Addicted to Love in Cambodia: Straight Talk from a Hostess Bar Junkie by Randy Nightwalker by Randy Nightwalker - Read Online

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Addicted to Love in Cambodia - Randy Nightwalker

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Note: I’ve kept the text of the First Edition of Addicted to Love largely intact except for this preface, only making minor technical corrections when necessary and leaving the updates to special sections or to the new chapters in Part 2.

The first time I was out walking late at night in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital and primary city, back in 2001, I was with friends in the central area of town near the riverside where most of the city’s expats live and where most tourist activity happens. Oooh, creepy, was the general response. There certainly has never been a dearth of anecdotal accounts of the dangers inherent on our streets.

Phnom Penh sits at the west side of an X-shaped junction of great rivers. The Mekong, world’s fourth largest river by volume, forms the two legs of the east side of the X. The Bassac River branches off to the southwest and forms part of the vast Mekong Delta in Vietnam. The Sap River comes from Sap Lake in the northwest.

As a natural feature the Sap system is extremely unusual in that the river flow changes direction every rainy season as a result of the Mekong, which has a much greater volume, overflowing and pushing water uphill. (I believe there’s a tributary of the Amazon which does the same.) The river flows uphill for about 100 miles and turns the lake from waist deep to ten meters deep. It also expands its size threefold and creates large areas of flooded forest.

The city is fortunate to have a greenstrip along the river and that’s where most of my nighttime activity takes place. The straight tourist restaurants and cafés, which are getting ever more trendy, face the river, the hostess bar scene is on the side streets. There’s one additional cluster of girlie bars about half a mile from the river, also within easy walking distance and other individual bars scattered about.

On my first visit here, in 1994, people told of hearing, just a year previously, frequent gunshots at night and robberies that were so commonplace nocturnal wanderers were almost certain to pay for their eccentricity. This all made me quite hesitant to challenge the gods, as it were, in spite of my natural mania for walking.

However, not long after I returned to Cambodia in 2001 I met a fellow who walked the nighttime streets far more than I ever will. He’d go everywhere at all hours of the night. It took four years of perambulating – walking around for the pleasure of it – before he got robbed. He continued to walk after that but was more cautious about where. Meanwhile he inspired me to follow in his footsteps, so to speak.

I’ve been lucky. When I’m in the city I’m out hoofin’ it every night of the week, from the early evening up to 3 a.m. and beyond, though I’m usually home by two. I’d experienced only one minor fright in the eight years I’d been doing it, up until late 2010, and that was probably unwarranted.

In November 2010 I had the first real challenge to my nightwalking habit as I was on my way home when three young would-be-robbers stopped in the middle of the street on their motorbike at about 2 a.m. as I was just a few feet from the entrance to my apartment building. Two got off and approached me, one, the smaller of the two, held a large cleaver at his side. A friend had just had a cleaver incident of his own two nights previously and though in that instance he had brought on the altercation himself, seeing that big knife I was well tuned in to what I was up against. I only had a few dollars on me since I only carry enough for a night of bar carousing but I wasn’t about to give up my $48 telephone so in those few decisive seconds I resolved not to be taken without a fight.

When the cleaver boy came close enough I sprang forward and used my right arm to hit his cleaver-bearing right arm which then set me off balance - I had, after all, just come off of a night of downing my 6 beer limit - and caused me to spin around and then fall on my knees and then my butt. As I spun around my eyes were closed - must’ve been an automatic reaction - so I’m not sure exactly what ensued except when I later looked at my phone it had a dent on the back and the display was wrecked. The dent was square so he must have been swinging wildly and hit me with the back of the cleaver. I then jumped up and started yelling inanities, which roused four locals including a burly security guard who came to see what the ruckus was about and frightened the novice robbers into hightailing it.

That cleaver could’ve caused some real damage; at the age of 69 I was a bit of a fool to try to fend off three young toughs but you have to go with what you feel and face the consequences. All three were slight or small; being relatively small myself, I would’ve been powerless against a bigger guy. Fortunately I never get so drunk as to not be in possession of my faculties and I’m still in pretty good shape, all things considered. It only cost $7 to replace the display and though the phone is a little bent out of shape it still works fine.

I generally stay on certain well-lit routes (though most were not well lit when I started) and within the central district, a total of about one square mile or two-and-a-half square kilometers, though I’ll occasionally walk a lot farther. Needless to say, when I’ve got a lady in tow I’ll be using available transport; that is, tuk-tuks - three wheel taxis – or, very rarely, motorbikes.

In the wee hours, traffic consists of an occasional vehicle passing by. It’s quiet and peaceful, cooler and more comfortable than daytime. There is a shadowy, ethereal quality to being out when almost everybody else is sleeping, almost like living in an alternate universe: it looks the same, aside from the subdued colors of the night, but the energy is completely different. I like being part of it and sharing the streets with the few night owls that are out and about – and there always are some.

I also like the idea of working off some of my beer intake before I get home and the feeling of strength that comes from walking home no matter how tired I may be.

My intense dislike of riding motorbikes, practically the only form of public transport when I first came to the city, is one of the reasons I started my walking regime, but it’s become my trademark: I do almost everything on foot, including in the heat of day as well as the dark of night. It’s also my major form of exercise, supplemented only by jousting in bed and tearing up the dance floor.

I’m retired from formal work and don’t spend all that much time writing, so the extra time involved in walking isn’t a significant deterrent. In any case, it’s a challenge I’ve given myself. Some people climb mountains, bungee jump off high bridges, run marathons, explore Antarctica; I walk.

The major allocation of time in my life when I’m in the city is barhopping. Starting in 2007 when I came into a little money, I quit work teaching English and divided my time between the capital and a small provincial town. I would’ve continued teaching but that would’ve required being in the city full time and after six years there I couldn’t bear the thought. In some ways it’s a fine example of an Asian urban space but I had to escape the unavoidable tension and cacophony of big city living. At the same time I couldn’t leave my babes and the city’s nightlife which totally enthralls me, so for four years I’ve been commuting back and forth and living in two cities.

Around the same time I stopped teaching I began writing articles about my nighttime exploits for The Bayon Pearnik, a local expat oriented magazine. Just as the money was running down, portending dire financial circumstances, I got the bright idea that the articles, expanded and polished, would make a fine little sexy-female oriented book: sex sells - at least that was my plan. It hasn’t quite worked out the way I expected, but that’s another chapter in this libidinous saga.

But I had to use a pseudonym. I harbor aspirations of serious writing and this frankly would be embarrassing to take credit for: it’s more a private conversation. Just the same, I’m enjoying writing it, and like all aspiring authors believe it has value and is a good read.

The other question surrounding this book was whether I should name the location or make it a generic Southeast Asian country. There are active bar scenes in at least three other regional countries, and access to pleasure pursuits nearly everywhere else, including in countries where it’s actively, publicly frowned upon.

In the end it made sense to name it: these young women, and the culture that produced them, are special, so a lot of it is about them. The same goes for Cambodia, it’s an exceptional country with a great spirit and grand history – Angkor Wat, a huge temple complex mostly constructed between 800 and 1200 CE, is a breathtaking accomplishment. Their recent history is almost beyond tragic, but somehow they made it through and today are some of the friendliest, most relaxed people you’ll find anywhere on the planet as well as being some of the most welcoming of newcomers.

On the other hand, did I really want to encourage an influx of a lot of new punters to the point of replicating the trashy, overdone scenes that abound in some parts of the Philippines and Thailand?

Well no, but at the same time I’ll often go to venues that are really quiet with bevies of beauties hanging around bored waiting for a friendly face, a little excitement and maybe some needed income. Maybe even Mr. Long-Term Relationship will show up to whisk them off to another whole level of existence. In the end, I figured they could use my meager help in drumming up a little business.

Besides, my ego would be kind of over-the-top if I thought this would be a bestseller or even be popular enough to make a notable difference. Even if it were widely read, the world’s most enticing writing isn’t going to motivate a large segment of this book’s readers to get off their duffs, especially in these trying economic times, and travel off to exotic, far away places.

Cambodia is an essentially easy-going, live-and-let-live kind of place. Whether or not the locals approve of the scene, nobody’s going to interfere as long as they aren’t personally impacted. It’s like the traffic here: you can drive as fast and maniacally as you want and hardly anybody will bat an eye until you actually crash and cause damage. The authorities have lately begun talking about traffic law enforcement so that devil-may-care attitude may be on its way out.

It’s also a country that’s really inviting for expats to settle down and call home. It’s the easiest place I know of to obtain a long term-visa and become part of the society. Moreover, they make no distinction between different nationalities and races; all are welcome, at least as public policy. As most everywhere probably, a considerable number of people here, both local and expat, harbor personal prejudices towards Africans, of which there’s a small but noticeable community in Phnom Penh.

It’s also a very simple place to start a business and has no requirement of a local partner. You’ll have to deal with baksheesh frequently but not in a way that would challenge your profitability.

The cost of living is low, even the cost of libations is minimal: a cheap draft or can of beer in the girlies averages $1.50 with the highest at $2.

Then you have the good natured Cambodian people and the welcome they give to foreigners and finally the hot climate (which currently appeals to me far more than cold climates). All told, a simple choice for expat living.

By the time I reached Cambodia the first time in 1994, I had had the experience of traveling in 10 Asian countries. The expats I met here back then seemed different: more hip, relaxed and widely traveled than those I met in the other countries. When it came time for me to return to Asia in 2001 to find work as an English teacher – partly because I couldn’t conjure up a means to support myself in the States – Cambodia was the obvious choice.

On the other hand everybody finds their niche. This writing might well lead some readers to go to the Philippines or Indonesia before they came to Cambodia. If you feel deprived of female companionship and are attracted to East or Southeast Asian women, then there are lots of places that might appeal to you.

While fleshy entertainment is an important part of Cambodia’s draw for me, there are lots of female expats here and guys who have no interest in the bar scene; altogether, it has a lot going for it.

My basic take on world advancement is that it’s good to mix cultures and genes. It’s also important to simply move around the planet to increase understanding, compassion and knowledge and spread a little wealth. If this work aids in that goal even just a little, I’ll consider it a success.

Chapter 1: Gilligan’s Island Syndrome

I was back in the States recently hanging out with an old friend when the subject of bars and bargirls in my adopted home came up. It isn’t surprising the topic would surface since I’m quite addicted and can’t avoid jabbering about it. He’s another old fart with a strong libido, so I couldn’t help trying to paint a lovely picture of Cambo treats.

He actually encouraged me once – as if I needed it – by relating a story about a relationship he had had with a young gal who would come to visit him in the early evening when Gilligan’s Island reruns were on the tube and insist on watching them before hopping in the sack. (For those of you unfamiliar with tired old American sitcoms, trust me, it’s pure drivel; about as vapid, inane and childish as TV can get.) Being manically anti-TV as a matter of principle – I’ve only lived with one during 4 of the last 45 years – not to mention repelled by mindless shows of the Gilligan’s Island sort, I understand exactly how torturous and demoralizing it must have been for him to sit through even one episode; but also know, for the sake of playing with a hot young body, I’d endure the same torture; well, back in the States anyway where those sorts of indulgences are quite rare indeed.

The friend also has a strong moralistic and ethical cast about him which led him to needle me by bringing up the word prostitution, calling my girls prostitutes. So you spend all that time with prostitutes? Or maybe his question was, Isn’t that prostitution?

Well, I hemmed and hawed and tried to avoid giving a direct answer. While it’s true the word prostitute generally means giving sex for money, the third entry in my fat dictionary defines it as doing something for money or fame rather than because you think it’s good work or the right thing to do. The corporate lawyer who helps a polluter avoid responsibility for its actions is prostituting him or herself, in my opinion, far more than the typical receiver of money for sex. Even if that attorney has found a way to justify his or her actions to the point of believing it is righteous and worthy work, it’s no less prostitutional in my mind.

Meanwhile, dictionary or no, money changing hands after sex or no, I don’t think of it that way. Ok, the girl who works in a brothel getting poked several times a day by men she either doesn’t know or care about, and who haven’t the slightest interest in her outside of sex, well, I can accept that as prostitution. Those girls cannot be doing it for pleasure or fun.

One level up from brothels are freelancer bars. Phnom Penh has three large venues of that type where the available talent is mostly pretty hardcore, trying their best to go with at least one guy a night. Their customers, like brothel frequenters, also generally have little interest in them outside of their bodies and would be unlikely to want to take them home more than once; that too I can accept as prostitution. I have, however, known guys who carried on long term relationships with former freelance girls so there’s a gray area there.

I too once had a relationship for several months with a freelancer. She was a good-hearted woman in her mid-twenties and had a kid. She had a fine bod and was excellent at her vocation but I didn’t have much feeling for her so eventually had to end it. I felt a bit uncomfortable about doing so; I was, after all, providing her with a regular income to support her family. However, in the end we in Cambodia have so many (even too many) choices and prerogatives it’s hard to not be a mite picky about how we relate. In fact, it gets downright easy to become arrogant, strutting around like you rule the roost.

Even so, I can’t help being respectful towards them and generous in compensation for their love and affection (services). Meanwhile, I have in effect graduated from the totally casual, kind of distant and emotionless, freelance types, to only getting involved with gals I really like. I’ve had zero interest in taxi-girls – the local euphemism for freelance prostitutes - let alone brothel girls, for years.

There are so many beautiful young women to choose from it boggles the mind, clouds the eyes and uncontrollably churns up the juices. I would really lose my sense of balance if I didn’t constrain myself from the temptation of easy sex… I’m already halfway over the edge. Besides, when you’re with one you really like, the bedtime romps only get better with familiarity. Eventually almost anything can get boring, but that might take years.

On the other side of the equation; for the hostess bar girls, who run the gamut from ones that go with any guy who asks, to those that are very choosy, to the virgins, it seems a good compromise. On the plus side they can earn a lot more than they would in straight jobs, even just from lady drinks – you pay extra for her drink and she gets a dollar of it as a tip. Lady drinks usually cost three dollars. Though it’s far from mandatory, you’re kind of expected to reward a girl(s) you like who stimulates your imagination and libido with a drink. The aggressive ones can make it really hard to resist.

They also get to learn a lot about men and human nature. Considering a few are under 18 and still, especially in Western eyes, children, and many others are not much older, they are in many ways wise beyond their years. I don’t mean to imply by the above that they aren’t fully capable of exercising the prerogatives of an adult; especially here in the developing world, poverty forces many to grow up fast. At the age of 18, I migrated on my own from the West Coast to New York City and though I was mighty immature and very spaced out I still lived my life and made my decisions and managed just fine.

Digression: Pedo Alert: Cambodia once had a well-deserved reputation as a haven for pedophiles. Warning: Men who are inclined to that perversion would do well to tread very carefully now or else find themselves in a heap of trouble.

Until about five or six years ago there was a village of brothels on the outskirts of Phnom Penh where, in addition to the normal fare, you’d often be approached by someone offering underage girls, sometimes as young as five or six. (This I know from hearsay and news reports, since I’d never been to the village in question and haven’t been to a brothel since I discovered early in my travels in Southeast Asia that it’s just not my thing.) At a certain point the international community started pressuring the government to clean up its act and the village was closed down. For a year or so before that happened there were NGO’s that staked the place out and took pictures of all the men visiting the village, not distinguishing or trying to distinguish whether they were after legit prostitutes or children. That seriously scared off the punters.

About ten years ago while visiting a well-known bar-nightclub which has some mixed clientele but is mostly a hangout for freelance prostitutes I was amazed to see pre-pubescent girls all dolled up and ready to trot. There were only a couple of them, but it was still quite a shock seeing them there. Today that venue and others like them have signs saying no-one under 18 allowed or they are serious about checking ID and preventing entry of underage girls. At the least complaint to the police they’d be shut down, possibly permanently, or, if they’re lucky, only be forced to pay a hefty bribe to stay in business.

One time, a few years back, in my nine years of walking the nighttime streets of Phnom Penh, I was approached by a girl of about 10 wearing a slinky dress and big-girl makeup. She made eyes at me and lowered a shoulder strap, doing her alluring but ludicrous best to entice me. All I could think of was: Even if a guy was perverted and crazy enough to want to play with her, where could he