After more than a few wrong turns, we arrive at the gates of Nita Lim’s property, tucked out of sight behind the grounds of a pagoda in the outer neighbourhood of Stung Meanchey. The road that brought us there, the commune’s busiest thoroughfare, primarily exists in the foreign consciousness as the main route to the Killing Fields.
Nita’s land is pastoral in a way rarely found so close to the capital, an expanse of greenery and a pond with floating lilies nearby the 27-year-old’s homestead. If it was sunset, the lush scenery could almost pass for one of Thomas Kincaid’s bland landscapes – if it wasn’t for the dozen or so teenagers, clad in the dark green military fatigues of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, hovering around Nita’s porch as we sit down to lunch.
“When I came back, there weren’t many things for people like me to do,” says Nita, who returned to Cambodia after growing up in the States. “We got a little bit into paintball, but we didn’t have the people to play with all the time, people said the places we could play were too repetitive. I thought why not just make a small field of our own?”
Nytro Park, a project of Nita’s a year in the making, is gearing up for its grand opening in two months time. Two ranges have been set up, one with plastic barriers for speed rounds, and a larger course for endurance. Evidently a dedicated man, Nita spent months painstakingly constructing the endurance course with an excavator to build bunker mounds for players.
A crowd of enthusiasts has been drawn to his property to coincide with our Sunday afternoon visit. Most are young; many are planning careers in the military and are already signed on as cadets. One tells us he’s preparing another application to America’s prestigious West Point academy – “they didn’t accept me last year.”
One of Nita’s good friends, a Filipino expat, has come prepared with his own custom-fit body armour and rifle, complete with semi-automatic firing. According to Nita, he’s there just about every weekend.
“People like that really that keep us going. They give me constant feedback and criticism, sometimes, and I take it into account, because they’re going out there and playing every week.”
We suit up after lunch; I’m given a pair of NATO desert combat fatigues presumably sourced from one of the markets. Whatever confidence my new digs might have bestowed is sapped when I watch the opposing team donning their green kramas and posing menacingly with their rifles.
I’ve never been to war. From what I gather, it’s not particularly pleasant. I don’t think I’ve even been in a fight since the third grade.
On the range, Nida has happily decided to captain the newcomers to the range. “You three to the right,” he barks authoritatively to my friends. “The rest of you, come with me and we’ll try to flank them from the left.”
The referees wave the flags and we disperse, firing wildly and inexpertly into the barriers where we think the other side has decamped. Will this sting? My friend had played a round or two before and had tried to assuage my fears: “Don’t worry about it. It only stings if they hit you in the neck.”
George Orwell once admonished the cavalcade of doctors and nurses who repeatedly told him how lucky he was to have survived a gunshot wound to the neck in the Spanish Civil War. “I could not help thinking that it would be luckier not to be hit at all,” he wrote, dryly.
I can report that a paintball pellet to the groin is no picnic either, but two confirmed kills certainly feels something like righteous retribution.
Nytro Paintball Park can be found at Bratba Choeun Ey Pagoda, the last turn on the left before the Cambodia Beer Brewery on Chamkardoung Blvd. Reservations and inquiries can be made on the park’s Facebook page.
?To contact the reporter on this story: Sean Gleeson at [email protected]