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Chasing Hillary Clinton in Siem Reap

Just what was whispered in Hillary’s ear in Siem Reap? Photograph: supplied

Just what was whispered in Hillary’s ear in Siem Reap? Photograph: supplied

It all started when I opted for lunch at S.P. Loh’s Tea Club at the corner of Streets 63 and 306. Loh, nicknamed “Sweet Pea” had been my trusted associate since November 2010.

I told her Hillary Clinton would be in Siem Reap and that I had already registered and the cost was $65.

Young Sweet Pea Loh had set foot in Cambodia in 1992, interviewing a young and handsome Hun Sen during those heady days of yesteryear. She’s a power lady like Hillary, boss of the Sin Chew Chinese Daily.

She jumped at the chance, and we headed to Siem Reap for the big event which was set for Friday at Le Meridian. We arrived the night before and did a reconnaissance, skulking the corridors, imagining what tomorrow would be like.

We were the media, we were prepared and we meant business. Little did we know it, but we were being inexorably drawn into an orgy of politics, commercialism, towering egos and baffling cultural disconnections.

In the morning the front desk was swamped. I got a blue collar for my nametag. Big shots came and went. Important-looking American women prowled the foyer, some blonde, some with glasses. There were free snacks.

Inside the forum room panels of American men, some with Newt Gingrich hairdos, issued hearty gems of advice and nuggets of rich, chunky wisdom about doing business in Asia, often using sweeping or grappling hand gestures. Everybody had name tags.

At dinnertime, the mood turned toward sweaty anticipation. We wanted to sit down with Hillary and talk shop.

A bunch of us, Rami Sharaf of Ford dealer RMA Asia, Coca-Cola boss Paul Popelier and others waited in anticipation. A US government specialist of some kind called everybody forward.

Everybody with a red name tag collar would be allowed in. Mine was blue and so was Sharaf’s. Two other Ford executives also had blue collars. We were screwed and we knew it. There was nothing we could do. Our howls of self-importance fell on deaf ears.

We stood in humiliating circumstances, milling around grumbling, stamping feet, issuing charged epithets, spitting and flaring our nostrils until finally there was an opening in the thick fog of international politics.

The minders disappeared. The hallway was clear. Nobody was there to stop us. We took our chances and strode boldly down the hall, filled with an intoxicating mixture of hubris and vulgar entitlement, bow-legged like cowboys from Oklahoma.

We sat down and there was Hillary Clinton, her hair pulled back tight. She was with Prime Minister Hun Sen. I thought of her husband Bill and how she was sidelined in favor of White House interns. Well, now she had her revenge.

Yingluck Shinawatra spoke gently into the microphone. We men all shifted in our seats, captivated by a poignant combination of Thai womanhood and political power. There were fantasies. We sat in rapt attention, our minds less on what she said and more on what she was.

Hun Sen gave a rousing speech in Khmer. We liked him. He was cool, surrounded by foreign leaders. Our man was having his moment in the sun. He looked good.

Then came the star of the show, Thein Sein from Myanmar. We could see he was a reformer, polite and soft spoken. He said they were going to change Myanmar and it wasn’t going to be easy. We believed him. We liked him.

Afterward the chairman of the International Business Chamber of Cambodia and chairman of the American Cambodian Business Council, Brett Sciaroni gave me a Cuban cigar. I smoked it. It was good. A bunch of us talked until midnight. There were jokes, stories. We left. The thing was over.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stuart Alan Becker at



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