Stan Kahn’s New Postcard from Kampot (Kampot = Disco City)

Posted on by Stan Kahn
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In the time since my last post, not one, but two discos opened in the sleepy town. One closed for a short time but has reopened. Those of you familiar with Kampot know that the streets, with rare exceptions, are deserted by eleven pm. I was thus suitably skeptical when I heard of plans to open a big disco in the large building that’s built on stilts in the river opposite the abandoned market. I couldn’t imagine where they’d find the customer base.

It’s not the first time I’ve been proven wrong. Even on weekdays the place is hopping with at least 100 people. I also thought the owner was a little nutso when I heard she was going to charge a minimum three dollars for a beer. She has a disco in Sihanoukville so she knows her business. But who would pay those prices, especially in Kampot? Well they do pay, if they want to sit down that is, but as far as I can tell they’ll nurse a single drink as long as they stay. It’s easy enough to pop in for a few dances without buying anything.

The clientele, as you might expect, is 90% young Khmer boys, the girls being few and far between. Provincial mamas are not going to let their girls out at night for naughty fun at the discos. The ratio in Phnom Penh discos catering to Khmers, like Goldstar or Dark Room, is far from equal but much better than 90/10.

And risqué it can get. I was startled to see a sexy show one night which started with two ladyboys doing a dance routine followed by a boy-girl couple who did a sexy dance which I believe would not even fly in the capitol if the police knew about it. Not that any sex was showing, but at one point she unbuttoned his pants and pretended to fumble with his doodler. He later laid down on the floor while she sat on his face and pretended to do a 69. In fact, she wasn’t all that sexily dressed – short shorts, bare midriff, top sans cleavage. Nevertheless, the whole scene seemed totally incongruous in a place like Kampot.

I’ve been pounding dance floors for more than half a century and will probably be dancing as long as I can still stand up so it seemed like a great idea to have one in Kampot so close and convenient. Everything in Kampot is convenient and easy to get to compared to Phnom Penh, one big reason why I love it.

Unfortunately, like most clubs in the capitol the volume is ratcheted up to eardrum shattering levels. From a combination of lots of loud music over the years, industrial noise I endured without ear protection and the simple process of aging, my ears are extremely sensitive. Especially when the treble is turned up it feels positively painful, like an electric drill piercing my brain. I’ve already got a serious case of tinnitus, that constant ringing in the ears. When it gets really loud I have to run away screaming, Get me out of here!
The only place I can go in Phnom Penh without my regulation earplugs is Martini’s. I expect that’s because they had to agree to keep it down because of being in a residential area. Even that is borderline, so I always have my plugs ready just in case. Paper sorta works, but not really good enough to protect my ears. With plugs I can go to Riverhouse or Dark Room. The Heart of Darkness, impossible: Orange, unthinkable.
It’s kinda sad really that my choices are so restricted. It’s a progressive malady so every time I let in excessive decibels, my ears get worse. I already can’t hear half of what soft-spoken people say to me unless I’m also lip reading. It gets kinda tedious having to ask, What’d you say? all the time so, like a lot of Khmers talking to English speakers, I often smile and pretend I understand.

The second Kampot disco, which was located across the river, started out with a much more reasonable sound level. It seemed to also have adequate business when I went but evidently couldn’t compete with the noisy one. When it reopened its decibel level was competitive with the first.

For Khmer people if it isn’t loud it isn’t good. If you don’t have to scream to be heard by the person standing next to you then it’s missing something. It seems absurd to me to go to a birthday party or wedding and not be able to hold a conversation. One thing for sure, Cambodia is becoming a nation of deaf people.

In other news I reported in my last article that a large section of the road to Teuk Chhou rapids and Kamchey dam had been totally destroyed. Well, at the present time it’s being completely rebuilt. And further, a new road and bridge over the river are being built that will allow the big construction trucks to completely bypass the town and much of the Teuk Chhou road; what a relief.

As for access to Bokor Park, rumor has it that the road will be opened when the Prime Minister comes to the area to dedicate it just after Khmer New Year. No word on what it will cost to get in. They’ll be shooting themselves in the foot if they keep prices very high. A forty dollar fee, which is what the park rangers were charging before the park was closed, would keep the great majority of potential visitors out.

On a personal level, I’ve put off building a house for now at my land. Several reasons entered into the decision. For one, I’d only have enough money left to maintain my current lifestyle of living in both Kampot and the capitol and commuting frequently between the two for a few additional months. I’d be forced to live full time in the boonies. I love the countryside, don’t get me wrong, but I just can’t imagine saying goodbye to Phnom Penh’s night life in such a short time.

Even if I could manage to both build a house and keep my PP apartment, I don’t feel it’s possible to have a house at the land and still leave it for a week at a time. It’d be an easy target for local bad boys, not to mention just about anyone who came along and saw a red tomato hanging on the vine.

Hiring a caretaker is always a possibility, but would require building them a house at another grand or two. Some people have had good luck finding workers, my luck has been terrible. Anyway, it’d be a hassle and another expense.

For another thing it’s a bit too far from town – 3 kilometers to be convenient for any female companions. They now, from my rental house, have easy access by bicycle to the market and whatever else they want to do. From the land I’d either have to drive them back and forth to town or buy a motorbike. No way they’d ride a bicycle that far in the hot sun; well, occasionally, but not two or three times a day like now. If she, or they (one always likes having a companion) can get around on their own, I get some free time. As long as they’re around the house, there’s constant Khmer music or hip-hop to listen to and drive me crazy.

It works out that I spend about 10 hours a month at the land. Enough to keep the trees and plants watered and do a little additional work here and there. I would do a lot more there but it doesn’’t seem like my life will enable it. Not much need for watering now, it feels like height of rainy season with good strong rains every day.

Meanwhile, the tomatoes that looked so great a couple months ago are all dead or showing signs of stress. The soil, being mostly sand, is very easy to work, but doesn’t contain many nutrients. I’m going to have to add a lot of manure, organic material and potting soil to get it produce vegetables. That’s all part of the fun.

Stan Kahn

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