Sunday, November 11, 2007

Phnom Penh Nightlife; Too Much Info; Miscellania

Analogy: Phnom Penh (PP) is to Saigon as Boston is to New York City.
PP and Boston are both smaller, more manageable and offer most of the same types of entertainment, just on a smaller scale. (Boston may have 20 Thai restaurants, whereas New York may have 200.)

For night life, here are the general types of bars offered in PP and other parts of Cambodia (sources: some first hand, some "experts" I met.

1) Standard dance clubs: Heart of Darkness
2) Hostess bars: One 3 Six, Shanghai
Lots of attractive young women. You go in for a drink, they come over and flirt with you. If you like them, you buy them a drink ($2.50, they get a dollar). In some of the bars, you can ask the women to leave the bar with you. You pay the bar $5. (some charge $10, if it's before 10 pm.) Apparently, if the woman wants to go home with you it is up to her -- no guarantees.
3) Bars and Dance clubs with professionals working the crowd: Walk About, Martini, Shark Club

Note about girls who work in the various types of bars:
There appears to be little stigma attached to working in these types of establishments. Apparently, if you meet a girl you like, you start dating and ask her to stop working or at least carrying on with men outside the bar. Two Western guys I know met their girl friends that way. Both guys expect to marry the women. One guy is putting his girl friend through college. The other is living with his girl friend. The latter guy is learning Cambodian and has told his girlfriend she has to learn English before he will marry her.

There are also cultural considerations with marrying a Cambodian woman. Thorniest issue: I've been told that when you marry a Cambodian woman, in some cases her family may gradually moves into your house. First, it will be her sister on the couch. Then after you have a child, her parents start staying over. Eventually, your on the couch and you sex life goes kaput. (sounds a lot like marriage-American style.) Source for all this: hearsay.

First Night Out in PP

As I mentioned earlier, on my first night I went out to a local restaurant and had a difficult time trying to order. No one spoke English and after 30 minutes of hand charades, all I had on my table was an order of chicken wings. I noticed a white guy sourrounded by Cambodians at a nearby table. I went over and asked for help. He invited me to join them and we all started eating and toasting. We'll call him Barry.

After dinner, Barry invited me to go drinking and dancing with his girlfriend and her cousins. First, we went to a hostess bar, where his girlfriend used to work. He met her there but she no longer works there. She spoke to a couple of attractive former coworkers in Cambodian and pointed to me. One came and sat on the arm of my chair. She wasn't exactly a scintillating conversationalist, but she was nice and gorgeous. She knew a few phrases in English (what's your name, where are you from) and all I knew in Cambodian was "Kouw tauw moy." (down the hatch, a standard toast for drinking). I became a little embarrassed having her there in front of my friend's girlfriend and the other woman who came with us. I also didn't buy her a drink. Eventually, the hostess moved on.

We stayed for a little while longer and then went down the street to one of the wildest dance bars I've ever been to, The Heart of Darkness, which is one of the must see attractions in PP, according to Lonely Planet travel guides. Due to a history of violence in there (shooting or stabbing, can't remember which), they frisk you at the door; the security is tighter than at many airports and guards seem to enjoy their work a little too much. The guard padded me down, gave my genitals a little tweak. I waved my finger at him and said "you're bad boy." He winked and I went in.

Once you're inside you could see why the place was trouble. It had a combustible mixture of some of the largest white guys I'd ever seen outside of a football locker room; some dark tough-looking Cambodian guys who looked like they had just left a jungle patrol; waifey gay guys dancing together on a stage, and tons of the most beautiful Asian women I'd ever seen. (The women were light skined, dark-skinned, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, and a few grossly overweight Western women in their 20's). The techno music selection was excellent; it was so loud it jolts you the moment you enter the place. The laser show was blinding. The whole place kind of seethes and everyone is dancing and bumping into each other. Our group of men and women danced will about 3:00 am.

Barry and his girlfriend invited me to join them the following evening to visit a slightly seedier version of the Heart of Darkness, called Martini. The bar was on a side street. You entered through what looked like a garage door. There was a guy with spina bifida, who had no body from the waist down, begging at the door. Again, we were patted down for weapons, and entered the place. The bar looked pretty calm. Some Western couples, a few middle-aged white guys with Asian girls -- can't always assume that the women are prostitutes, they could be the guys' wives or girlfriends. Basically, the place looked pretty dull.

Barry went to the bathroom and said that for 25 cents the bathroom attendent would massage your back while you urinate. Not really my scene, but I had to go the bathroom anyway. I went into a toilet stall to avoid the guy. When I came out of the bathroom, I heard loud techo music coming from the down the hall. I went to investigate. There it was: a seedy dance club, packed with people. I grabbed Barry and his girl friend and we went in. The music was good and there was even a 5-foot-9 girly boy ripping up the dance floor. We stayed and danced. There were some professionals working the room, including the first pro in her 30s I'd seen.

More Hostesses

Barry invited me out another night to meet a friend, an older white guy who was engaged to a young Cambodian woman he had met at a bar. Though he and his girlfriend have an exclusive relationship, she still goes to bars to see her friends and he still goes to see his. We all met at a new hostess bar called One 3 Six. Inside, there were about 40 mostly gorgeous women in their 20's and a handful of white guys. We sat down with Barry's friend who already had several women sitting with him. Many of the hostesses he knew through his girlfriend.

I sat at the end of the table, the spot for the single guy. One woman came up to me and started talking. I wasn't that attracted to her but didn't know how to dismiss her without being rude, so I didn't talk much and looked around the room. I made eye-contact with another woman who was giggly and frisky and came right over and started kissing my shaved head. We started talking and she started hanging on me. We played a modest game of curious hands and then I asked if her she wanted a drink. She indicated that she already had one. I vacillated between being embarrassed for carrying on in front of everyone else at the table and not caring. We were preparing to go to another bar. I asked if she wanted to go. No answer. Not a good sign. A few more minutes of tickling, and she started nibbling on my throat, rubbing my head. I nibbled on her ear, then asked again if she wanted to join us. She gave me a funny look and then turned to a friend of hers who spoke better English. They spoke in Cambodian. Then the friend turned to me. "She's having her period." Eeek. Too much information for am invitation to dance. We parted company vowing to get married next time I was in town.


Miscellania:
- In some U.S. restaurants, the waiters bring around a desert tray after the meal. At my first Cambodian restaurant, a gentleman brought around the broiled-snake-frog- and-larvae tray. I looked them over. The larvae looked interesting, but I was pretty full and passed.
- Eating at a food stall, the cook was handling my food with bare hands as they always do. After handing me my food, she noticed that the leg of my table was wobbly and reached down to put paper under it to stabilize it. I couldn't help but notice that the same hand that was making my food was now touching the wet, slimey ground.
- as I mentioned earlier, I checked out of a cheap guest house that had a rat running around in the lobby. My new hotel was cleaner, but supposedly home to a lot of older guys who brought home young women at all hours. My first night, I was awoken at 4:00 am by a yelping sound, much like that you might hear from a seal having his testicles squeezed with pliers. I heard it again a few nights later and figured the guy was having bad dreams and not wild girls.

For more on other naughty stuff, such as Southeast Asian massage, happy endings, see more Phnom Penh night life