As we drove into the city of Phnom Penh at dusk last night, I was struck by how much the architecture reminded me of New Orleans. I’ve never been to New Orleans in person (I’ve been to the old one if that helps), but there’s more than a passing resemblance between the vieux carré in America and the vibrantly colourful bâtiments that decorate this most hospitable of neighbourhoods. There are traces of the French everywhere, but the young don’t speak the language anymore; they’ve adopted the lingua franca that I’m fortunate to have as a first language instead (after Khmer of course).
Today we met one of the older generation, 83-year-old Chum Mey, a remarkable man who was one of a few people who survived being tortured to death by the Khmer Rouge in the Tuol Sleng Prison (known as S21) thanks to his ability to fix typewriters. I can’t even get the ribbon on mine to work, which hints at how long I would have lasted. The museum was originally a school, which was taken over during the reign of Pol Pot. I won’t go into the various methods of torture we never knew existed before today, but it’s almost incomprehensible that human beings even came up with the ideas. The fact it all took place in a school makes it all the more harrowing, especially as I was just starting school myself at the time, a world away in the safety of Trithal County Primary where the only horror involved our dinner lady Mrs Barnes trying to force feed me liver. It’s good to get perspective on your own life sometimes, while the Cambodian people can be proud of how far they’ve come.
Before Cambodia, we were in Thailand. I enjoyed the time we spent in the city greatly, though our trip out into the wilds was a mixed bag. Adventure is good so a few days ago we went for a bike ride out of Bangkok with a tour party. Soon we were traversing jungle (apparently it wasn’t jungle, but it was jungly enough for me) and circumnavigating swamps and stiff upstanding plants of splendorous green on rickety bridges and vertiginous walkways. Some of the steep inclines were terrifying, especially after my episode. To cut a long story short, Claire braked on some broken cobbles, then I lost my balance behind her and ended up falling into a swamp with the bike following after. I didn’t spend enough time in there to find out what it might be infested with and scrambled up the bank looking like a British bellend covered in Thailand’s finest shite. Man of the day was an old Thai dude who hosed me down, pissing himself laughing as he went. A few kilometres away some nice Buddhists gave us food, and Claire gave me her spare Sex Pistols t-shirt. Which is how I came to be standing in front of a giant gold Buddha in a mildly offensive girĺ´s muscle vest.