there.

She became very affectionate and draped herself all over him. It was only after she suddenly left he realized he had been pickpocketed and his Galaxy phone had gone. No surprise there.

A quick search of the local area proved fruitless. On hearing the complaints another girl approached and said she knew the girl and would get the phone back for twenty dollars. He coughed up the loot and the girl was never seen again! No surprise there.

The next day he went back to the mall in a bad mood. Talking to some girls he told the story. One girl said she knew her and actually knew where she had sold the phone. After some back and forth discussion he gave her one hundred and fifty bucks to retrieve his phone. And the girl was never seen again. No surprise there then.

We are now all eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Tuk Tuk driver that, “I know her house!”

We stand corrected. Oscars bar on St 51 was sold recently and to everyone’s amazement the new owner named it “Muff Divers.” This isn’t Pattaya, so people wondered how long it would last. About a week before he was apparently told to change it. Pretty sure the cops had a laugh when it was explained to them what it meant!

Swapsies? Rainsy returns for yet another overseas trip (strange they always coincide with problems here) basically sells his party up the river (mainly due to the main members of his party being locked up). Then swaps a position with one of his MPs to take a parliamentary seat? He didn’t even stand in the election! Can I swap too? I want to be an unelected MP. Many in his party are disgusted with his deal and rightly so.

As for the beating of security (thugs) at freedom park, general consensus is they have been dishing it out in the past and they were well due for payback. No doubt the circus will continue for some time with them being squeezed into a corner in the not too distant future. By the time you read these things could have changed dramatically.

Batty. They spent a fortune on revamping a parrot in the past. Then BAT spent a ton on withdrawing Ara Blue lights from the market (which were popular with foreigners) and replacing them with Ara silver. Now the Silvers have been withdrawn. In the last few months though reports have many packets being stale and mouldy with speculation that they randomly insert flakes of old car tyres to help you cough up a lung. All from a company whose premium brand here used to be the cheapest supermarket smoke in the UK!

WTF. Golden Sorya mall managed to sink to a new low recently with two dead in a murder/suicide bringing the total this year near double figures. The night after the sad event there was a fight in a bar opposite supposedly involving a US embassy staffer. A while later SUV’s pull up and embassy goons got out with a K9 dog! Were they trying to track the other party or just intimidate the surrounding area? Whatever they succeeded as upon entering the mall half the customers left. Not sure who was at fault but judging by locals throwing stuff at the staffers SUV when he first drove off we have an inkling who may be responsible!