Amidst the parasites
15.06.2012 35 °C
In Cambodia, the ruling CPP seem to dish out public holidays like sweeties. I think it's a great way for these gilded thugs to distract their uneducated, struggling population from - among other things - the fact that their "Wise, Brilliant Leadership" is selling vast tracts of National Park and Conservation Zone land to the Chinese and Koreans, (who level the land and build large, boxy casinos and factories).
Returning on a coach from one such public holiday in Sihanoukville (Cambodia's only port), we drive past many of these factories. They all have high metal railings, topped with razor-bundles or barbed spikes. There are armed guards at the entrance and heavy security doors on the main buildings.
Does this seem right to you? I wonder who benefits: for if the workers and merchandise are being protected, then why are the spikes and razor-wire facing inwards? I can't help but laugh to myself, realising that this is a horrible parody of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. Nobody ever goes in. Nobody ever comes out. It's a depressing subject - yes - but I note with ironic satisfaction that the Korean overlords have at least managed to do up the high walls of the paint factory in lurid primary stripes. How tasteful.
Enough of factories. There are more dangerous things on this journey than a few slave-happy entrepreneurs. The low mountains are covered in round-looking trees that seem too bright-green despite the months I've been out here. Despite the dirty stalls rushing past and the manic driving of the trade traffic, the view is a pretty one. Then I noticed a sign that I was to become regrettably familiar with - the little, red signs; nailed to the trees at wonky angles . Above the squiggle of Khmer there is white skull and crossbones each one: they are landmine warning markers. There is a problem with an overactive air-con on the bus, and for the very first time since arriving in South-East Asia, I am truly cold. I'd forgotten what it felt like.
I haven't mentioned Sihanoukville yet because it is a hole and full of mosquitoes. What time I didn't spend Diving, I spent in the Backpacker quarter. The rusting beach bars are clattered together, vomiting party tunes out of cracked subs on to the littered beach, named "Serendipity". The inside seethes like an agitated ants-nest of gap year kids: tranquilised and out of their heads on bucket cocktails, cut weed and the doxycycline in their blood. This is the nice part of town.
The two alternatives are the Asian quarter, or Victory Hill. The first is the Chinese tourist district, where chefs in faded aprons dream up horrors like "special shark fins curry" and proudly advertise them on neon signs. Perhaps my mind is just being set off by the surroundings, but I note that there is a lack of the usual stray dog population in the area, too. Where are Greenpeace or the WWF on the one occasion when you actually need them?
Victory Hill is disturbing. It used to be the travellers' haunt until Serendipity became more popular. Business is still booming, however, because another parasite than the mosquito has moved in: the sex-tourist. There are all manner of love clubs or "boom-boom shows" for these pathetic men to choose from, and neon hearts and silhouettes blossom cheaply in the muggy night. Most of the punters are British. I realise that I hate these people, and what they represent. Even on the beachfront, there is still no escape. On one evening, a pair of sunburnt skinheads in white England polos each bounce a pair of teenage Khmer girls on their laps. It takes a lot to put me off my G&T - but the slavering tongues, dirty laughter and quivering bellies of the sex-tourists physically disgusts me. Part of me wants to scream: "how DARE you call yourself English - she can't be much older than 15!", but I notice the pimps a few tables over. They all have leather holsters at their belts, which I am fairly sure do not contain cameras. Of the two fat men, I hear the one with a Northern accent say "come 'ere, luvly"; he leans in and pulls down the skimpy top of a new girl, who looks even younger.
I throw my drink on the sand and reach for the nicotine. My fellow volunteers are heading off to a club on another beach.