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Scambodia
Thursday, January 29, 2004
 
28 January 2004 Phnom Penh

Deadline day strikes again. This morning was spent updating my bird flu story...chicken for dinner anyone? how about duck?

This arvo I was called up to take some photos to help another reporter who is following the assassination of trade union leader Chea Vichea last week. We turned up to the police station where the chief of police was to speak. I am standing there with this little camera around my neck, feeling completely out of place against all these guys with hunting vests and khaki trousers, armed to the teeth with lenses, films and flash bulbs. Well, my shirt I was wearing was beige, so I didn't stick out too much. My fallic camera left a lot to be desired though.

Well, before I knew it, these two guys with hoods over their heads were being rushed into the cop shop...suspects in the murder. I found myself somewhere around their feet, looking up through a camera lens at these poor guys crying and professing their innoncence. In Australia, a suspect to a murder wouldn't even be named, let alone paraded in front of a media scrum. It was quite a powerful experience, particualrly as I doubt if anyone really thought these guys were guilty.

As my memory card was rapidly filling, I had the strange contradiction of alternating between taking photos of bawling murder suspects with deleting photos of my beach holiday. I am not much of a photographer, but when you take 40 photos, you're bound to get one you can use! I am still to see whether my photo made it in to press. If so, that would bring my contributions this edition to two! Next edition though, big things!

Tomorrow Georgia and I are taking a three day holiday up the Mekong. Till then, take it easy...we will.




Monday, January 26, 2004
 
25 January 2004 Sihanoukville

“On the trail of Gary Glitter”

We took a short trip (read 5 hour bus ride) down to this coastal retreat this weekend, to spend some time lounging on the beach and swimming in warm water. It was the first time I had effectively had a bath in three weeks, and I can now be sure that I have wet every part of my body at least once.

Aside from the gentle rustle of coconuts high up in the warm coastal breeze, the only sound to bother us was that of four hundred beggars and fruit sellers constantly parading up and down the beach moaning “money? money? Pleeez seerh muurney? Arrgghh.” The response to this is either a firm “No” or else a polite “Can I put it on credit?” Some could hardly be said to be parading, rather crawling up the entire beach on their arses due to their deformed or missing legs. One guy we were sitting with worked giving out prosthetics to land mine victims. He said that beggars usually leave their prosthetics at home for the purposes of sympathy.

And then there was the fruit sellers…They were extremely well versed in English and would just sit down next to your chair, and talk to you. It was as if they been part of some conversation with me that had gone along the lines of “You want to buy fruit?” “Sure. Why don’t you pull up a seat and tell me what you’ve got on offer. Oh, and do you sell ornaments made out of rare coral?- Because that would look really nice on the table next to the fruit platter.”

If you refused to buy their fruit, they asked “Why not?” One Vietnamese girl -wearing a t-shirt of Britney Spears “Princess of the Feverness”- challenged me to a game of ‘noughts and crosses’. It was agreed the winner would either buy the fruit or be left in peace momentarily. It must speak volumes for my intellect that I actually managed to lose this one. However, the girl was ultimately the loser as we bought fruit off someone else later.

That night we went out to the beach again to have dinner and drinks. One place had free curry and a falcon blind in one eye. We two ordered “buckets” of Mekong whiskey and coke, I ordered seconds of the curry. While ideally a bucket is a large glass bowl with multiple straws done up like a Vegas style cocktail, in this instance, a Tupperware jug and a stripy straw sufficed. By the end of the night, the falcon and I were the only ones not fully blind.

Of course, the whole weekend had a grand sense of occasion about it. From the moment we arrived, we were informed that none other than Garry Glitter had been spotted –bald though wearing a long white beard and cowboy hat, and maybe also a little boy. Sadly I never saw Garry himself, though many hours were spent chasing old white haired men with a camera.



Thursday, January 22, 2004
 
22 January 2004.

The head of the trade union labor movement got assassinated just around the corner today…just another day in Cambodian politics really. We had CNN in Hong Kong ring us up for comment, though by that stage none of us even knew it had occurred. As a fortnightly publication, the paper has a stronger focus on feature articles and ongoing issues rather than daily news. John the freelance photographer took some graphic photos which were very confronting.

On Khmer-language dailies, there is not much censorship of images…at least of graphic accidents. On Tuesday one of the papers ran front page with a photo of a moped driver who had his head run over by a truck. The photo left not a lot to the imagination. Another photo further down the page was of a woman in a body bag, also a road accident. Most of the body was in a green bag. Eap explained that this was because a bike had ridden over her stomach and spilled her innards everywhere. He had seen this on his way home from work.

I have been pretty ill the past two days, waking up at 20 minutes past the hour, every hour with explosive vomiting and diarrhea. At least it was regular! However, today I am feeling better. I think it’s my body’s way of telling me it cannot handle the movies on HBO film channel. Or Star movies. It seems these two channels bought up every film from 1980, and are contracted to play all ten years worth before they can move up to playing films from 1990. When one channel is playing Steve Martin, the other is running with Nicholas Cage.

This weekend a bunch of us are going down to Sihanoukville –Cambodia’s beach resort. It is meant to be pretty nice. Some people say it is not as nice as Thailand, but by this do they just mean not as many resorts? I’ll keep you posted.

 
20 January 2004
Phnom Penh

The “sensitive Sam” referred to in previous posts was blessed with a new side today –that being the sensitive stomach. Nothing like a good ol’ poo and spew to welcome me into my third week in the third world.

Am not sure of the cause yet, and will probably never know for sure. However, it could possibly be due to the Russian meal we ate last night. I had forgotten that Russia is world renowned for their cuisine, with such delicacies as ‘chicken breast stuffed with liver’, and the ‘potatoes done three ways’. I myself settled for the house special. It was ‘meat’ (probably the same ‘meat’ in four’n’twenty meat pies) coated with cheese, on a bed of capsicum, mushroom and tomato. Essentially the same meal eaten by careful budgeting university students in Australia -though even I managed to avoid such a low during uni.

Nonetheless, today is another day, and I can console myself on two counts. Firstly, Georgia is also feeling queasy, though has not vomited yet. Secondly while out to lunch at a Chinese restaurant, I bought a S11 zippo lighter, complete with silver plated Osama bin Laden, flashing lights and a two-tone rendition of ‘Fur Elise’.

Oh yeah, the Chinese didn’t stay down long.

PS yesterday some little kid nearly peed all over my leg. I was walking on the footpath and (stupidly) walked in front of some naked little boy. Before I know it I’m doing the high jump of this golden arch which was otherwise destined for my suit. Little bastard!


Saturday, January 17, 2004
 
13 January 2004 (group email) Phnom Penh

Hey all, am now working on the PP Post, and working off a mighty hangover. Last night this guy from Agence France Presse shouted me at this bar all night. Handy! Next door to the bar is this pizza joint where you can order "happy" pizzas. I've been warned to only order them on weekends, as they knock you about for about three days.
On Saturday I got in touch with that caring and sharing side you all know I have somewhere, and worked at an orphanage. Well i was supposed to be planting trees, but because of the fucken Iron Age implement I was using, I had blisters popping before I even knew I had blisters. Seriously, I still have this cut the size of a twenty cent piece on my hand. As luck would have it I started work two days later, and had to shake everyone's hand as you do. Probably think I’m some limp wristed sissy. That's the price of charity ey'. Well, I bet Prince William in the South American highlands never got blisters when he did charity work, eah don't know where I’m going with this.
In this program we were supposed to do the first week with the embassy...that turned out to be about two half hour meetings. The ambassador was back in Australia apparently...her husband had committed suicide within a day of arriving in Phnom Penh...personally I didn't think the food was that bad!
I am pondering stories to write here, you really get thrown in the deep end, but it's a lot of fun. Maybe I could write one on why they have pink toilet paper in third world countries. It's not as if it makes diarrhoea any prettier!


 
9 January 2004 (group email) Phnom Penh.

Hi, I don't remember whether I wrote to you all last night, was a bit pissed, but that's par for the course here. Phnom Penh is fantastic; today I bought a mobile phone (old shitty one) and a motorbike helmet (very cool looking).

First day here I went to a shooting range and fired an AK47...also had hand grenades for US60...hmmmm. Apparently they had bazookas you could fire at cows as well. Then went to deeply depressing killing fields....a temple with seventeen layers high of human skulls and mass graves all around, including the tree they hit babies against to save bullets...even worse was the torture museum at an old high school (yes, we all now VCE is torturous.). They balconies outside of the building were covered in barbed wire to stop inmates committing suicide by jumping. But even worse, they had this movie theatre where they would chain inmates up and make them watch Steve martin films. That sounds too cruel to be true though. Initially this torture was rigged up to give you electric shocks through the fingernails whenever you laughed...but this didn't seem to happen too much. Maybe they should have tried Chevy Chase movies instead.

 
Saturday 17 January 2004.

“You can the boy out of a clean house, but you can’t take the house cleaner out of the boy”.

Last night was editor Mike Coren’s farewell drinks Vol 1. For Georgia and me it was also to celebrate our first stories I guess. It was at this rooftop bar called Tamarind on street 240. It was not too bad!

I was having a grand old time when this Belgian photographer had a few brief words with me. She had taken photos for the story on slum eviction I had written, and had told me to get in touch with a guy from an NGO for info. Well, the first thing she said was that after the article was published, the guy had now been getting death threats. As the paper was only published in the morning, I was instantly in admiration of the speed at which a death threat could be made these days! I know it is statistically impossible, but I think she was about 105 percent lying.

She said “you mentioned his name about six times!” in a perfect example of a question/statement/answer. Of course, it came out more like “Zhoo Mentiorrrn hiz nihm aboud zix timezz”. All that was missing was the “RUOH HO HOOOR” laugh. Either way, I figure if I’d mentioned his name once or forty, it was irrelevant. He had not spoken to me on condition of anonymity, and had only later tried to censor what I quoted him. Mike Coren was a firm believer in quoting sources. It seems that if we caved in to all the people who wanted to be quoted anonymously in hindsight, the entire paper would be so anonymous that even I would have to change my byline to “An undisclosed reporter”. If she doesn’t like what I write, next time she should write it her bloody self.

Anyway she left after she had said her piece, and I left about four hours later, by which time there was only four other people, one of whom was a mouth organ. We went to a bar down the road called Rubies. It was owned my two aussie girls, who to me seemed a little too cool for school. I ordered a grapefruit juice on the rocks (whoa!) and sat down on these room full of nice couches in the back room. It was quite pleasant as the couches were soft, and the ceiling fan revolved above me at a fast pace, which was necessary considering the ceiling was about four metres high.

Well, I didn’t have too long to dwell on the interior decorating before a giant feather duster caught my eye. It was as long as the room was high. I immediately went for it, with the intention of using it to annoy everyone else who sat on the surrounding couch. Imagine the hilarity. A giant “CRUNCH” sound was all it took to remind me that there was a ceiling fan suspended about 3.7 metres above me. Virtually the entire bar ran in to see me holding a particular long feather duster in my hand wondering what the hell had happened. I decided that was as good a cue as any to go home.


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