7 Questions with Zeppelin Bar's Jun

7 Questions with Zeppelin Bar's Jun

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Jun, 54, the owner of Phnom Penh's Zeppelin Bar. Photograph: Alexander Crook/7Days

Jun, 54, is the owner of Zeppelin Bar. Every night, from 6:30pm to 4am, he sits quietly behind his turntables and plays rock ’n’ roll from his 1200-strong vinyl record collection. These days the Taiwanese national looks content and at peace. Ten years earlier he thought that he was done for…

What does music mean to you?

If there were no music I wouldn’t know how to live in Cambodia. Maybe I am crazy but I believe music is good for health. When I am sick with a headache for example I listen to the music I want to hear. Maybe there are waves from the music that hit the brain and set it straight again. I really like hardcore rock ’n’ roll. It gives me energy that makes my heart beat again. Sometimes life is sweet or bitter or spicy. Sometimes it’s beautiful or ugly—and so is rock ’n’ roll. Sometimes rock is noisy like a motorbike in the street. Rock ’n’ roll is life!

Which rock stars, dead or alive, would you like to talk to and what would you tell them?

There are two guitar players I really like. Jimi Hendrix and Rory Gallagher. I was born and raised in Asia so I could not read much about the artists and don’t know much about them apart from their music. I am also a really quiet guy so I would just walk up to them and say, ‘Man, I f***ing love your music!’ or something like that.

Does rock ’n’ roll fit into Cambodia?

Some people told me about Cambodian rock and showed me some stuff. I think the Cambodians don’t understand rock because it’s not their way of expressing feelings. They can play heavy sounds but the vocals miss something. It’s like a body without soul. Even my two oldest sons (14 and 16) who grew up here don’t appreciate rock ‘n’ roll. Only my youngest one (two years and nine months) seems to like it. Whenever I put on I Wanna Rock! by Twisted Sister he starts head banging and stomping with his feet.

How did you end up opening a rock ’n’ roll bar in no rock-zone Cambodia then?

I met my wife at Central Market where I went every afternoon in 1993. I always went with a translator from the Taiwanese building company I worked for on a hotel project in Phnom Penh. Three months later I married my wife, quit my job and moved here. I started selling used motos from Taiwan in Cambodia and worked in real estate.

Real estate and import export business sounds very different from bar and night life. What happened then?

…Then my story got very sad. In 1995 I started to gamble. In the beginning I won a hundred thousand dollars and I wanted more so I could buy an apartment building. But I started losing. I sold all I had, lost my job and became very poor. By 1999 I had two kids. My parents from Taiwan didn’t support me because they didn’t trust me anymore. My wife left me, took the kids and moved to her parents. I stayed in a tiny apartment with an old TV and lived on 600 riel a day for which I could buy two small, plain baguettes. I thought my life was over. My heart went cold.    

How did you find your way back to life?

I lived like that for three years until in 2002 an old friend from Taiwan came to Phnom Penh and opened an internet café. He reminded me of all the vinyl records I still had in Taiwan and said I should open a rock ’n’ roll bar. I hadn’t listened to music in the 10 years I was just crazy for money and gambling. In these years I was empty. With the music my life meant something again. My friend also brought my wife back to me. He and the music had put my heart on fire again. My parents lent me some money, my wife had a few savings and we opened Zeppelin Bar.

After having gone through this how does life feel for you now?

This small bar and the music is my life. I feel at home here. I love my costumers. They are no-bullshit people that only come for the music and drinks at reasonable prices. Not for girls and pool tables. Outside this place there is too much bullshit going on. I wouldn’t leave Cambodia though. Life is still easier here than in Taiwan. I want to be a good father for my sons and offer them a good life. I still think that I owe them. 

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