Photograph: Alexander Crook/7Days
For Meng, 30, the soccer pitches on National Assembly Street are a meeting point after work. Every weekday his friends and him come here for an hour to play football. About 20 Cambodian men are running around on the field.
“We all know each from work, our childhood or the neighbourhood we live in.” says Meng, who is a policeman. “I also come here to stay fit. I need that for my job.”
You have to make a reservation to use the pitch. The rent between 3pm-6pm is $16 an hour. After 6pm it costs $20.
Rith, 28, who also plays here, likes Manchester United. He likes to watch their games on TV and his favourite player is Wayne Rooney. He’s just here to watch a friend and doesn’t play today.
The guys start their game as soon as Meng is on the field. They shout and laugh. Some wear shoes while others don’t. One can see many different tricots. It’s pretty hard to allocate single players to one team. They all seem to know who belongs where, probably because they are friends. Apart from that the game isn’t very fast, and all in good fun with the aim of letting of some steam after work. JT
However peaceful they may be, there is also something aggressive in many men that want to be let out from time to time.
Thinking about the untargeted aggression that causes some guys to end up in pointless punch-ups, I made my way to Paddy’s Fight Club on Street 294 to take my first lesson in Khmer boxing.
The first and one of the most important parts of the boxing choreography to remember is the right stand. With the left leg slightly bent, in front of the upper part of the body, and the right leg balancing the weight of the body, the stand should allow you to punch and reach backward and forward flexibly and swiftly.
In the first lesson boxing students don’t learn to kick; it’s hard enough to get the punches right. The trainer shows me how to hit the rubber foam he wears as a kind of glove. The left fist and arm punch without changing the position of the upper body. With the right punch however you reach forward to hit the target. The whole body supports this movement. I don’t get it: Every time I swing my right hook I almost fall over.
Throughout the lesson the trainer mostly shouts “one”, standing for left punch, and “two” standing for right punch. When he steps back you follow him. When he steps towards you, you give way.
The longer the lesson proceeds and the faster the trainer shouts his commands—“One! One! Two!”—the more exhausted I get. To me it shows that persistence clearly is the greatest of all martial virtues. My punches get weaker, and the trainer makes fun of me. Sometimes he interrupts and shows me how to punch harder in the air.
I understand why he always corrects me when my fists don’t cover my face again right after landing a punch. One of the trainer’s air punches on my face would turn it into a bleeding pulp.
300 sit-ups conclude the lesson. I ooze with sweat and my neck, arms, and belly feel numb. When I go to bed I feel more pleasantly tired, satisfied, and at peace than I have been in ages. JT
On the concrete banks of the Tonle Sap, flanking Phnom Penh’s popular floating restaurant Titanic, a group of friends toss large weighted nets into the river and wait.
Just like recreational fishermen around the world, the men say fishing for them is as much about the banter and camaraderie than the haul of fish they may reel in.
Each morning, as the steady riverside traffic begins to heave and choke, a group of friends meet, pool together fishing nets and equipment, and balance along steel beams jutting across the water.
Fishing has become a ritual for the men, all tuk-tuk drivers, who say they struggle to find customers mid-morning.
“It’s a nice way to spend the morning—often we’ll bring beers down and talk about our day, our wives,” one of the men confesses.
Fishing rods, reels and bait are eschewed in favour of swathes of net with chain studded to their bases.
The friends then drag the net along the riverbed and sweep it back up, pulling up an abundance of mud, which they sift through for tiny fish similar to whitebait.
About 50 fish are usually swept up each time and piled into a bamboo basket which floats in the river to keep the fish at their freshest.
The men repeat the process almost 10 times in the hour we visit.
“We usually come about three times a week, between 9am and midday. Due to time constraints this is the best way to fish.
We can get more fish this way. Fishing with a rod is too time consuming,” the fisherman says.
“We eat the fish…people may think they’re too small…the fish are never to sell, just to eat with family and friends.”
The men smile, offering beer and encouraging us to fling the nets in with them.
“It’s not a secret club…we enjoy it if more people fish with us,” one says.
He says he usually fries the fish with lashings of MSG and garlic or has his wife make a sour fish soup.
“It’s a perfect beer snack really, nice and sweet and tasty.” CK
When the sharp blade of the razor slides along your throat with a hushed scraping, you don’t dare make the slightest movement. In this Khmer barbershop none of the men talk while lying in the shaving chairs, covered from the neck down in white gowns. The movement of the mouth changes the surface of the face, and anyone who foolishly opens theirs risks a bare blade cutting right into the flesh of their cheeks.
There are hundreds of shaving parlours and street barbers in Phnom Penh, where a man can get a clean shave for less than two dollars.
It is the feeling of being looked after combined with the slight sensation of danger—the kick you get when a barber slides a razor along your throat. Not to mention that a good barber can give you a shave as clean as you would never accomplish yourself at home.
That said, the barber I last visited didn’t do a good job. He used cold water to moisten my face, canned spray foam to soak my beard, and he didn’t take the time to wait and let the ingredients do half of his job for him.
Make sure your barber uses a wet hot towel to soak and soften your beard. Dry hair is more tear proof and tougher than copper wire of the same diameter.
A good barber should apply a shaving soap rich in glycerine with a shaving brush on your face. The thick foam it creates has the consistency of whipped cram, straightens up the hair, peels the face of dead skin, and binds the hot water that soaks your hair. The glycerine keeps the skin kempt and moist after the shave.
When soap and water takes effect after a few minutes the barber can slide the blade over your face easily. The hair will be completely removed without a scraping sound and afterwards your face will feel like a baby’s bottom. JT