Jake’s Grey Girl StoryFebruary 20, 2005
The first few times that I met Jake, I thought that he had just arrived in Cambodia. He seemed to be constantly surprised and perplexed by everything, he would often ask me the most simple [not to mention odd] of questions – so, where can I buy a mango here ? – I ran into him a couple of times a month in the usual riverside haunts, which was another reason for me not thinking too much about how long he had been here.
So it came as a bit of a shock to me when one evening it came out that he had been here for over five years.
Now Jake was an early-30-something Australian, a lawyer by profession and an avid sportsman by choice; whether kayaking in the Gulf of Thailand or mountain biking across the Cardamom Mountains.
He was seconded out here by his Melbourne law firm to advise and oversee some legal mumbo jumbo and advise various processes if the RGC on writing laws and establishing legal doctrine.
He is based here, but is paid back in Australia as if he still lived in Melbourne – which as I am sure that you can imagine, gives him a somewhat comfortable lifestyle here in Phnom Penh.
He has a very nice villa, in its own secure compound, he drives to work every morning in his own car, he is looked after by his cook and cleaner. However, it seems that that is almost the extent to which he has integrated with any Khmer nationals; or should I say male Khmer nationals.
After nearly four years in, he met a girl that he liked a lot, she was a waitress in one of the riverside restaurants, he wined, dined and generally wooed the young lady for a while, they feel in love, she stopped working and he paid for her to go to University, the idea being that she would initially study to improve her English and then she wanted to do a beauticians training course, she had the idea that she wanted to open a beauty saloon catering to ex-pats and middle class Khmers.
During this time she had also moved into the villa with him.
A few months she came home one evening and told him that she had been living with him for a year, our absentminded friend thought for a moment and then was surprised to realise that she was right, tempus fugit, how time flies.
She then proceeded to tell him that under Cambodian law that meant that they were now married. Jake was slightly perplexed by this; whilst he was a lawyer, he was here to work on procedural aspect of the Khmer legal system, how to introduce new laws and to measure there usage and effectiveness. He had no idea about this sort of thing.
He floundered and was not sure what it was too mean for him and his life here.
She then told him that it was not necessary for him to hold an actual wedding now, but he was responsible for paying her / her family the equivalent of the wedding costs as a dowry.
The sum that her and the family had calculated?
Well, as you can imagine, that set off quite a heated debate. In fact the ‘conversation’ about; the whole ‘common law marriage’, the payment, the family, the continuing nature of the universe, et cetera was held over several days, each becoming bitterer and more entrenched as time went by.
Jake finally agreed to pay US$2,000 to the girl and her family.
But then came the kicker.
The day after he had given her the money, he told her that it was all over, that he no longer wanted to see her and that she had to move out of the house.
This caused the expected weeping and wailing, however, after an hour of so of beating her breast, sobbing and saying that she was going to slash her throat [a standard Khmer female threat] it became apparent to the girl that she was getting nowhere. Upon realising this, she instigated a change of tactics. Now she started to threaten to call the police, to tell them that he had forced her to do things, that he had drugs on the premises [about US$3 worth of pot] and all manner of threats spewed forth from her formerly loving mouth.
Jake was not too concerned with this, he had heard many threats during the course of all this, so he paid little attention and just reiterated his requests for her to leave and never darken his doorstep again.
Half an hour later Jake was sat on his sofa sweating profusely.
The girl had finally left, but he was now surrounded by 7 Khmer police officers. Asking him questions and poking around in all the corners of his house.
More grilling and questioning and threats.
In the end more cash exchanged hands and Jake was left in peace.
Jake feeling somewhat shock up, unhappy and annoyed by the whole of the week he had been having headed out for a beer, or ten. Which was when I ran into him, slumped in a chair watching the skyline over the Tonle Sap darken as evening drew on. Beer followed beer followed beer as we caught up on events and his whole sad tale was told.
”Do you know what I am most angry about?” Jake quizzed me.
”The worst part of it all is that I really love her, I miss her and want her back”
I just kept quiet, nodded to the waitress for another beer and wondered what other such tales and adventures awaited in our new home, Phnom Penh.
Please note that names, nationalities, dates and facts have been subtly altered to protect the guilty, innocent and perpetually confused.