Memoirs of a Grizzled Expat: The Sound of Pennies Dropping (The Penultimate Part)

I’d established in my mind that my girlfriend was a wonderful girl who constantly made me deliriously happy all the time we were together, but that severe tensions were growing on account of her dysfunctional family – none of whom I’d ever met, and with the daily reports of their problems related to me, I was less and less inclined to.

Here are further excerpts of my account at the time:

Alas, a degree of compassion fatigue has set in and I’m left contemplating the relentless nature of this family’s woes and I just don’t want to be involved anymore.

A fuller picture emerged in the morning; it seems this sister has a long history of suicidal depression, which manifests itself in suicide attempts two to three times every month. Evidently the husband had been very patient and caring for some years but it had ground him down.

The younger brother also has a mental illness and I might just add that my girl’s capacity to cave in when the pressure gets too much is somewhat akin to anorexia (I’d tentatively suggest that she’s not anorexic since the psychological causes are not the same as in the West, but the outcomes are similar).

Thus we have a seriously screwed-up family and again, I’m increasingly seeing how common this is in Cambodia: yet another hidden outcome of the previous generation’s genocidal nightmare. I don’t want to be involved anymore; their relentless traumas interfere with my life to an extent I can barely endure, and I never have two pennies to rub together because of these insurmountable problems.

And yet, none of this is her fault; I just can’t be that much of a cold bastard. Let’s face it, after what she’d been through, sharing all these grievances I’ve written here with her could be construed as a tad churlish; nah, I’ll simply tie up the purse strings, resist the temptation to buy yet another phone, trust that her inevitable disappearances are for understandable reasons, cease taking things personally and just carry on. I’m not going to change Cambodia overnight, nor am I going to change her and her wretched family so perhaps I’d best focus on calming down and practising that tolerance thing – again.

The morning after I penned those reflections, a weird thing happened that couldn’t be pinned on the family. I was burgled.

I awoke from a sound sleep about 9 am to find her sitting on the living room floor looking crestfallen. The French windows were open and the room ransacked. She’d apparently disturbed a burglar who’d fled with cash and my camera, but thankfully dropped my laptop on the floor before making his escape.

I was so relieved that her action had saved the laptop – everything else was non-critical. The landlady on the ground floor was sceptical that someone could evade detection passing through a narrow passage and up three flights, but otherwise she seemed unconcerned.

I didn’t think too much about that incident since over the next few weeks she stayed at home and had few occasions when she did her disappearing acts. I thought that maybe we’d finally cracked it; but then Valentine’s Day arrived.

I’d bought her a nice necklace, and I was rather taken aback when her first response of seeing the gift was, ‘How much did you pay for it?’, but, I told myself, that’s just her little way. The next day she informed me that her mother had contacted her needing money for heart pills. I asked her if she given her mother money and she’d said she hadn’t; then I asked her where the necklace I’d bought her for Valentine was and she insisted she’d taken it to be cleaned – on the way to meeting her mother who’d called demanding money.

You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes, do you? What hurts is that every single item I’ve ever bought her – phones, watch, jewellery have lasted precisely one week and have then disappeared owing to either violent episodes within the family or flogging the item to give cash to them. It’s how it is in the folk economy; when you have cash use it all to buy stuff immediately and when you don’t have the money you need flog everything.

What gets me is the resort to lies and deception, and the fact that her mother could so easily force her into these old patterns – I mean she could have discussed with me first instead of immediately hocking my gift and lying about it.

Anyone here I mention this to reacts with a ‘You must be five cans short of a six-pack’ attitude; i.e. I must be a complete mug to believe these stories. It’s true that they bear an uncanny resemblance to the clichéd stories lying taxi-girl girlfriends and their families try on to fleece doting barang boyfriends and husbands, and it’s true that every guy insists, ‘Yes, but my girl’s different’ and I’ve tortured both myself and her over these suspicions enough, but in my heart of hearts I still believed she was being truthful concerning the big picture, even if the minor details didn’t always add up.

And then …….

……..and then it really did go wrong. When you love somebody you want to believe them, don’t you? As I’ve related, from the very beginning there have been a series of near-tragedies, always involving her family, always averted by my hard-earned cash.

Every time my initial reaction was to be suspicious, but every time I relented and gave her the benefit of the doubt. After all, in every other aspect of the relationship she couldn’t be more wonderful. Or so I thought. After far too long, there was an incident that caused me to seriously re-evaluate everything that had happened over the last few months.

I had told her there was no need to change her phone number so that her family couldn’t contact her and I was sloppy (or trusting) enough to fail to bank my monthly salary immediately and kept a stash of $100 bills in a drawer.

I should have read the signs: she was being bombarded with calls from her mother, brother and sister. She insisted that she never answered them and on the couple of occasions that she did they were merely enquiring after her health. Then there was that strange Sunday when she made three long excursions to the market on urgent missions to repair a set of curling tongs she never uses and buy make-up she never applies, a day which culminated in her feeling ill and blood-letting – scraping her skin with a spoon.

It was the exact illness that she succumbs to under stress brought on by family crises – I missed it. It was four days later when I happened to open the drawer, check my wallet and notice two or three hundred-dollar bills were missing. I turned the house upside-down; I wracked my brains to seek a forgotten memory of spending such a large sum of money or even of taking it out the drawer – anything to avoid the only explicable conclusion. I didn’t accuse her or even hint at any suspicion; in turn she gave me the innocent-but-concerned act.

Two days later she called me during my last class of the evening to inform me that her nephew had had an accident and that she was accompanying her sister to a hospital out in the sticks. I returned to an empty house; I checked the wallet where I had left the remaining two $100 bills. I’d explained that they were for the rent and that it was all the money I had; even under the circumstances of the disappearance of the other bill(s) I couldn’t conceive of the possibility that she’d take the remaining ones – but she had.

She had also switched off her phone so that I couldn’t contact her. I was in utter despair; I took the dubious decision of endeavouring to discover something of the truth from this chronic liar whom I loved. I rummaged through her belongings, not having any idea what I was looking for. I turned up, clandestinely embedded in the pockets of clothes buried under deep piles, two wallets. One was empty save for a note in Khmer dated December 2005 and a mention of $3600; the other contained a man’s driving licence and various papers including a receipt dated January 2006 – one month ago.

I awaited her return so that we could have a calm discussion but she played her usual ploy of promising to return at such-and-such a time then turning off her phone, knowing she would not keep her word. I didn’t want to sit alone in my apartment for an indefinite period, so I chose to go out for a bite to eat then hit the bar where she’d previously worked.

There I blurted out my despair to our mutual friends, and there I learned the truth that had evaded me for so long. Did she have a secret lover or husband? No. It seems all her colleagues knew about her activities in the casino where she’d lose $50 or $100 a throw but no one had the heart to tell me. The mamasan had tried but I hadn’t believed her and chose to accept my girl’s version that she was merely visiting a friend who worked there. I still didn’t know how many of her financially themed stories were lies and how big the lies were, but it was clear I’d been massively and systematically duped.

She had a gambling habit and hadn’t succeeded in avoiding the casino. She was in fact regularly slipping out as soon as I’d go to work and hit the place, winning and losing significant amounts but doing well enough to fund herself for a time. A local man had cheated her out of some $18 and she’d taken his wallet as collateral but not actually stolen any money herself. Her family were evidently ignorant and innocent in all this but they were indeed calling to plead for money for a series of ailments affecting indeterminate members. She had refused them and hadn’t resorted to any subterfuge except to increase her visits to the casino in an unsuccessful effort to acquire funds for them.

Now here’s where you might raise that part of your eyebrow that isn’t yet on the ceiling: when she finally returned home I immediately challenged her and she confessed. She told me that she didn’t know I had cash stashed in the drawer until I raised the issue of the missing bills. It appears that I’d miscalculated and none had disappeared at that point. My belief that money was missing had depressed me, not because of the money itself, but because I thought she must have taken it, and she sensed my dejection.

She’d asked me what she could do and I’d retorted – without implying any suspicion – something along the lines of she could ensure the money reappears. That’s why, the next day, she made up a story of her nephew’s accident and took the remaining $200; she thought she would win the equivalent of the missing money. With a typical gambling addict’s mind, in the face of all previous experience she really believed that this time luck would be on her side.

She was actually $100 up with half an hour but like a typical addict couldn’t quit while ahead and gradually the money dissipated and she descended into despair. When the money ran out she pawned my phone – and that blessed Valentine necklace again; naturally the casino were extremely generous in the price they offered for the items, confident that they’d soon have it all back again – and so they did.

She spent two days and nights in the casino, not eating or sleeping and not daring to return until after some reasonable people pleaded with her not to commit suicide and return home to tell her husband the truth, she was politely ejected.

I should have decisively ended it there and then, shouldn’t I?

However, I told myself that now the truth is finally out and she can’t lie to me anymore, we can talk this through and she can kick her addiction. Together, we can do this. But – she needs something positive to motivate her – some hope, something to work towards – and I had the perfect solution. I enrolled her in English classes in my workplace, knowing that she’d sail through the classes, get a massive boost to her confidence and enable her to apply for respectable jobs.

Couldn’t fail, could it? The worst was yet to come, and will be revealed in the final installment next week.

Andy Ahmed

24 thoughts on “Memoirs of a Grizzled Expat: The Sound of Pennies Dropping (The Penultimate Part)

  1. Post-American Reply

    yeah… I used to work for an escort service as a body guard… I learned the hard way never to fully trust the really sexy girls, and it sure took some big lessons for me to learn it.. my grandmothers family herloom pearl earings went to buying her some heroin after she drugged me and stole half the crap in the house. we all gotta learn in different ways.

  2. TJP Reply

    Just read the whole series on a night of insomnia. I am desperately hoping that in the final instalment you will reveal what it is that was so broken inside of you that made you so desperately try to fix others in the hope that it would somehow make you complete. Please tell me that there is some true self awareness and insight at the end of your sorry tale.

  3. andyinasia Reply

    TJP – try this, written by a far better blogger than me:

  4. claire lawrence Reply

    You really are a fuckwit, when are you ever going to learn ?! are you so damn ugly that you can’t get a decent girlfriend in the west or do you have small penis syndrome that fucking an Asian meth head makes you feel big, seriously your memoirs are becoming really tedious.

    • Dermot Sheehan Reply

      “Asian Meth Head”? Quite a few of us know the outcome of this story (which happened many years back), and it has nothing to do with drugs. As for your using “Asian” as a derogatory adjective- Andy like you, uses his real name on here.

  5. claire lawrence Reply

    oh dear forgot to make up a name or use my alias and now my real name has been published, oh well c’est la vie. I expect the usual bullshit replies that i must be a fat uptight ugly white chick, bring it on guys….

  6. andyinasia Reply

    You appear to have issues Claire, I’m sorry about that. You also appear to have problems with the concept of “memoirs”. Try to chill.

    • clairelawrence Reply

      i appear “to have issues” ?! don’t most people ? clearly some more than others as you have proved by putting up with all your girlfriend’s nonsense…My concept of memoirs are people writing about their experiences, whether it is from years, months or even weeks ago and I could take your “memoirs” as if they were all quite recent events, not incidences that happened years ago. Do you mind me asking how long it actually took you to learn you were being taken for an absolute mug ? Have you learned your lesson ? or still putting up with the same shit, different girl ?

  7. SlitelyripeTitemynge Reply

    The vitriol these memoirs elicit from certain people unable to grasp the notion of memories and hindsight is notable. I, for one, can’t wait for the next installments and long may your memoirs continue, Andy; if not for the educational value they provide (and how can learning from others’ experience be anything but educational?) but also the comedic value.

    Forgive me for singling you out, Claire, but not once in the series has Mr. Ahmed denigrated “western” women for not desiring him (and the concept of “western” is very subjective if you have ever lived in London or other such multi-cultural city), nor are you under any obligation to continue reading subsequent submissions by Mr. Ahmed.

    Dare I presume your expectation of abuse along the lines you refer is borne from previous, similar, contentions?

    • clairelawrence Reply

      His memoirs are educational ?! do you use your cock to think instead of your brain too ? My expectations of abuse are not from previous contentions at all but from what i have read on forums on this site extolling the virtues of Asian women compared to western women (or fat white chicks as they are more commonly referred to on Khmer440)

      • SlitelyripeTitemynge Reply

        Using my cock to think would at least grant me a greater intelligence quota than you have presented.

  8. eatmypussi4brkfast Reply

    Seriously man? are you really that clueless? With all those obvious clues and lies even a blind man have no difficulties figuring it out. You are in a complete denial and uses your balls instead of your brain. Perhaps your dick is smaller than what you think it is.

  9. Peter Hogan Reply

    Methinks ‘Claire Lawrence’ is actually a hairy-arsed bloke masquerading as a woman.

    • Allroy Reply

      Actually, just ran the name through Facebook, and there is a Claire Lawrence based in PP who I’ve got 3 friends in common with. I’m guessing that’s her. She is indeed a woman.


      Have you read all of Andy’s series? It’s all about events that took place years ago. He has been married to a very different Khmer woman for years now. They have a small business together. He is well known in the Phnom Penh community and has one of the better teaching positions (college level) that I’ve heard of here. He isn’t trying to encourage people to go out and act like an idiot the way he did. I’d guess, logically, he’s aiming for the opposite effect.

      I understand your objections to the mysoginistic comments or attitudes that are at times present on the forums. Those are just people on the forums. They are anonymous, random, and unknown much of the time. If people talking shit about “fat white chicks” is enough to rattle you or piss you off that badly, well, the internet is going to present a challenge generally for you as the anonymity and impersonal nature of it often brings out the worst in people.

      K440 is not some sexpat / dirty old man clearing house. There are actually sites like that, devoted to it, but I’ll not advertise them here by mentioning them. K440 is intended to be an open forum for all expats (or Khmer who share their interests) in Cambodia. Plenty of women read this site. Hell, plenty of women write for it, too. If you don’t happen to like it you could just stick with reading The Advisor, where some of your friends work (and incidentally, I think it’s a good magazine and I read it myself.)

      Seriously, you seem to think everyone you’re yelling at here are people who aren’t anywhere near your own orbit, socially or generally, because they’re all a bunch of old whoremongers or something, but that just isn’t the case and the hostility level seems a bit extreme.

      • clairelawrence Reply

        Oh dear what did I let myself in for when I decided to open my big gob without thinking and I do that often though not with such vitriol or hostility and it does seem rather extreme I do agree. I didn’t even read the article thoroughly, instead just skimmed through it, saw addiction and wrongly thought drugs, if I’d read a bit closer I would have realised it was gambling and not assumed the worst. I have read his series and rather enjoyed them actually, pretty amusing but always shook my head in amazement at how stupid some men can be sometimes. Well I must have got out of the wrong side of bed that day, or maybe just need a good shag ; -) I am the first to stick my hands up and admit I’m an idiot, got it wrong, am being a bitch, made a mistake, whatever and do the right thing and apologise which I intend to do to Andy. I never thought for one moment he was trying to encourage men to go out there and do the same and I am genuinely pleased he found a good ‘un and is now happy. Comments along the lines of ‘fat white chicks” and such like just make me laugh, there are far worst things in this world that rattle and upset me. You’re right, The Advisor is a great read but I am no longer in PP and have problems downloading it where I now am. With regards to Khmer440, hadn’t been on it for ages before the other day and wasn’t a regular reader anyway but I’m staying off it for a while again, so will not be responding to any future comments any others may leave, I have learned my lesson there!

  10. violet Reply

    tee hee the issues displayed by those accusing others of having issues. Pot, kettle. Mirror.

    Thanks for sharing all these Andy. Hope the next series is as successful… there will be a next series after this one ends, won’t there?

  11. andy Reply

    violet, you know the next stage of my life – it’s all happy and boring. Nobody wants to read that! Might have to retire.

    • clairelawrence Reply

      Dear Andy

      I would like to apologise to you for several reasons ! where do I start ?! the horrible abuse thrown at you with no good reason ? and it was not deserved, my poor misjudgement ? my ignorance ? my prejudice, skimming through your last article rather than reading it properly ? No real good excuse for any of it but I am genuinely sorry. Doesn’t matter how old you are, never too old to learn a lesson the hard way I guess… I have read quite a lot of your series and enjoyed them, they have made me laugh, but have to admit I was amazed at how much you could tolerate or be blind to. Glad to hear you found a good woman who has made you happy, there’s lot to be said for a boring life !
      Best wishes

      • andyinasia Reply

        Apology unreservedly accepted Claire. There’s plenty abuse flung around on the internet and I’m thick-skinned enough to let it wash over me. No need to hide away from K440 – keep dipping in!

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