Furthur (II)

Battambang, Cambodia


Pigs in a wicker basket

Sisophon, Banteay Meanchey, Cambodia

08:00: As we drive off to breakfast, M. brightly suggests that a well-known public figure might be an appropriate sponsor for a proposed national support network for men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM). Her proposal is not immediately understood. Before I can stop her, she clarifies. “Well, lots of people in the West think that …” The eyes of the English speakers in the bus go instantly round with horror. “You cannot say that,” P. tells her, wagging her finger admonishingly. “You are in big trouble if you say that.”

08:05: K. quietly confirms that lots of people in Cambodia think that too.

08:30: The women M. interviewed last night show up at the restaurant, escorted by C. Without anyone eavesdropping, they are considerably more forthcoming. The most interesting is the oldest, who was apparently married to a high-ranking army officer and used to own a brothel in Phnom Penh. She moved to Sissophon when the brothel was destroyed during a government slum clearance project. According to her, the slum clearance was “unofficial”, i.e. using gasoline and matches rather than bulldozers.

09:00: I go for a walk and discover the police station and the pig market. On the lawn in front of the police station, a large number of young men in shorts are doing some kind of martial arts exercise. I can’t see what’s going on, but the activity seems to be punctuated by brisk slapping sounds followed by polite applause. The pig market, which consists of a gaggle of swine-laden motos drawn up in the shade of a building, is considerably noisier. The pigs have some strong feelings on the desirability of being picked up and loaded into a kind of wicker basket slung across the back of a moto, and are not shy about letting their opinions be known.

12:00: Another day, another gigantic lunch.

14:30: We go sight-seeing. The crumbling limestone blocks of Wat Ek Phnom offer themselves as a backdrop for C., who is anything but camera-shy and poses with the aplomb of one born to the catwalk.

17:00: We arrive in Battambang. It is the day of the Senate elections, and the Funcinpec and CPP bigwigs have block-booked most of the hotels in town. We luck out and find some rooms in the seventh or eighth place we try.

19:00: M. and I abscond to read email and drink beer.

21:00: After supper, we walk the wrong way down the river and end up at the wrong bridge, putting us about as far from our hotel as you can get in half an hour of walking. Battambang is quite remarkably unlit at night, making navigation a challenge. The moto taxi driver is a little surprised to see two figures surge out of the blackness waving a map at him, but seems to accept this as just another example of inexplicable balang behavior and delivers us back to our hotel without comment.