In 2007 I was losing my mind. The mother of my daughter has deserted me to live in the hicks or 'bannok'. I had given up everything to move to Thailand and be a father. Angie's mom was scared that I was planning to kidnap her. She was stupider than a bucket of mud. I would do nothing to hurt my daughter, but it was too late to make things right. I was lost in Asia.
My good friend Nick Tottenham suggested that we leave town for Songkran and head over to Cambodia. I rejected the trip at first, but Nick recognized the depths of my depression and said, "Mate, nothing says you've fucked up like a binge through Cambodia. Beer, pussy, and me will cure your ills."
It was worth a shot in my condition and we took off two days before Songkran to overland to Sihanoukville. The beach resort had been a nothing town for decades. The Khmer Rouge had seen to it that beaches were off-limits to the masses. A major pollution spill in the 90s had scared the most durable of backpackers, but beachfront property was a seller in the 2000s and we pulled into a forgotten town on the verge of a boom.
I had been here several times since the 90s and we booked rooms at the Angkor Arms. The hosts were Froggies named Roland. Beers, the Who, and ganja killed the early part of the evening, but the two of us were used to spending our nights with women.
"Ou est les femmes?" Nick asked the straight Roland. The other Roland was asexual.
"Les putas ou les filles?" Roland understood Nick's query.
"The best place is the Chicken Farm."
"I know where it is." On my three previous solo trips to Sihanoukville I never ventured over to its infamous ‘Chicken Farm’ or street of ill repute near the harbor. Red light districts are never really fun, unless you’re with a friend.
“You ready?” Nick paid the bill. $5 for five beers.
Cheaper than Pattaya, which is why many farangs on a budget have offshored their retirement plans to Cambodia. Money went further. Rent was cheap, but due to a fatal accident a year ago the governor prohibited westerners from riding motorcycles in Sihanoukville, so we stepped into the street. Two motorcycle taxi guys appeared as if they were beamed from the sky.
“Where you want go?”
“Chicken farm.” Nick and I said at the same time.
The drivers knew the way to ‘Phum Thmey’ or the new village. It was every farang's destination. Mine explained that the port expansion had wiped out half the shantytown of working girls. The remaining brothels exude an aura of authentic seediness untouched by trendy travelers. The offerings were mostly older women and they were fat.
Nick’s driver said, “New Year. Many girl go home.”
They drove up to BIBA. The hottest disco in the Chicken Farm. Nick and I walked into the dark karaoke lounge. Girls snapped to attention. None were under 30. It was a horror show. The girls smelled of bad food. No one wanted them home for the holiday. We bought them a round of drinks. It cost us $20.
One of them begged me to go into the backroom.
"I do everything cheap." She probably had worked sailor for $2 a go. Her breath stank of rotten teeth. I guessed her age to be close to mine. The red light made her 30. I gave $20. Tears warmed her eyes.
"I do more than everything."
"I don't want anything." Sex was a destination a long way from the BIBA.
"You no think I pretty?"
"No, my wife leave me. I have a broken heart."
"She is not. You want some tequila?"
"Yes." She understood broken hearts better than a professor of romance languages at Harvard. "We forget."
"Forgetting is everything."
After three shots Nick and I fled the BIBA and told the drivers to go to Victory Hill for drinks. They detoured by every possible knocking shop in Sihanoukville, hoping for an extra pimping charge. No such luck.
We blanked every one of them.
The drivers dropped us at the Angkor Arms. The Rolands were waiting in the bar. Two girls at a small table. They were better-looking than any of the girls from the Chicken Farm. They actually looked clean. Nick booked them both. I wasn't in the mood. Angie's mom had put me off women for the time being. He went upstairs and I ordered a Tiger beer for me and the Rolands.
"What about your friend?"
"He's English. He shoots quick. He'll be here soon enough."
And that was the truth.