Sihanoukville, Cambodia

It’s taken us a week and we still can’t pronounce this. We’ve shortened it to S’ville/Seville. This place makes you dumb like that, you kind of loose brain cells if you’re here too long. And we are. It’s easy to get sucked in.

Serendipity Beach is where the action is. Imagine you are 15, imagine you are in Greece, and imagine you are on your very first girls/lads 18 – 30 holiday. Whisky costs $2 dollars a litre here and you need it to grin and bare the meat-market atmosphere of this partytown.

The scene here is hard core traveller. The ones that have brag about being here 3 years, although it might be 3 weeks, days, or hours. They are too out of it to really know. It’s like the scene in 50 First Dates where they meet ‘10 second Tom.’ Vacant. It’s utopia for the dreadlocked – practice fire juggling on the beach- vagrant- brigade. Luckily, I have flashpacker friends Lindsey and Claire (Devon), Scott (America) and Graham and Chris (UK.) We rough it in a $3 a night bungalow, but we have netbooks, actual real life jobs, and a vocabulary that just about extends beyond “do you want to go on a booze cruise.” I’ve been with the girls a week or so, since the Mekong Delta.  Much as we all embrace S’ville, and befriend the entire small town in the space of two rather blurry nights out, it all gets too incestuous. We know, for our sanity, we shouldn’t stay for longer than our 6 days.

Nightlife aside, ‘S’Ville’s second infamous reputation is for its hard core beach sellers. Four generations of women from age 10 – 60+, roam the shoreline with calls of “massage, bracelets, sarongs etc.” They are pure ABC; Always Be Closing. They are also not shy in telling us just how badly shaven our legs/armpits/upperlips are so they can sell us ‘threading;’ a ingenious yet painful technique involving just thinnest strand of cotton and years of practice plucking. At the same time they fire 20 questions on our names, ages, love life details. They reel off their own repeated answers in a tone that suggests they do it 100 times a day, to our own Western cliché’s small talk; how many brothers and sisters do you have, do you have a boyfriend etc.

‘Gem’ makes a beeline for me. She’s 12 (going on 20). Apparently she uses the dollars she earns to pay for English school. Yet we’ve seen here from dawn till dusk every single day. When we ask she tells us ‘school is 1 hour a day at 5pm.’ Going off the fowl mouthed phrases we hear from her, we suspect her English is not classroom taught.  Her favourite is; “No money no honey, no women no cry, no condom you die.” She’s 12, and one of the sweeter ones. Her friend Tai screeches ‘Choi’ every other word (which we think is f*ck) and lays into some Ozzie teen who was teasing her, with a mouthful of abuse worthy of an angry Vegas drag queen and a scowl to match. They are fierce and scary, then are sweetness and light the next second, making us pinkie promise to buy from them only, and letting us have IOU’s for $10 dollars or more as they trust us to back and find them they next day. Talk about brand loyalty.

They are both completely stunning girls, with westernized eyelined make up and highlighted hair. However they are covered head to toe despite the sweltering heat. All I get is inquisitive stares at my curly hair (like Rihanna?) and why I sit in the sun with my brown skin, which they claim to like. When I point out it’s the same colour as theirs, they look sad and say “to be beautiful in Cambodia is to have white skin. ” Which, no matter how many times I’ve heard it in SE Asia, never fails to be baffling and tragic to me. After a few days most people head to quieter Ortes Beach, 4k along the coast, to escape the pressure/heart sting pulling experience of it all. Obviously they exist not purely in Cambodia, but on beaches across the world. It’s sad, it’s hard, (and that very half a sentence is patronizing I know) but it’s a complicated an issue of whether our dollars help or hinder. Personally, i’d always say the former. But maybe only after watching this brilliance which stuck in my head from Doc/Fest a few years ago:

Ambulantes (2008) 17 mins: http://vimeo.com/2142856

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An.an.tas.in : The Anantasin is the name of a shipwreck just of the coast of the Sensi Parasise, Mae Haad Bay, Koh Tao, Thailand. It’s one of my many favorite places.

Lit.tle: Just because it’s cute.

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