Like many of her neighbours, Cambodia has the somewhat strange (to whiteys) culture of ‘saving face’. What is perceived by an Asian of any age, gender or rank as a perfectly rational way of maintaining dignity, others from not around here might construe as a shameless out-and-out lie, not just a harmless half truth to pad out a CV, or saying something to avoid having your balls hacked off by an angry woman.
Of course, the rest of the world has had porkies shoved down its throats since the year dot. Politicians lie to us, the media lies to us, estate agents, salesmen, even the internet, with get-rich-quick schemes from deceased African princes, 100% legit techniques for making your Tommy Todger into King Dong and hot and hornygirls who want to chat live with YOU now- all churning out more whoppers than the combined annual sales of Burger King.
How about the corporate lies? Those scions of big business who used to peddle fibs like smoking Woodbines cured asthma, who claimed fat kids have nothing to do with processed fried stuff, who fiddle with scientific facts and who claimed Enron’s books were ‘pretty much in order’.
The amount of bullshit spun by the advertising cockroaches of Cambodia is more comical than malevolent, with spurious claims of yoghurt’s previously unheard of ability to fight cancer, fortified wine to give libido a boost, and the cellulite destroying and acne busting potions and lotions. Hell, even blokes in skirts huskily whisper they have ‘Best pussy for you, baby’. Don’t even get me started on lucky wot-nots- that’s a 7×7 digit, 168 minefield, navigable only by red string on days recommended by a pre-paid fortune teller. A few weeks ago, a restaurant meal doubled in price, as the staff changed the menu with Tippex, as I was eating.
Now the two planets of international consumerism and shoddy knock off Cambodialism have finally aligned, bringing the citizens of this fledgling nation the 3,456th thing it actually needs- a fully operational church of capitalism that would have Salath Sar turning in Anlong Veng grave (if the tyrannical nut-job hadn’t been cremated).
Yes, AEON Mall has proved to be such a massive hit since it opened in July that I’ve avoided it like one steers an elderly aunt showing primary stage symptoms of Ebola. Then, through boredom, curiosity and something to do with a four year old on a visit from the provinces, it was decided to throw caution to the wind and check out ‘the mall’.
Personally, I’d rather eat my own face than go shopping, especially in an over-lit, over-airconned porthole to hell that is a western style mall. Childish hissy-fits in H&M could explain some of my failed relationships with women, along with my inability to stand up after 7pm, along with incoherence and dribbling at the other half’s family get-togethers (something that’s quite acceptable in the Khmer provinces).
It was a holiday to commemorate the passing/birthday/coronation of the old king/queen/king queen/royal cat (the details escape me) and so the place should have been packed. It wasn’t. A relief for me, but maybe not for the bored sales staff, surrounded by piles of clothes costing a month’s salary, which they could probably buy off a cousin in Kandal province for 1/18 the price.
Business seemed slow. There were people walking around looking at things (if looking at things isn’t an official national sport, like sleeping and eating/talking about rice, then it’s a pretty serious hobby), but the lack of shopping bags betrayed the lack of business.
To pass the time, I chuckled at a few poorly translated English gems and did a retracted whistle at the prices of things on offer. Then the lies commenced.
“94% of babies fall asleep within 1 hour on the self rocking baby thing”, it proudly announced on a big sign, next to an $800 self rocking baby thing, in the baby things shop. Maybe not an outward lie, but in my limited understanding of the workings of babies (sleep, eat, shit, cry?), it sounded like misinformation. To say that 94% of babies will crap their nappies and wail within an hour on the self rocking baby thing would be just as accurate, but not really a dynamic driven sales approach.
Hungry, our attention turneded to a special offer: a satisfying can of cold Sprite/Fanta/Coca-Cola with a generous serving of chips, a bargain for $1. The catch was in the details – only valid when ordering an overpriced crepe – because sweets and fried potatoes go so well together. The order came through- a rather underwhelming pancake, a small espresso cup of fries and a thimble, filled with ice and the smallest whiskeyesque shot of soft drink.
‘It a lie’ my better half informed me, the wise, ever observant sage that she is. I’m pretty sure, as a devout Buddhist, she is a reincarnated Yorkshireman, who hates spending money on anything other than food for 20 people and weddings. “You go bar….again???’”
Not to be put off, a few dollars down and still hungry, we returned to the Kids Playzone so the little miss could have a run around.
MONDAY – FRIDAY = $6 the sign on the window read in dual language, blue lettered glory.
SATURDAY-SUNDAY = $8
It was Wednesday.
“Eight dollar” the girl behind bullet-proof (for a reason?) glass muttered.
A Khmer conversation followed.
‘Today is Wednesday’ I spoke with confidence ‘Monday to Friday six dollar’
‘Today eight dollar’
Muttering something about public holidays should be included on the pricing, I reached into my wallet, being cut short by the next utterance from beyond the glass.
‘Adult need to buy sock, sock two dollar’
Mandatory adult supervision needs mandatory overpriced foot wear. Readers can draw their own conclusions as to whether kindly Pu Pedro treated his 4 year old niece from Kampong Shitsville to an hour in the ballpark or not.
‘All just lie’ remarked Mrs Pedro, with her tone of distain reserved for mistrust toward anything overpriced or city related.
We checked out the supermarket. The only interesting products not found in Lucky had funny Japanese writing. We bought some chilli sauce for seafood and a tube of Pringles.
Outside the supermarket a Khmer food court seemed to be doing better business than the frozen whatevers and bubble tea things around them. Being used to pushing to the front of a queue, waving dollar bills and shouting in bad Khmer that ‘I like to eat chicken’, the system of looking, finding out where to order, pushing in the ordering queue, pushing to pay and somehow getting some chicken seemed daunting. I gave up, after shouting ‘I like to eat chicken’ at the man cooking chicken, who wearily pointed me towards somewhere else crowded with folks who wanted to eat chicken.
The final lie of the day got me with beer: German beer, the kind of beer I don’t drink just to stop my hands from shaking, but beer that actually tastes good.
Between the toilets and my exit to the carpark lay Munich Beer Garden. Artisanal German beer for $2.30 a small glass, which although a little steep for local standards seemed like an absolute godsend after aimlessly roaming the mall like the Wandering Jew.
FREE BEER the sign outside announced. To obtain this nectar of the gods, all one had to do was ‘like’ a page on Facebook, check-in on Facebook and write ‘I love Munich fresh beer at Aeon Mall’. Winner!
The internet wouldn’t work on either of our phones. Well it worked, but it was painfully slow. To kill time we sat and perused the menu and made further inquiries into the validity of the free beer.
‘Free beer with food’ said the unhappy looking wench forced to don the garb of an unflattering interpretation of a Bavarian bierkeller wench.
They had burgers.
‘2 burgers, bitte’ I requested in Teutonic splendour . ‘Und ein swartzbier’
The black beer arrived. Tt actually tasted good, even at moi-mun a glass. As for the burgers……
If you’re going to tell a lie, tell a big one, to paraphrase Goebbels. Advertising mouthwatering gourmet burgers is fine, but here’s a small piece of advice to the bosses at Munich Beer WassisdassPlatz: Do not, I repeat DO NOT, just run over to Mastergrill (the worst of all Cambodian burger joints) and present that as your own.
If a restaurant does decide to cheat and pass off a disgusting sweet cake with a strip of shriveled meat that is a Mastergrill burger, then surely it would be better to put a little garnish around the side of the plate – some soggy lettuce perhaps, or even a slice of tomato?
Not a chance. Although dressed the part, none of the staff had the slightest inclination of German efficiency. Surely just removing the greasy Mastergrill wrapper from a $2.90 a la carte burger would occur to someone? Apparently not, as two still in the paper lumps of congealed sugar and fat were unceremoniously dumped on the authentic beer barrel style table.
The beer was great and although technically ‘free’, the bill was more than it would have been to just buy the stuff and not waste time, effort or taste buds.
So yeah, I hate Aeon Mall for a variety of reasons, penny pinching aside. It’s a pretty god awful place which must be a tax write off for some holdings company with offices in Tokyo, Luxembourg and the Cayman Islands.
Allow me instead to send off the wife with a fistful of riel into the chaos of the street where the prices are cheap and the lies go;
“I give good discount, sell you price, not make money” and accompanied by a face-saving smile. All, of course, a lie.
*Since this rant, I’ve found out that Mastergrill and the Munich Bierkeller Putsch are somehow linked, but I’m not letting pesky facts get in the way of a story.