Phnom Penh Prison Diary – Part 4

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 now three months into my stay at the exclusive VIP suite,33A, at Prey Sar prison.

I share my cell with the cream of corruption: a killer – who is also a pornography connoisseur, a rich General’s son – who has been sent to Prey Sar by his angry father, a drug dealer – the only person who I have ever met who sleeps with his eyes open, an American returnee – who is not named Elvis, a very ugly lady-boy – who’s notable feature(s) is a large pair of breasts, 13 bike thieves – aged between 12 and 23 and an obsessive compulsive who insists on jogging (or stomping) on the spot, at 05:00 every morning.

While I read the bestselling thriller, “What to do when some- body dies”, kindly provided by my embassy, I note how my cell mates pass the time; Eating rice, while glancing at lady-boys breasts, viewing the killers endless porn marathon, comparing with lady-boys breasts, smoking, followed by staring at lady-boys breasts, playing cards, followed by watching lady-boys breasts, singing karaoke, at the lady- boys breasts and playing with the old chap, while cupping lady-boys breasts.

The rainy season has finally arrived, bringing slightly cooler, though humid weather and an ankle deep lake of sewerage. However, inside Prey Sar, there is another benefit – rain water is slightly cheaper!

At some point, in the distant past, some NGO did something useful and fitted 16 x 5,000 litre rainwater storage tanks around the remand block A. The rainwater falling on the massive red tile roof is piped into large blue plastic tanks. Logic would suggest that the cool, clear rainwater would be given to prisoners for showering, helping reduce the current scabies epidemic. The storage capacity would allow 4 buckets of water for each of the 1,000 detainees in block A.

Logic of course doesn’t prevail here and overnight the taps at the base of each tank has been padlocked closed and the tanks are now literally overflowing – wasting this precious resource.
The queue of Khmer prisoners, each carrying a 20l paint bucket, are informed by a stick welding Vietnamese prisoner, who is responsible for the grey market water trade, that rainwater is priced at 500r a bucket.

While this is 45 times more expensive than Phnom Penh City water, it is half the price of the shower water which is delivered daily by truck in white plastic bottles. There are plenty of takers as the line of grinning inmates, wait to pay – for rainwater – in a country which has no shortage of this basic commodity.

The drains around the prison are not maintained during the dry season or cleared before the wet season and the resulting mess is quite predictable. First, a mass of cockroaches crawl out from the drains and climb the prison building, followed by rats the size of donkeys and then raw shit.

It is the rats that now have a group of Khmer prisoners excited – lunch! I watch as they work together in order to corner the rats and then club them to death with a stick. I am thankful that I am in a VIP cell, where rat meat is only delivered in fillet, soup or sausage form. Either way, I decide that I will play it extra safe tonight and make myself a packet of chicken noodles.

The prison routine is designed so that nearly everyone can understand. There are two daily work sessions, the first doors are opened around 8AM for workers who are responsible for carrying “brown water”, to replenish the brick tanks inside each cell. The brown water is pumped in from a storage reservoir, just outside the prison walls. Some deal with the daily delivery and distribution of “clean” shower water, in white bottles and drinking water, in the standard 20l blue bottles. The clean water is delivered twice daily on trucks which carry around 400, 20l bottles. Others are responsible for sweeping the yard and carrying buckets of putrid garbage to the prison dump.

Khmer prisoners are lead out into the exercise yard, a room at a time, where they are forced to stand in the burning heat and recite the new prison rules – word for word. Prisoners are sent back to cells at around 11AM, when the lunchtime meal of soup and rice is delivered, and the prison is locked down for lunchtime. The afternoon session is roughly the same, starting around 2PM and ending at 4PM. Simple. If you can’t work it out by the end of the first week, you must be retarded.

One of the only English speaking prisoners in my cell is a Khmer/ American returnee. Like the majority of returnees I have met since, he is polite, well spoken, helpful and reasonably well educated, having been in America for most of his life. The reason he has returned is that he had been convicted of a crime in America and following a US prison sentence, he was sent back to Cambodia – a country which he doesn’t know, where he has no surviving relatives and where there is no social support system. He could certainly function as a constructive member of society, but instead, he has been sent to Prey Sar.

Many of the returnees in his situation, go by an English name, but not Bill, Steve or John but (yo! mo-fo! stick a cap in your ass!) street names like Tank, Shotgun, Trip and in the case of my cell mate – Trigger.

Trigger has a great sense of humour and he is good company, but having never seen an episode of Only Fools and Horses, he doesn’t understand why his action-man name makes me smile. On returning to my cell, I am surprised to receive a wedding invitation, one of my cellmates informs me that as privileged, VIP prisoners, it is quite common to be invited to weddings, by guards or in this case, by the Director himself.

I am quite excited at the prospect of getting some decent food and perhaps a few drinks, but it appears that I haven’t fully understood the situation. My cellmate, Trigger, continues to explain that while I am certainly invited to the wedding, it will not be possible for me to attend because I am in prison. Trigger is certainly living up to his name today.

So the correct protocol in the unfortunate event that you cannot attend, is to fill the oversized envelope with cash, which will then be collected by the room leader, the block chief and finally the Director. Still, it’s the thought that matters. So I think for a moment and then into the envelope, I put a crisp new 50 reil note, that I had been saving for a situation just like this.

While on the subject of money, the room leader announces that block A will shortly have a new exercise area. However, authorities require a donation of $50 from each cell to complete the project. Wonderful.

At this time, block A consisted of just the cell block, plus, in the yard; a tin hut -single seat – barber shop and the wooden market shack. It is lucky then, that the Directors wife, just happens to own a very competitive building supply business. As VIP prisoners, we are expected to grin like retards and, on request, hand over unlimited handfuls of cash for major improvement projects such as this. I struggle under the circumstances to grin like my cell mates, but I hand over $10, just to keep the peace.

There are 48 cells in block A, which means that our new exercise area will have a total budget $2,400, I visualise a large cement slab, perhaps a basketball court, volleyball or a football pitch. Perhaps a gym area with some weights. The following day, two small trucks arrive, one of sand and another with 20 bags of Portland cement – maximum cost $150. It takes a group of volunteers an- other day to mix and lay a wafer thin layer of cement 10m x 20m, straight on top of grass and mud. The finish resembles a miniature lunar landscape, where prisoners can now stand in the rain, and recite the prison rules.

I am still held on pre-trial detention, charged with a crime that is just not possible. The downside seems to be that the Cambodian police are just perfect. A 100% detection rate, 100% conviction. Every day since my arrival, I have been subjected to continuous karaoke, inhuman heat and the never ending ecstatic screams of my killer cell mate’s porn collection. Plus the flies. And the all night card games. And the stupid lady-boy jiggling her/his tits.

Today I am sick. I have a headache. So I request permission to leave block A and seek the expert advice of our very own vet, who is also a doctor. On the side. After many forms, I walk to the prison hospital, which is around 400m from block A.

I explain that I have a headache and I would like some pain killers. It’s a gift doc, an easy one. But he is Khmer and has seen “House” on AXN, he no doubt believes that my headache is the physical symptom of a much more serious problem. Probably lupus. He checks my arms and legs and appears a little surprised that they are all there. Not lupus, so it must be my heart or kidney stones. As the prison MRI is sadly missing, the doctor uses a stethoscope to listen to my kidneys. The doctor fills a small bag with funny coloured pills and I return to my cell, picking out the paracetamol on route.

That afternoon, two guards arrive with handcuffs to take me away. My cellmate, Trigger, translates the bad news – I have a weak heart and I am being transferred to an off-site hospital. I consider the situation, I am innocent. The police, 100% detection rate. The courts, 100% conviction rate. I have a headache. Cambodian prison doctor – shit, I’m going to die. The guards however are trained professionals, I am cuffed and forcefully removed, my wrists snap and my hands turn into purple balloons. We walk to a prison van where we join three more guards with AK47 assault rifles – rust coloured. Five guards, a driver and three guns – for one prisoner, who judging from the prognosis, is unlikely to survive the night. I think of the 50 reil gift for the directors wedding party – I didn’t make the vig. And now he will shoot me in the head, a fake prison break, my chest tightens as we drive out towards Phnom Penh.

Monivong hospital is not on Monivong, it is just over the Monivong bridge in the Chbar Ampouv area of Phnom Penh, somewhere to the right of highway 1. The hospital is a large four story, rectangular building with a red cross painted on the front, a car park for 40 cars – empty. The perfect place for a Mafia style execution.

To be continued.

Caught In A Web Of Lies

Kristof and the NT Times are bearing the brunt of the media backlash regarding the Somaly Mam scandal. Not much more can be said about recent real actions regarding Somaly Mam.

The mass of lies has been exposed, the hardest part would be finding any truth. There’s a great block of missing time in her book “The Road of Innocence Lost”, a block of time in which some of Cambodia’s longtime expat’s tell of a very willing vivacious sex-worker, parading around the freelancer circuit with great enthusiasm. Much like she seems to have enjoyed the last decade or so, only the pay grade was a bit lower.

Mam was heralded by royalty, celebrities, politicians, governmental and NGO’s long before Nicholas Kristof joined in the fray. Though his timing was perfect to ride her wave to stardom, no doubt getting some of his own he seems to have fallen short in some areas. While Kristof and the New York Times are definitely paying the price for their slack fact checking, one can’t help but feel a bit of empathy for them, as they weren’t the first to be taken for a ride by a SE Asian prostitute.

It’s well know that “working girls” in South East Asia have been known depend on grandiose fabrications and lies to sustain their lifestyles. After Mam spilt up with her husband, Pierre, and fell into the arms of her Khmer driver, she may have lost her guiding hand in art of negotiating the slippery slope of sensationalist fundraising and hobnobbing. No doubt this was a daunting experience but a fairytale come true for someone from her background if you believe her story. Maybe this pressure is what caused the many varied timelines of her life and the alleged abduction of her child, of which all have been verified as being untrue.

There has already been scuttlebutt regarding the possible fallout of the Somaly Mam debacle. Of the dozens of NGO’s whose stated mission it is to fight human-trafficking in Cambodia some are admittedly on edge. Considering that only a handful of human-trafficking arrests are made each year in Cambodia compared to the tens of millions of dollars in donations, their tension is rightly justified. A long hard look is needed at ways to fix the problem. And millions of dollars spent on lavish homes, salaries, cars, and private schools for NGO workers kids will not fix the problem.

While human-trafficking does exist, it is often ignored or tolerated. Families, friends, and neighbors of victims alike are often willing to turn a blind eye. Apathy and stupidity, not ignorance, are the real enemies. Maybe it’s time for education. Convincing Cambodians that not only is it not OK to sell your own children, it’s not OK to watch your neighbor do it either.

In a statement that was recently released by the Somaly Mam Foundation they said “We have touched the lives of over 100,000 women and girls”. 100,000, really? Many for the good but some for the worse. By the very definition of human-trafficking, Mam may be guilty of the crime. Rescuing (abducting?) girls from brothels then confining them to reeducation centers, shades of the Khmer Rogue. This has been reported many times in the media with the girls escaping on one occasion only to return to work in a high end massage parlour where they were free to come and go.

Kristof’s purchasing of two girls did little but to add profits to the brothel, not to mention the parents of the girls, as one of the girls returned almost immediately to the brothel. He had receipt for them, did get a refund? As he admits this in one of his articles why was he not arrested for human trafficking back in the USA? Make no mistake, the Somaly Mam Foundation is its namesake, and her celebrity. They have a long way to go before they reinvent themselves, maybe they should start with a change of name?

Welcome To The Asylum

There’s been much controversy of late regarding the resettling in Cambodia of asylum seekers who were trying to reach Australia, but were intercepted before they managed to get there and are now residing on Nauru, a tiny Pacific island state, and Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. The brouhaha over the plan has been vocal and vociferous. Many international institutions deride Australia for not meeting its commitments towards refugees; in some ways it has to be recognized as a cop out.

On the other hand I can sympathize with the country since not being really tough in discouraging the migration might result in a torrent of people seeking an escape route to Aussie from their hardscrabble lives. After all, there are at least a billion desperate people in the world that would go to great lengths to do that. (As this is being written about 150,000 Cambodians illegally working in Thailand have been driven out of that country. People desperate to improve their lives are found in a lot of places. But note, Lao and Burmese working illegally in Thailand are not facing the same pressure to leave, so this is just an excuse to dump on Cambodians. But Thailand needs those workers so this is also a blow to a lot of Thai businesses.)

On the local front, the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a network of several local NGOs, has called for a halt to the plan saying it wouldn’t be fair to asylum seekers since local security forces are “known to commit abuses such as killings, torture and arbitrary detention”. That sounds more like the USA than Cambodia.

Yes, there have been several people killed in the recent past who were involved either in political or land-grab demonstrating or workers’ strikes and several more environmental or labor activists have been killed in the past decade, but innocent people are killed every week in America by hyped up, militarized, trigger happy cops, with minorities especially targeted. Torture? Remember America’s rendition program where suspected terrorists were and maybe still are abducted everywhere the CIA operates and sent to third countries, like Syria for instance, to be tortured? Or how about the man associated with the 9/11 bombers who was water-boarded 180 times after the CIA had gotten all the information they were going to get from him? After 179 times were they actually looking for information on the 180th try or were they just having fun? BTW, water-boarding was one of the favored techniques of the Spanish Inquisition and has been used ever since by people and governments who desire to inflict fear and pain. But in Cambodia? That’s news to me.

Admittedly the cops here can be brutal when told to prevent demonstrating, but that’s true probably everywhere but Scandinavia and a few other pockets of exceptional humanity in a violent crazy world. About 10 years ago in Genoa, Italy at the time of an international finance meeting, the police walked into a warehouse late at night where demonstrators were asleep or peacefully talking and busted heads with 100 people injured and needing medical treatment. On that basis Italy would not be fit as a place for asylum seekers, but in fact gets tens of thousands of migrants seeking refuge yearly.

You certainly would never accuse America’s cops of being gentle and law abiding. Police are supposed to apprehend suspected law breakers and turn them over to the courts for justice, but are all too happy to administer nightstick justice on the spot. Not everybody who’s apprehended is guilty so it’s totally wrong for the police to abuse people before they’ve had their day in court. Arbitrary detention? Nothing beats Guantanamo for keeping people for long periods without charges. About fifty of the current inmates were cleared for release years ago, innocent of all suspicions, but still languish behind bars.

Having spent some time in the slammer myself, I strongly believe that it’s better to let a guilty person free than imprison an innocent one. While the government here has put people in prison on politically motivated charges, international pressure assures that they don’t remain very long even if their original sentences were for extended periods. In contrast Thailand just sentenced an anticoup activist to 15 years in prison.

By the above I don’t mean to gloss over the very serious problems and unfortunate backsliding occurring of late in Cambo. It feels sad and depressing to see my adopted home treat so many of its people so harshly, but they still keep fighting back and while the recent killings have certainly dampened many people’s enthusiasm for protesting, the desire and spirit for change and improvement has not diminished. There are demonstrations and strikes happening nearly every day in spite of prohibitions against the activity. But keep it in perspective. When the military overthrew President Morsi in Egypt, more than 1000 protesters were killed and 15,000 imprisoned. Closer to home when the Thai military broke up the red-shirt protest in Bangkok in 2010, 90 people were killed and 1000 injured.

Now I can understand people seeking asylum in Australia most of those coming lately (as of 2012) are from Iran, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka not wanting to be shunted over to Cambodia instead. Getting resettled in Oz would be like striking it rich, whereas Cambo?: Welcome to the Asylum. I mean, if a guy is truly fleeing persecution, rather than an economic migrant seeking a better life in Oz, then I reckon Cambodia is as good a place as any to seek refuge. When you come down to it, a lot of us expats here are refugees from the real world of freeways and alienation and over-regulation and McDonald’s 15% meat hamburgers. Many of us think it’s paradise or pretty close so I don’t see why it should be a problem for legitimate asylum seekers.

I expect many of those true asylum seekers, if they understood they could only show up at the airport in Cambodia with a valid passport and stay as long as they liked, would choose that option over paying thousands of dollars to people smugglers and taking grave chances with their lives on rickety overloaded boats. Besides, with Cambodia already welcoming an international community of expats, it seems they’d fit right in, as easy as adjusting to Australia anyway. And with most of the country’s economy being informal they ought to be able to find a way earn money and supplement their Aussie subsidy. Many might not have passports or not be able to leave their country the legitimate route through border control, so they would still be left with the smuggler option.

Still if they came here by way of being captured offshore by Australia and that country is willing to give Cambo a reported (but not confirmed) $40 million to take a mere 100 refugees, they’d certainly be well taken care of. They wouldn’t have the same cushy life as in Oz, but it’d be quite comfortable nonetheless… it might not be western standards, but still very doable. Cambo is certainly more acceptable and logical a place to resettle refugees than Nauru or Papua New Guinea, the two nations now holding asylum seekers.

Nauru as an independent state has the world’s smallest population outside the Vatican; less than 10,000 people. It once had a thriving phosphate mining industry but that has been totally depleted and 80% of the country’s environment has been degraded. It has received tens of millions of dollars from Australia since refugees were first shunted there in 2001 and there are currently about 1100 people at the country’s detention center. It’s very far from everything and too small to absorb asylum seekers. They also had a big riot which caused a lot of damage last year.

PNG is certainly big enough but it’s got one of the lowest rates of urbanization in the world and most people live in tribal societies – Wikipedia calls them customary living arrangements, evidently the new euphemism for tribal. It’s so underdeveloped the only way to get between its two largest cities is by air. It’s not a place that could easily absorb international migrants.

So once again, Welcome to the Asylum.

Cockroach Corner – July 2014

Migrants scrabble. Rainsy says he will give money to retuning migrants from Thailand. Miscalculates number and cost, leaves country. Authorities then prevented Kem Sokha from giving money (far less than Rainsy’s amount) to migrant workers fleeing Thailand. Now it is claimed that CPP activists have been distributing leaflets chastising the opposition’s lack of assistance for returning workers. And so the farce continues. The Thai military tried to extort money out of migrants (as usual) but caused a panic which is affecting their economy. Now at least these workers can get a proper passport and paperwork.

Take this or rot. The Australian refugee debacle rumbles on. Australia has offered asylum seekers at immigration camps in up to AU$10,000 (US$9,400) if they drop their applications for refugee status and return home. Those returning to Lebanon from detention centers on Manus Island and the tiny Pacific state of Nauru were offered the highest amount of AU$10,000. Iranians and Sudanese were given AU$7,000 if they dropped bids for refugee status, Afghans $4,000 and those from Pakistan, Nepal and Myanmar AU$3,300.

So the choice is: Take the money and piss off. Go to Cambodia (with its stunning rights record). Or stay here and rot. As there is no way we are letting you in!

The Sweep Stakes. After the riverfront crackdown the sweep for beggars continues. In a statement released on Monday, City Hall said that it will use six intersections across the capital as model areas where beggars and street sellers will no longer be allowed. “The authorities always receive strong criticism from the public about homeless people begging there,” the statement says, adding that the ban will soon be expanded to include other areas of the city. Authorities are accused of carting kids and beggars off to the notorious Prey Speu detention centre.

But according to some caught up in the crackdown authorities are merely demanding a few hundred bucks from families for their return! However considering these are the city’s poorest members the amount is substantial. In the past this has been the authorities modus operandi as they don’t want to spend any money on them. It’s a vicious circle merely making the situation worse for the city’s most desperate.

Cretinous News Network. CNN International has apologised to the Ministry of Tourism after mistakenly posting on its Facebook page on Wednesday that the iconic temple of Angkor Wat was in neighbouring Thailand! Drawing ire from Cambodians around the world and outrage from the government. Not the first mistake for the geographically challenged morons in their studios. How they got news channel of the year is beyond me.

Phnom Penh Pub Page – July 2014

I think the evil Publisher has learned his lesson – no early cash for this writer this month. In return for his lack of good faith and growing wisdom, I have procrastinated to the greatest degree possible and refused to go out researching. Not sure how that relates but it seemed like a good excuse to be a lazy git.

Biggest bar news of the month, the Hunchback has learned from his Thai brethren and exercised an almost completely bloodless coup. Taking his example from the previous coup, he waited patiently until the popular ruling despot of this well-known bar on Sisowath had gone on a diplomatic mission to the U.S. Almost as soon as the despot’s plane was in the air, the Hunchback made his move and now seems firmly ensconced in his new home and was last seen blaming someone else for having some Aussie sport on the TV. Hopefully the original Jim will have more success taking back his realm than Thaksin did. But other bar owners be warned, the Hunchback may be looking your way next.

Really was not sure what to write about this month. I hit a lot of bars, but things did not seem as interesting this month. A lot of the bars seemed pretty slow and enthusiasm seemed down. I even ran into a slew of staff from different bars hanging out in Sorya Mall or Pontoon despite their bars being open as they were too bored to stay at work. Let alone the girls from Tpub2 who seem desperate to make me climb 50 flights of stairs to play a game of pool – maybe they were not bored but just thought I needed the exercise.

Despite the relative lack of customers – or maybe because of it – I found service levels worse than usual at a lot of the hostess bars I hit in the last week or so. A few days ago, I hit a few bars on 136 st, I walked in, sat at a table and waited and waited and waited until one of the many staff who were otherwise busily engaged in doing absolutely bloody nothing at all – decided to walk my way.

At 3 of the bars, the lead off was the usual – Hi – where are you from (which is far better than the “are you Thai?” I got last month) but when I was not sufficiently enthused, the staff walked away without taking my drink order. Guess unless they thought there was a drink for them, it was not worth selling one to a customer.

At one of the other bars, I got a walk by with a poke (sounds much dirtier than it was – think Facebook Poke) and nothing else – no greeting and no request for my drink order – was I supposed to reach out and grab her about the neck to get her to do her job? Perhaps the deepest sigh goes to the bar where the staff member waited until I had gotten up and moved my chair out of the way and started to walk out before asking if I wanted a drink.

The bars I got service in were fine but really nothing noteworthy – I had not been in Pussycat bar in quite a long time – really no change at all – except that it seemed far more mellow and thus much more enjoyable from my perspective. Staff was friendly, music was reasonable, no undue pressure to either buy drinks or play pool – glad I stopped in. Also went to Lemon for the first time in a while – still a fun place to drop by – good prices on the drinks and a friendly staff – but again – nothing really new. Also a good time at 69 bar and Best 136. But could someone please open another street of hostess bars for me to slither through???

I did hit a few bars near 178 st this month. I was surprised to realize that the Mansion was open on a daily basis. This is the run down Colonial house facing the Museum on Sotheros. It has a big for sale sign and I learned while I was there that the building is about 100 years old and is currently owned by the FCC. I had seen it open for parties before but had not known it was a regular thing. It is open from 5 pm and has a happy hour from 5-7 with buy one get one free special on cocktails, draft beer and wine. It is pretty sparse and is not the place to go if it is raining as it seems to mainly exist in the courtyard. It looked like one room in the entrance way (which looks pretty faded) is open for seating. There might be more but walking in I was reminded of the time I hung out at Tacheles in East Berlin. It was in a bombed out city block and I ended up doing some renovation work to pay for my meal. I decided I would rather just pay cash and sat outside in the courtyard. Not a cheap place for a drink but an interesting atmosphere with a few backpackers and some local versions of hipsters hanging out when I was there (and one very loud Canadian guy).

Hit Touk and River Crown – seemed the thing to do since one bar is on top of the other – they are respectively the 1st and 2nd floor above Grand River on the corner of 178 st and Sisowath. They both have good views (although River Crown is a bit better – the extra height allows you to see far over the horizon). Oddly they both have the same happy hour 4:30-7:30 with 50% off cocktails and Angkor draft. Actually either option is a pretty sweet way to kill some time watching the world go by while staying off street level and avoiding the annoying traffic. I did not have the energy to walk all the way up to the top so am leaving that for another day.

That is about it – sorry but I think I need to hit more new bars for next month.

Bits From The Beach – July 2014

At the beginning of the past month what a lot of big bikes there were in town and generally the riders were big boys. The girlie bars were wetting themselves at the thought of doing some brisk business with many bikers from all over SE Asia and further afield. The Rebels club organised a punk band named Psychotic Reactions who went down a storm with the local residents of the normally quiet residential street. They must have wondered what hit them when they complained about the noise coming from the bar so all the bikers came out side got on their trusty steeds and revved the hell out of them. Now they have something to complain about. In the end a few crates of beer were handed over to smooth things over.

Queenco hosted an event with live music had some side stands. Unfortunately the likes of Harley Davidson, Honda etc were not present at this event so some bikers said that the show was not properly organised and so did not attend. Sounds like some disagreement between gangs to me (or the management not being paid as rumoured around town).

A massage parlour located on Ekereach Street in the centre of town, not the most discreet location, was raided and shut down by the police recently. Two customers were nearing the conclusion of their happy ending massage when the cops burst in catching them in the act. The girls & customers were re-educated and the mamma san has been sent to jail for running a place of ill repute.

A British man who ran website for ‘best Thai woman’ in Devon has been arrested in Cambodia on sex charges. Officials named the man as 68-year-old Geoffrey Peter Ewen, although Cambodian police are known to often get the names of foreigners muddled. The Briton was arrested in the southern resort of Sihanoukville on charges which include filming her naked against her will. ‘He confessed that he sexually assaulted his girlfriend and produced pornography’, provincial deputy police chief Mam Makal told the Cambodia Daily website. A Cambodian website used by expatriates claimed that the man had also hired a Vietnamese woman for sex and that police believed the video was being shot for commercial purposes. According to police, Peter has been a regular visitor to Cambodia. He was said to have met his alleged victim, a 20-year-old at the Dream Bar in Sihanoukville, a drinking establishment which claims to have the ‘most beautiful girls in Sihanoukville’, and where a draft beer sells for just 75 cents. They began a sexual relationship, but a week later the woman went to police. She claimed that she had caught Peter videoing her as she left the bathroom naked – and that he had used a sex toy against her will while they were having sex.

Never a dull moment down at the beach!

Phnom Penh Prison Diary – Part 3

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.

Confident of a legal breakthrough, I signed up my new lawyer, paid another fee and we arranged to meet again next week to go through the case file. Hiring another lawyer hasn’t helped my financial situation, clearly I am no longer working, I have my own family to support as well as having to pay for my imprisonment. In my first month, I have spent $330 for my prison stay, plus $200 for visits – I could easily find a cheaper hotel. The costs are really starting to mount up and I will need to get a control of this forced spending.

The situation does not improve the following week, my first, absent bodied, lawyer had met with my new, that’s an alibi, lawyer resulting in the perfect lawyer storm.

The fruity NGO has somehow discovered my new evidence, which has resulted in the alleged victims changing their stories. Now, nothing happened on the day the photographs were taken – the crimes happened on an earlier day, we still don’t have a date, but it was a Saturday. There are still massive holes in the stories, conflicting versions of a crime or crimes committed the year before I arrived in Cambodia (now on an earlier date), by a man named John, not to mention the complete absence of any evidence or even a crime location.

But the really bad news came from the court, who are now demanding payment of $15,000 for a “reduced sentence”. Suddenly I develop my own ability for strings of four letter words, the bottom line being this; I am innocent, I will be proven innocent and I will not pay for a “reduced sentence” – all I want from the court is a fair trial.

It is my 4th week in the pre-trial, block A, at Prey Sar prison. I have settled into the routine of a VIP prisoner, languishing in a 5m x 4m, superheated concrete box with 15 Khmers, a small, tinny MP3 music system featuring only “the top 20 Cambodian Karaoke greats” (well, what else would anyone need) and a portable DVD player with Fred West’s under the counter pornography collection. As normal, I relax in the corner with two sharp pencils poked up my nose, thinking of my favourite dictators.

Today, Mark will introduce me to the prison phone system. Outside, using a public phone is simple – why would this be any different? First, I have to fill in the official Prey Sar form. This includes the name, address and phone number of the person I wish to call, my own details, cell number, plus the relationship to that person or the reason for the call – finally, a thumbprint is required to make the request proper and legally binding.

There is a huge demand for the phones, so logically, the phone forms are completed in a cramped and dark space – under the stairs. A prisoner, who’s higher status is denoted by the three different coloured disposable pens in the breast pocket of his custom made blue prison shirt, transfers the information on my form, onto his master form – I see from his smug smile that he is in a Khmer state of bureaucratic orgasm. I pay the required 10,000r (for 3minutes) and then I wait to find out if first, I am allowed to use the phone and second, when, which could be any random time between now and 2015. Then I wait, and wait.

The following morning I am called to use the phone, but it’s not that simple, the multi-pen prisoner from the previous day must first find all 20 people on his master form, but he is an idiot. So 19 of us wait, queuing in the burning sun while the idiot searches for the missing prisoner, who may have a visit, be at court, or he may have died overnight while waiting to use the phone. Finally, the missing prisoner arrives, with a stupid grin on his face and I conclude that he is also an idiot.

We are counted out of the block A gate, towards the hospital building, where the phones are strategically positioned for use as a method of spreading TB and other deadly diseases into random cells throughout the prison. The phones are mobile desk phones of the type sent by the Vietnam military for spying on the Khmer government. Ten phones are kept on five school desks, which are too small for anyone older than four.

The chaos is predictable, 20 prisoners, trying to use 10 phones in a small, noisy room. Guards watch the desk phone display to ensure that you are disconnected at 4m 59s through nothing more technical than a finger. I manage a brief conversation with my girlfriend, in which I ask her to buy me a $15 mobile phone for the next visit.

After my call, I wait in the hospital grounds while the other prisoners finish calls. I am met by an extremely ugly, bearded man who makes a horrible noise with his mouth oh, he is Greek. I struggle for a reason to be somewhere else but, surrounded by a high fence and men with rusty AK47’s, this is difficult under the circumstances.

Christian introduces himself and tells me that he has been framed, along with another, by a young prostitute near Wat Phnom. I struggle to look interested and search in desperate hope for a passing bus, which I plan to throw myself under. I guess that his story is, in part, due to his unfortunate appearance, kind of Captain Birds Eye meets Gandalf the Grey. A grey beard that is so long that it is wrapped twice around his neck and still reaches his waist. A hideous witches nose, complete with a hairy lump, means there is absolutely no way he can hope for mistaken identity.

He explains that he did not have sex with a young girl, who was working the streets near Wat Phnom, but that he only took her on his bike so as he could apply some “cream” to her legs. Despite the overwhelming smell of bullshit, he does however raise one valid point, which relates to his case, a fruity NGO and the general legal process in Cambodia.

The young girl in question was responsible for the imprisonment of two men at Prey Sar. The cases that are linked by this single girl and the fruity NGO are however, quite different. The first man was sentenced to only two years after it was proven, in court, that the girl was 18 years old. In the later case of the Greek man, the girl was proven in court to have been 15 years old. The inconsistencies in these cases highlights the issue with the Cambodian justice system.

The first man had instructed his lawyer to track down commune officials from the girls home, in order to obtain her proof of age, for evidence at court – a document which may or may not be genuine. The Greek man did not obtain the same evidence, however, as his case was heard at a later date, he did rely on this “finding of fact” as evidence. He was not successful and was sentenced to eight years for buying prostitution from the same 18 year old, who was found in this case to be under 15.

The truth may well be that both men deserve to be imprisoned, however, the court has made two completely different findings regarding the same girl, presented by the same fruity NGO – this is concerning.

I return to my cell to find that we have been issued with a new set of bi-lingual prison rules, the highlights being as follows; #4 It is forbidden to make sexual between man and man #6 No homosexual tattoos #9 No money The latter being the hot topic of the moment. In a prison where you have to pay for essentials such as water, food and board, cash is essential, however, when you receive US$, you must convert this to Khmer riel at a rate around 10% worse than outside.

The new twist is that your Khmer riel must be changed for the new Prey Sar prison currency. This is a printed token, which at the time of exchange, has an official rubber stamp applied – with an expiry date. This ensures that there is a constant stream of new money and prisoners are forced to spend their tokens quickly – expired tokens are 100% profit. It also means that the prison is able to take all the real money (I mean this very loosely) and replace this with actual worthless bits of paper – mmm, money that becomes worthless, perhaps the governments of the West could develop a new fiscal policy based on Prey Sar, Tokens from Asian Retarded Prison Systems – or TARPS.

It is May and we are into the hottest part of the year, currently we pay for the “VIP” privilege to have a small electric fan in our cell. Today’s problem is the block chief has been drinking and gambling and he is now having problems making the vig. If he doesn’t pay the Don, he may well wake to find a pigs head in his hammock. The solution is simple, take all of our fans, wait until the hottest part of the day and sell them back. This is the first time Mark and I have seen this particular scam and we respond with understandable anger. The resulting confrontation ends with Mark being pushed onto a concrete table by the drunk block chief, and with me being attacked by the deranged old man who proceeds to threaten me with a tazer. We stand our ground, drawing a small crowd of Khmers – one of the stolen fans is returned, the other is still missing and later becomes the basis of Marks crusade for justice and the eventual disappearance of the guard in question.

The prison market at this time, was a large rattan table, covered in rotting bits of meat, rotting vegetables, topped with flies and maggots. Plus a few metal lock boxes filled with simple groceries, cigarettes, toiletries and other items such as plates and cups. The market, for want of a better word, is staffed by prisoners under the close supervision of prison guards. Prices are marked up by as much as 50% as it’s impossible to shop around. Those prisoners who wish to survive malnutrition, purchase their own food and cook inside the crowded cells using small, single ring gas cookers, which are manufactured using pressed metal and sold for $7 by the same companies who used to supply the country with land mines.

The gas cookers use an aerosol can of butane gas, which is refillable. However, in a system that is based only on money and profit, the gas cans get worn, then rusty and eventually explode. This results in a fireball and a cloud of filthy, rusty shrapnel. The first aid process is quite simple, burnt prisoners are transported to the prison hospital in a wheelbarrow, where their shrapnel is removed and then, due to a shortage of beds, they are left on the hospital floor.

The problem during the hot season is that there are now so many burns patients in the hospital, that the “high rolling VIPs “who pay up to $500 for a hospital bed, are now complaining that they have to step over unsightly sick people on the way to the en-suite – something needs to be done before profits are affected. The solution is as simple as the genius that came up with it. First, in the interests of safety, all cookers and gas cans are to be confiscated. Then, each cell can buy a large clay BBQ and a bag of charcoal which will take 2hours to light, 5 minutes to boil the kettle and will then sit in the corner of the cell, like a miniature nuclear reactor pumping out heat and carbon monoxide for the next 4 years.

The hospital crisis is avoided and the burns patients are slowly replaced by quieter, less unsightly prisoners, in a carbon monoxide induced coma. The market enjoys a boom in clay BBQ supplies and by the end of the hot season, we are forced to purchase brand new pressed metal cookers and gas cans – all profits going to the Don.

To be continued.

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 –

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).