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Clueless in Cambo

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,

shouting.

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

died.

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.

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