5 Things Barangs Do Better Than KhmersDecember 16, 2013
Not eating our pets
Whilst in the West pets are a source of joy, in Cambodia pets are a source of protein. Rationality tells us it can’t be more wrong to eat a dog then a pig; indeed haven’t we all read somewhere that pigs are more intelligent and sensitive than dogs? But if that dog has been a member of your family, comforted you in times of stress and played with your children eating it seems a bit ungrateful. Imagine the scene, little pookey has popped his furry clogs and the time has come to break the news to your lip-wobbling whelps, in this situation kindness dictates that some ceremony to mark its passing might be in order, at least a tearful hug and sharing of memories; the idea of gleefully consuming it’s corpse is quite rightly off the table (pun intended). Not so in Cambodia. Fido dies? Fido gets skinned and eaten.
Back in Blighty, flashing your headlights is the equivalent of a warm smile. If you give way to a stranger they flash their headlights to say thank you. If you see a friend you flash your lights in a sign of recognition. I always remember my uncle Philip who had one of those cars with pop-up headlights: when leaving my childhood home on a Sunday afternoon he would make them pop-up and flash as if his car was winking. In Cambodia if you see a car’s lights flashing it means “get out of my way or die”. It happens when a driver of an oversized 4×4 has had enough of waiting for the light and cuts across oncoming traffic in order to make sure his wife gets to buy more shoes. In a last minute nod to bonhomie he flashes his lights to signal to the moto drivers it’s time to wildly pull over and avoid certain death. What should be obvious here is that warning people you are about to do something awful doesn’t make it OK.
Most Barangs have the ability to grow beards unlike their smooth-skinned Khmer counterparts. Sometimes you will see a wisp of hair across the top lip of a Khmer man as if some cotton blowing in the wind got attached to his face but in general Khmer features do not lend themselves to Lionides-esq hedges of masculinity. This lack of facial hair gives Cambodia an advantage over the West insofar as the country is free of adverts for the latest Gillette mach-synergy bullshit. But I feel bad for the poor women who have to go through life never knowing the inestimable pleasure of burrowing their nose in a man’s facial fuzz. And the little babies growing up without grabbing chubby fistfuls of their father’s facial hair causing the old man to emit delightful rumbling sounds. It’s a hidden tragedy. But don’t worry because a new NGO plans to change this by implanting hair follicles into the faces of Cambodia’s rural poor so they can look more like Jesus.
Controlling dogs and cats
“In Cambodia we give dogs their freedom” said my friend Supheak observing a Westerner drag a dog by a leash. The trouble with this is that dogs and cats have radically different aims to me and they often clash. If I’m aiming to sleep you can guarantee the neighbourhood mutts will begin to howl and whoop like an elephant pant-wearing backpacker on her first E. I’d like to walk down the road without being intimidated by the vicious pack of mutts that only pause their incessant shagging and nappy-chewing activities to growl threateningly. I’d like to drive home without risking a collision with a wondering dog, his stupid happy face the last thing I see as I bleed out on Mao Tse Tsung Boulevard. Cats are no better, yowling and screeching all night; they make a worse noise then the dogs. In crowded cities, cats and dogs need to be controlled for the safety and sanity of everyone involved. Cambodians take note.
There’s a lot of hand-wringing in the West about the lost art of conversation and how our smartphone obsession is whittling away the last of our tiny attention spans until we… ooh look a Lexus. So we have developed protocol around the use of smartphones. Propriety now dictates that we do not check our phones in company. It’s something Cambodians could implement if they could only stop posting selfies and playing Angry Birds. You may remember the fantastic film, Batman Forever. In it, Edward Nygma, played by Jim Carrey, invents a hypnotic machine that downloads all your thoughts onto computer for Machiavellian use by his evil persona. How prescient it was. In order to combat our inevitable slide into Matrix-style tech-slavery we can at least look at our friend’s faces when we hang out with them. I swear I saw a Cambodian try to swipe his friend’s face onto a more entertaining channel the other day. This must stop.