Nine months after the Crash of '97, I was an out-of-work journalist in Bangkok.
Where to find work?
When I phoned Michael Hayes, he said he couldn't offer me a permanent position yet
but assigned me two stories on a freelance basis.
I was chafing at the bit to get started at the Post. I'd known it since its creation.
When I first met Michael at Phnom Penh's Renakse Hotel in April 1992, the newspaper
was still a gleam in his eye.
Six years later, the Post had a staff of sixteen. The core reporters were a trio
of Kiwis-Matt Grainger, Jason Barber and Peter Sainsbury-crackerjack journalists
all. Bou Saroeun and Chea Sotheacheath were the Cambodian stars.
Finally Michael gave me a green light so on March 10th, I flew to Phnom Penh.
The newsroom of the Post was the usual shambles. Under ceiling fans, mismatched computers
were perched on wooden tables and surrounded by mismatched chairs occupied by hunched-over
reporters with cigarettes in their mouths. Adorning the walls were yellowing newspaper
headlines, curled up photos and wise-ass captions and comments.
Three nights after I'd arrived, the paper went into its bi-weekly hyperdrive mode,
the deadline crunch. Grainger orchestrated the all-night madness. I've never seen
anyone revel so much in stress as Grainger, the PageMaker wizard in his backwards
baseball cap, chain-smoking Marlboro Lights, grinning, goofing around, whooping,
At the big center table, the rest of us would be correcting proofs. Michael and Kathleen
would order in a big supper as we plowed on through the night. Dawn would be breaking
before the last page was put to bed. We'd sleep the next day and party on through
the next night.
Events thundered down on us. Prince Ranariddh returned. Anlong Veng fell. Pol Pot
And just when we thought we could kick back, Sam Rainsy fired up protest rallies
at Olympic Stadium, massive street marches, the tent city of Democracy Square. We
were chasing the quicksilver story from the backs of jeeps and motos.
On November 11, Michael summoned me into his office.
"Jim, I have to let you go," he said. "My guts have been in a knot
for days, thinking how to tell you. But I just can't pay you anymore."
The next day, I took off overland to Sihanoukville and then by boat to Trat. That
same day, Prince Ranariddh landed in Phnom Penh to cut a deal with Hun Sen. The story-at
least the one I had come to cover-was over.
óJim did a six month stint at the Post in 1998. He now works at the Nation
in Bangkok and is author of The Year of Living Stupidly which chronicles his tenure
at the Post.