I squinted as I looked up into the blue skies of Phnom Penh. It was a hot day in that peculiar time in which the end of the Rainy season merges with the attractive climes of the cool season. In that period the weather of Cambodia resignedly resorts to form, which is often an oppressive heat. I could hear the insistent clamour that is the natural result of a big crowd of people. I smelt petrol in the air and I knew that my destiny was soon to be had. I looked down upon the ground, bowing my head to the ancestors who probably looked on from their lofty predicaments. Let me fight a good fight, I thought to myself, as I strode purposefully out into the ring.
I had arrived ten minutes earlier to the magnificent anthem of Sin Sisamout, ‘Moue pie NA.’ The Tribute song means quite literally ”From where do you come?” and seems apt given my oft considered beginnings. I entered astride an elephant; legend had it that the very same elephant’s grandfather had held the acclaimed Angkor celebrant Henri Mouhot in 1860. Although Mouhot did not discover Angkor, as has sometimes been erroneously claimed, he was certainly celebrated for having brought the wonderful temples to the forefront of European attention.
My clothing was simple and revealing. I wore around my waste a Krommar of simple cotton. That was it. However, though the coverer of my precious passion pistol looked plain, it was also the stuff of legend. A young monk who lived on the banks of the Tonle Sap had given it to me. He stated that it held an interwoven coda, of some form, which explained the mysterious legend of the love affair between Javarman?s second cousin and a polish lute player who had started a den of debauchery in a semi in Scunthorpe. If I survived the fight I resolved to find out more about this most peculiar affair.
As I strode out into the middle of the arena, I looked out into the crowd. We were fighting, at the request of the Cambodian people themselves, in the Olympic stadium. It was full. Many had come from the provinces to see the bout. I was proud to see a multitude of friends from my time in Northwest Cambodia. They brought with them the precious oranges of Pursat and the sweet sugar canes of Battambang. Earlier that evening I had dined on a dish of Grauleen, which is a pleasing concoction of rice, coconut, beans and sugar.
I felt strong, and as I looked down upon my rugged torso, glistening with palm oil, I realised with some relief, that such feelings were not entirely unjustified. I had been sparring in my villa in Battambang for four weeks. I had also spent time in quiet contemplation in the Wats near my compound. I had spoken at length with monks. I had discussed gladiatorial combat with my batman from the old country. His name was Hornblower and he had been a Don at New College, Oxford before falling into my generous employ. I had also spent hours pondering hand-to-hand combat with my fourth Khmer manservant (named, appropriately I might add, Booen) who had been a kick boxer of fearsome repute, during Sihanouk’s 1960’s.
I was ready. But was my adversary?