T-SHIRTS with slogans, messages and witticisms are the fashion statement for travellers who aren't making a fashion statement, and in Siem Reap top of the pops in terms of T-shirt cred is the "same same ...but different" shirt.
This is a shirt that seems to unify all creeds and colours with its cunning cross-cultural message encompassing universality, individuality and originality.
It's a potent shirt to wear, as it serves as a subtle weapon in the armory necessary to combat the in-your-face sales pitches purveyed by the small army of Siem Reap's Pub Street precinct tuk-tuk drivers with their endless manic mantras of: "You want tuk-tuk, what hotel you go to, you want boom boom, you want beautiful lady, you want massage, you want sister, you want lady boy, you want, you want, you want..."
Wearing a "same same" T-shirt seems to chill out some of the Pub Street tuk-tuk drivers who, perhaps perceiving it as a symbol of universal fraternity, give the thumbs up and chant "same same" and then, after a beat, "but different".
This has the same miraculous effect as Moses parting the Red Sea, with the drivers chuckling good humouredly, backing off and creating a path for the barang to pass virtually unscathed.
"Same same but different" is a regional pop-culture phenomenon, derived from the Thai habit of saying "same same" instead of "same".
Who knows who gave it the twist by adding "but different", and who knows who was the first entrepreneurial pioneer to emblazon the phrase on a T-shirt.
wearing a ‘same same’ t-shirt seems to chill out some of the pub street
tuk -Tuk drivers.
This is one of the mysteries of the travel circuit, but maybe there is an earnest archaeologist at work right now on the genesis and development of the saying, which has certainly made its mark and become part of the traveller meme.
A Google search, for example, elicits 1.89 million references.
Wikipedia lists it as an example of Tinglish, the imperfect form of English produced by native Thai speakers due to "language interference from the first language".
The saying has been adopted as the title for several books, including a study of quirky Thai street scenes such as knotted aerial lines, bamboo scaffolding, hand-painted signs and converted plastic bags.
More recently, a novel of the same name about a love affair between a Cambodian woman and German expat has become the basis of a movie of the same name.
Meanwhile, back in Siem Reap another locally produced T-shirt has emerged to give the "same same" number a run for its money, and this T-shirt has upped the stakes in regards to tuk-tuk communication.
The shirt has been specifically designed by Aqua Sydney bar proprietor John to fend off tuk-tuk drivers, and it carries the message: "No Postcards, No Tuk-Tuk, No Temples, No Sunset".
John has been caught by surprise by the demand for this shirt, which was an instant sellout. He has now ordered new stock to be printed and has also modified the shirt's message adding, after numerous requests, the phrase "No ganja".
Whether this shirt will have the same effect on tuk-tuk drivers as the "same same" shirt is yet to be ascertained, but here's hoping.