Cambodia: Elsewhere, the Scene.

February 3rd, 2008

My impression is the NGO world in Phnom Penh is like high school, only the parties are better. (at left: the riverside, bar stop number four)

Of course, I haven’t collected a sufficient data set but Friday night Dan, Allison, and I tried to keep up with Charis, a lifestyle writer for Asia Life magazine here in Phnom Penh. The two are visiting from Seattle. Dan is a long-time friend and Allison is his girlfriend; she is also *the* key FEAR Project staff person and will be spending an as yet to be determined amount of time with me working on the counter-trafficking story. She’s already cracking the whip, reminding me of meetings, pushing deeper on sensitive subjects, and these NGO people seem to be falling in love with her intelligence and presence. (should I start feeling insecure?)

In a matter of fifteen days or so, I have found a community for myself, people I feel I can call up and decompress to, have a drink with, grab some dinner, or laugh at ourselves. It started with Pat, the woman working on land mine issues, spread to Kath, who works on counter trafficking in persons, Rachel, the ex-radio reporter on an extended holiday, and now several others. Of course there is James, my subject turned confidante, friend, and drinking partner and after my trip to Sihanoukville I’m adding John and Charis to the list. (at right: jockeying for drinks at elsewhere)

I’m learning who’s been sleeping with whom, which ones “prefer Khmer skirt,” who likes coke, what kind of male/female ratios I might find at which bars, and have been given the up-and-down by too many drunk (and sober) women to count but this, this one takes the cake. (at left: the elsewhere dance floor)

Culminating the seven-bar Friday night party-hop with Charis we finally ended up at “the” pretentious party everyone hates to go to (but ends up at anyway) known as “Elsewhere.” It was there, on the dance floor, a dread-locked man gently took Allison’s hand and asked “Do you fuck?”

Apparently everything here operates much faster; there are some long-time locals but often people are only here for a year or two, adding a sense of urgency to things. Or maybe a rawness. It could also be the work the NGO crowd is doing, and where their last tour might have been, for even in the short time I’ve been here I’ve personally seen how hard this life can be on the mind and body. Never mind the pollution or generally high ambient noise. (at left: hanging at the pool at elsewhere)

There’s the heat, dehydration, sickness, the work load, the kind of work; some of this is about human suffering, the rest is about money and development. So maybe that adds to the intensity, accelerating already fast relationships; you could be two ships passing in the night, but on that off-chance you connect, it seems you’ve got an abbreviated time frame to make things work.

On the other hand, if the rumors are true about the 4 a.m. nude and drunk swimmers at Elsewhere, it might be that ex-pats, especially NGO ex-pats, just like to party. Hard. (at right: a couple near the bathroom line up)

I feel old.

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