On a Wenesday night, after dark, the Parkway Square Centre has a heart-droppingly dreary atmosphere.
Its bleak and brutal modern concrete edifice is plastered with gaudy signage; looking up, one is struck by a waft of chlorine which sweeps out of the door from the sports centre inside.
A few despondent Khmer youths mooch about the semi-occupied ground floor market, harshly lit with florescent lighting. Bored shop attendants stare at the vacant stalls opposite or make cursory efforts to mop the floor.
A board indicates that the looming dark space on the first floor is home to a handful of business consultants, advertising firms and lawyers. The shadowy broad stairway leading up has the still, untouched and ominous look of a haunted house.
And things go bump every night on the second floor…
Take the plunge and order the lift to the second floor and the doors open into a cavernous and empty space the size of a ballroom. Broken floor tiles and exposed wiring gives the impression of abandonment, but swing ones eyes to the left and an entertainment arcade is strung down a long corridor.
Three arcade games with the lights turned off are positioned at the head of the passageway. Luridly coloured but nonetheless forlorn looking teddy bears wait with upturned faces for the grab claw to descend.
A little concessions store sits behind with three young shopkeepers gossiping in hushed voices; their shelves of crisps, nuts and cans stacked neatly.
It’s very quiet. Even the plastic potted plant looks dead.
The snooker club has six fine looking snooker tables but the lights are turned down low and every table is deserted.
The action appears to be at the far end of the corridor where in a concrete space, a dozen table tennis tables are occupied by enthusiastic players. Fathers and sons, competitive friends and couples laugh and play among a flurry of white balls and in a tang of sweat on rubber paddle handles.
Next door, an entire room is in complete darkness and pounding Euro beats reverberate. It’s a rink for bumper cars! Seizure inducing disco lights whip across the space and a handful of young F1 wannabes drive a crazed route through other stationary dodgems and press the pedal to the metal as the opportunity to collide with a friend presents itself.
There’s a bowling alley too; twelve lanes flanked by their dastardly gullies, familiar formica tables and beige consoles with overhead screens keeping score. It’s only got the basics, but the fun of sporting rivalry and the silliness of unpracticed efforts are infectious and the mood is uproarious.
Women drop balls thumpingly onto well polished lanes and men take their efforts seriously, dropping onto one knee and following the trajectory of their shot with an outstretched arm.
A scattering of pins is followed by a joyful jig on the spot, a clapping of hands and a jog back to the ball return for the next attempt. A thunderous lob down the gully is rued with a shake of the head and a slink back to a seat.
Apparently the Super Bowl really comes alive at the weekends when groups of young Cambodians and families with children fill the lanes. Businesses get in on the act too, booking out the whole venue as a reward for employees. There’s a group of regulars too – bowlers who take their sport deadly seriously and arrive armed with their own shoes, balls and gloves, as well as a cutthroat glint in the eye.
Super Bowl isn’t high-tech, it certainly isn’t glamorous, but for a taste of old-fashioned fun and a glimmer of the adrenaline of competition, there’s not much else like it on Phnom Penh.
Super Bowl is located on the second floor of the Parkway Square Centre on Mao Tse Toung Blvd. Admission is US$9 for one hour, with lane bookings available all day Mon-Fri and 9am-1pm on the weekend.
To contact the reporter on this story: Anna Brown at [email protected]