Grey Girls: Part 4, the Yuon ConnectionFebruary 14, 2005
Yuon is, of course, a Khmer word for Vietnamese, a mildly offensive slang name – similar to those of us from the UK referring to; the French as Froggies, the Spanish as Spics, the Italians as Wops or the Germans as Krauts, the Dutch as tulip bothering clog hoppers, et cetera.
( The Politically Correct thought police fascists and bicycling-black-one-legged-lesbian-cyclist-silk-weavers can argue all they want about inherent linguistic racism and subliminal messaging, however, I will continue to say what the hell I like up until the day I am dragged kicking and screaming to The Tower of London for the criminal offence of ‘choosing my own words’)
As anyone who has visited the slightly more male orientated drinking establishments of Phnom Penh more than once will tell you, there are usually two nationalities of girls working in Phnom Penh; Vietnamese girls and Khmer girls.
All of the grey girls I have discussed so far have been Khmer girls; however, as a significant percentage of girls working here are Vietnamese, I felt I should at least touch upon the topic.
Without wishing to resort to massive, sweeping, racial generalisations, but rather based on my own empirical findings, the following seems to be true.
The only Vietnamese grey girls around Phnom Penh seem to be the one who have been here from a very, very, early age. That is to say, that they grew up here and almost consider themselves Khmer. They fall into the same groups and for the same reasons as to why Khmer girls become Grey.
The difference is, because they are Yuon, everyone automatically assumes that they are pure black working girls. However, these is an increasing number of second and third generation Vietnamese and mixed Vietnamese families that live here in Phnom Penh and are becoming integrated within mainstream Khmer society.
Those Vietnamese girls that are working girls here seem on the whole to claim to have grown up in Vietnam and have only come to Cambodia within the last few years. Possibly for the express purpose of becoming a working girl.
Within the working scene, their does not seem to be much difference as to how Vietnamese greys and Khmer greys interact with each other.
However, once away from work I have noticed that a few of the Khmer greys do say some somewhat disparaging things about their colleagues, just because of their ethnicity. Strangely enough, one of the key things that they seem to choose to mock them about is their ability to speak English – ‘That Viet girls English speak funny very,’ you know the sort of thing.
One of the bars that I drink in, has a Chinese girl working there. Now, I am sure that she is not the only one in town, the fact that so many families of Chinese origin have been integrated into the Khmer populous, especially in Phnom Penh, must mean, at least statistically, that some of them work in bars. But she is the only one that I know of.
However, I digress.
One of the bars that I drink in from time to time has a Chinese girl, she has very pale skin, like a porcelain doll, she moves lithely and slowly as she glide gracefully behind the bar; her English is very good.
Unfortunately she is also one of the dullest people I have ever met, or possibly one of the saddest, it is hard to tell..
Gently probing her about her life and what she is doing here, results in a very slow, but graceful, shrug of the shoulders. Asking her if she wants a drink results in a slow shaking of the head and her then sashaying along the bar without her smiling, or even her blinking come to think of it.
One of her Khmer colleagues is a friend of a friend, who I asked once what was the story behind ?girl x? the answer in that wonderful Khmer fashion was ‘ah, yes, she is very sad because she is so sad,’ well, I guess that would explain it.
For those of you who know me personally, none of the girls mentioned above are anyone that you know, or have seen out socially with me at any time; since writing this article all of them have moved on from the particular bar where they worked to other bars, hence me feeling comfortable in publishing this