The Suitable CandidatesNovember 18, 2005
Despite my many recent failures, I keep coming back to this question. Partly, it is prompted by one fetching young peach whom I?ve always hesitated to ask out. There?ve been opportunities – but I’ve always stopped just short and left it at playful banter.
I have some reservations about this girl. None of them has to do with her appearance. She’s a little taller than the average Khmer girl, with light brown skin, not the black of the Indian Khmers or the pale white of the Chinese Khmers, but something lovely in between.
She has a very natural sort of beauty. She wears no makeup, but her complexion glows with the freshness of youth, and her hair hangs halfway down her back, pure black, straight, silky, swaying with a brilliant sheen as she walks.
The reservations come from other things – like her English. What could a Khmer girl who speaks no English want from me except money? What could I want from a Khmer girl who speaks no English except domestic help and a partner in Tantric sex magic?
There wouldn’t be this problem with a good educated girl, but this one’s level is a bit too low to enable a serious conversation, and she’s always struggling to express herself while I’m always trying to simplify.
I’m not even sure of her age, though I bump into her a couple times a week, and I talk to her each time. She looks about seventeen – but she says she’s twenty-two. I just can’t believe it and have always dismissed it as a misunderstanding.
There are other issues as well. One is her job – she works at a little restaurant, obviously not owned by her family, placing her fairly low in the social hierarchy. She hasn’t finished high school – though again due to her English I’m not sure if she stopped after Grade Ten or if she’s studying in Grade Ten at the moment.
So why am I even interested in her? She’s beautiful. And sweet. But when I imagine asking her out and then going out with her, I can’t help but wonder what my Khmer acquaintances would think – and what it would be like compared to having one of those besuited elfin girls one meets in banks and offices.
I don’t mean to sound arrogant. I know that as foreigners we don’t really fit into the normal social hierarchy. But living here long enough makes you conscious of that hierarchy – and of how Khmer girls, and their families, choose their partners.
I’m not really a romantic anymore – at least not before half a bottle of Mekong Whisky. I tend to think of romantic love as a Western disease – as something that I had back home, before I’d come to Asia, perhaps because I left Texas when I was still young enough to be a romantic.
The idea that ‘love is blind’ is everywhere in the West. But it is, from what I can see, no less common in the kind of music and television that Khmer teenagers enjoy. The difference is that their society is so much more pragmatic – and still conservative enough for parents to play a huge role in deciding whom their kids will date and marry.
The criteria they apply when selecting potential candidates are eminently pragmatic. They look at social status, economic situation, family history, and all sorts of other factors. That is, perhaps, why some of us have such difficulty meeting nice Khmer girls – they just can?t figure out which of us is a suitable candidate.
This obstacle can be overcome, of course, with the help of a few Khmer acquaintances. Mine always tell me to let them know whenever as I want a good Khmer girl because they can deliver a few suitable candidates to my doorstep.
So why don’t I just take this route? I don’t like the expectation that I’m looking for a wife. I don’t like feeling like I’m at an interview for the job of boyfriend rather than just on a date. I’ll never be like the locals who decide that it’s time to marry, because they?ve finished university, and then interview several candidates before choosing the best of the lot and going through the ceremony.
No, I rather like the randomness of seeing someone who catches your eye, some fetchingly besuited elfin creature, and then asking her out and seeing where things lead – without, of course, doing anything to compromise her essential virtue before the unfathomably judgmental eyes of Khmer society.
Even so, the Khmers are right – the choice of a girlfriend is best dealt with pragmatically. When I first met my buxom Khmer girl, I didn’t make much money in Cambodia – and she was always going to be a project, with a family that needed support until the hypochondriacal old hag of a matriarch, unworking since early middle age, finally died.
The buxom Khmer girl, too, would have to be supported – a housewife, at best, but that only a faint dream for someone who couldn’t keep out of the Heart for more than a few days without requiring medication to keep the fits from starting up again.
Even when she wanted to study – what would it lead to with no highschool education? Not much of a job – certainly nothing as exciting as pouring drinks, shooting pool, listening to music, joking with friends, and leaving work four hours early almost every night to go dancing at Spark or U2. That?s why I believe hostesses merit nothing more than cooking lessons.
My lovely young little peach, no matter how sweet and traditional she was, would also be something of a project – with no money, being from a poor family, it would take years of language school, and computer school, and high school, and university before she resembled the fetching office girls whose creamy elfin legs so captivate my imagination.
While supporting her over the years, and paying kickbacks to her lazy brothers and bellyaching mother, you would have to work that much harder or deprive yourself of the many pleasures that come with money and freedom – all very tiresome unless you’re set. And as everyone knows, I’m in the rather depressing situation of being middle-aged, with a comb-over, a beer-belly, and not much in the way of savings, a career, or a future in my home country.
So I just keep saying hello to this soft sweet little peach, asking her simple questions, and trying to flirt with her – because it eases my solitude, I suppose, and titillates me without committing me to the project that would probably crush my soul.
Arch Sex Wizard, Assistant to the Junior Master of the Bayesian Cult, Boring Big Bike Rider, and Writer at Large welcomes your questions, comments, suggestions, advice, donations, sexual overtures, and hate-mail. Write to email@example.com. Please include a recognisable subject line and credit card number.