Greetings from Battambang, Big Sister
Yes, it’s been a while since we were last in touch, but seeing as we are both becoming more ‘westernized’, and, as they say it’s ‘the season’, I thought I’d write you a short summary of the year’s events of note, as is the wont of middle-class white folk at this time of year!
Let me start with a few details about how I’ve not changed over the past 12 months. Unfortunately the rumours about getting a traffic light were misplaced. It turns out they were just decorative flashy things across the road to draw in customers to the 24 hour Cambodia Beer/fried chicken bar. Personally I’m torn on the issue – you know as well as anyone that nobody takes a blind bit of notice of the things, but on the other hand there is one in our small sister Banteay Meanchey/Sisaphon/Seraisaphon (how many names does that town need? I think it’s to make up for her lack of charm and tourist attractions- the bitch hasn’t even got a river- how sad!). Anyway, by common consensus it was agreed that we didn’t want the great unwashed peasants travelling from as far away as Pursat to adorn any new traffic management systems with pigs heads or chicken carcasses in the hope they may be magic and predict the lottery numbers.
Plans to become a train-spotter’s Mecca have also been put on hold. The Poipet-Battambang line has run out of steam, even after a multi-million cash injection. SUVs seem much more convenient anyway. For the moment there is still the train line constructed out of sticks, which keeps the Tourist Police in rice, smokes and Black Panther. In the pipeline next, a few billion is being sought to transform Highway 5 into a something resembling a proper road, with traffic lanes, real tarmac and everything. Donations for the new Range Rover/new villa fund can be made directly to the office of the Guvnor.
As you hold on to the Sleazy City 2013 award, (sister Som comes 2nd as always) things haven’t altered much around here. None of those ‘Girly Bars’ have opened, and I am still as clean as a whistle (yes I know I got rogered by the French, Thais and Vietnamese, but that was so long ago now, whereas you’re still spreading those legs to just about everyone- black, pink or yellow, but hell, I don’t judge!). The long row of KTVs and by-the-hour guesthouses behind the new Battambang police HQ are not so attractive to foreign visitors and rest assured there is none of that rumpy-pumpy business going on there: it’s just a place for the hardworking officers of the law to unwind after a grueling shift.
The lady-boys who hide in bushes in Sar Kheng park are merely there to offer late night beauty and style tips to those in need as absolutely no prostitution exists in Battambang; the various NGO groups and fundamentalist Christians are always on hand to make sure that is so.
Then there are the new developments! Whilst I hear you’ve been busy draining lakes, building new gated developments and giant glass towers in the shape of fishermen’s footwear, I’ve not exactly been resting on my laurels either. Having decided a while back that one cannot grow rich on rice and cross border smuggling rackets alone, there’s been a tourism drive to promote our attractions (a train made out of bamboo, a cave with some bats and a circus– watch out Siem Reap, you hussy!). Quicker than you can say ‘Money laundering operation’ the skyline has been transformed by new hotels, in earnest anticipation of the dollar wielding hordes who shall surely come if we build. My personal favourite must be the newly completed Classy Hotel, who ‘Offers you a classy experience’. Genius PR, I tip my provincial proverbial hat!
Battambang artistes are going from strength to strength – who needs industry and infrastructure when you’ve got les arts? This is a trick you could well do with learning: transform book selling street children into contemporary performance artists and watch the cash roll in. Voila it ceases to be child labour!
Foreigners are arriving in droves to open bars and save those children who can’t draw or do handstands. Sadly one café owner’s misguided approach to childcare means we won’t see him again until Christmas 2021. Some of these new establishments go under the label of social enterprises.
No-one actually know what this means, but if they spend an absolute fortune on tax deductible renovations, supporting those local artists, training a few youths how to work a coffee machine and selling 50c beers, who cares!? Charity begins at home, doesn’t it?
Then there were those elections – a chance for all loyal citizens to cast votes for the one-eyed chap (who’s been pretty good to us over the years, when not crossed: those bridges, schools and public parks named after him don’t build themselves, you know) or a pair of badly dressed fools, who’ve become BFF’s since the bespectacled one was allowed back for the knees up, and who seem intent only on upsetting our neighbours.
After the predictable, albeit closer than thought result, absolutely nothing happened here, save for a convoy of expensive cars driven by relieved generals with families inside, coming back from the Prum border crossing where they’d fled in panic after voting – how embarrassed they must have felt! I’m sure the boss would have had a word or two had he not been too busy ‘You let me down, you let the CPP down, but most of all, you let yourself down’. Best make sure your passport is still valid for the next time guys!
All that throwing stones malarkey, burning a car, half-baked attempts at self-immolation and other such monkey business is always best left to you and your greater unwashed- but honestly (just my two hundred Riels worth of friendly advice here), rope in a few French Montessori qualified volunteers to teach finger painting and the prole problems will be no more!
The heavy rain caused a tad of flooding in the city and out in the countryside. Luckily those nice chaps in the RCAF were kind enough to get wet and take some action. While some blame witchcraft, others the hand of Vietnam and some global warming/climate change, I’m still sticking by the notion that cutting down all those trees wasn’t such a hot idea, but all’s well that ends well – water washes away, peasants can rebuild and those kickbacks still leave a delicious aftertaste. With any luck the king might fly in on his chopper laden with rice and 10,000 Riel notes to deliver to the needy – see you on CTN!
Anyway, I know how busy you are, being the main hub of government, finance and national institutions, when little old me will always be in your shadow. At least we know where we stand. But don’t forget your sister up here!
Drop me a line sometime, it gets lonely and would be great to catch up more. Take care, big sis, happy Christmas and Merry Barang New Year!
All My Love,