Is Phnom Penh really plagued by a crisis of nature, or does the perceived
calamity arise from failure of pheromones, fortunes or fastidiousness?
As female expats complain of a “man drought”, this Western man faces the opposite problem.
The rainy season may have come early this year, but the Cambodian capital seems to be suffering a severe drought. In bars across urban Phnom Penh, a host of stylish, educated, articulate, politically savvy young women forlornly swivel their olives as they glance around at the myriad manifestations of Mr Wrong.
Between the aged and the incoherent, the sexually unavailable, sexually unappealing and more alarmingly, the sexually unclean, there seems to be little on offer for the discerning, attractive, informed 20- to 30-something bachelorette.
And while it may be the stuff of urban myth, the alleged "man drought" seems to be inciting real-life tragedy amongst many aggrieved and more than a little aggravated female expats.
"I thought my standards were low at home in Bristol, but then I came to Phnom Penh and realised there was even less on offer," said Therese, a 29-year-old NGO worker.
Her friend, UN employee Sarah, agrees. "I love living here, but this place seems to attract weird types," she said. "Either they're alcoholics, mildly Asperger's or have a thing for girlie bars."
Such a qualifier has almost become a standard clause in appraisals of the capital by single foreign residents, the majority of whom are drawn to Cambodia by vocational opportunities and cultural interest.
The perceived "man drought" has been a concern for many women, particularly those mid-30s, career-oriented professionals, to whom Cambodia is such an appealing destination.
The general perception is that Cambodia attracts restless personalities, often escaping personal or social problems in their home country.
This theory is consistent with the more common criticisms of the archetypal, middle-aged adrenalin-seeking Phnom Penh expat male, and yet, the dissatisfaction and disparagement may be bilateral.
"I think there's a lot of really ambitious, high-achieving women in Phnom Penh," said Brian, a 27-year-old American aid-worker who has been single for two of his three years in Phnom Penh. "They're often very successful and perfectionistic, and sometimes that translates to them not being willing to make any sacrifices or compromises, to accept anything outside of their ideal in men."
So too, 29-year-old Richard, who has worked as an advertising agent in the capital for the last six months is cynical about the clarion cries of "drought".
"I have a decent job, didn't fall out of the ugly tree, don't smoke, drink or do drugs [or prostitutes], yet I don't see any single ladies banging down my door", he said. "You'd think with all the whinging going on, I might have had at least one woman ask me to dance or say ‘hi' or something. Maybe it's my fault for not going up and ‘cracking on' to them, which, call me old-fashioned, but just isn't my style."
So is the country really plagued by a crisis of nature, or does the calamity just arise from a grievous failure of pheromones, fortunes or fastidiousness?
The facts certainly indicate a dearth of testosterone, with the preliminary results of the first national census, released in September 2008, suggesting an imbalance of some 400,000 women across the country.
While comprehensive data on the capital was due to be published this week, a similar study by the Planning Department of Phnom Penh Municipality in 2004 also found that 291,063 of the city's total 558,095 residents aged 18-64 years were female.
Yet the studies do not account for the fluctuating but vocal foreign population, nor can they reflect the many nuances of age, and sexual or cultural preference amongst either the expat or Khmer populations.
So where do all these statistical and anecdotal vagaries leave your average single woman come 2am on another steamy Saturday night in the capital?
In the absence of hard facts, it seems that it may take some hard evidence, or perhaps just a few more martinis, to renew hope amongst Phnom Penh's lonely hearts.
Using the Facebook networking tool, Phnom Penh’s Most Eligible Bachelor 2009 kicked off to an underwhelming response, posing the question: Can you really find love in Phnom Penh?
In a last-ditch effort to put the bachelor controversy to bed, as it were, once and for all, The Post put out a wide-ranging call to eligible young men to show themselves or risk eternal damnation - or worse still, celibacy.
The inaugural Phnom Penh's Most Eligible Bachelor 2009 competition sought to identify and award general excellence in single male residents between the ages of 25 and 40.
The contenders were judged in accordance with the key selection criteria, the four fundamental ‘Q's': IQ (Intelligence Quotient), EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient), SQ (Style Quotient) and HQ (Handsome Quotient).
And the findings were pleasantly astonishing.
And after surveying the range of talent on their very doorstep for a top three (equal) winners, the panel of judges believe they may have sufficient evidence to divest - figuratively if not yet literally - the myth of the man drought.
If you would like to let us know what you think, you can comment or contact the panel at the Facebook group Phnom Penh's Most Eligible Bachelor 2009.
Bachelor number one:
The Renaissance man
Vocation: NGO worker
Email: [email protected]
From the panel
The chai-latte drinking man existed only in the realm of fantasy and hippy-festival - until we met Eric.
Not only does he order this tellingly sensitive beverage, but he also presents sans dreadlocks, freshly shaved, washed, pressed and with impeccable table manners.
Clean-cut, well-spoken and hailing from the heart of wholesome America, Washington state, Eric is the ideal take-home-to-parents accessory.
He speaks of good values, good breeding and chivalry in just the right quantities - and in English, Khmer and Japanese among other languages.
For those not sold, Eric also roasts his own coffee beans, derives enjoyment from cooking for people (couscous and Japanese no less) and names Rubies wine bar as among his favourite Phnom Penh hangouts (swoon).
Yet, should you also require a dose of Alpha with your male, Eric is no pushover. In fact, at 2-metres-something-very-tall, he is imposing in stature. And will happily offer you a lift in his four-wheel-drive vehicle, barbecue you a whole pig or light you a campfire in the woods.
Moreover, he is equally versatile in his taste in women.
Upfront about his dislike of game-playing (hallelujah!), Eric is drawn to individuals who are independent, motivated and and passionate about life. Hell, with eligibles of this calibre, it seems women have good reason to be excited.
What Eric says
To be honest, I've never been good at selling myself - it always seemed too narcissistic. In order to answer the selection criteria, then, I asked several female acquaintances (all non-bachelorettes) to respond to some of the questions, and am using that as the basis for my submission.
"I would describe Eric's intelligence as multidimensional ... a self-aware person who can read others as well ..."
"Can hold a conversation with anyone - professors, CEOs, farmers, truck drivers, grandmothers...."
I can hold my own in any dinner-party conversation, from politics to wardrobe malfunctions, but I refuse to speculate about what Britney might do next.
"Eric totally cares. Down to earth. Capable of having platonic relationships with females.... Asks follow-up questions. Displays compassion, diplomacy and very good communication skills. Unflappable. Solid. Positive attitude."
"Not metrosexual, which is out anyway.... Eric's comfortable in his own skin, and that's the best style there is."
I'm not a hipster, but I like to feel comfortable and look good. I don't like people whose style is covered in too many layers of irony.
"Classic, clean-cut American looks."
To that generous statement of my qualities, the only thing I could possibly add is that I'm also available.
Bachelor number two:
A (very) suitable boy
Vocation: Advertising Agent
Email: [email protected]
From the panel
From Bangalore coffee plantation to ashram to national badminton team to elite university to sweaty kitchen to luxury car, Achaya's life story is like something out of that Booker-prize-winning post-colonial epic you're reading.
But gripping as that tome may be, Achaya will no doubt be more fun to stay up all night with, as he will regale you with the tale in person, with equal amounts of wit and eloquence, a winning smile and a mandatory glint in the eye.
And all the while keep you happily plied with alcohol, professing the inability to let a girl pay for a drink - a narrative also available in Urdu, Hindi or any other of the some nine languages in which the lad is fluent.
He may be a man of many words, but Achaya is also a man of action, equally nimble in the face of a practical challenge as an intellectual, political or cultural one, and between stovetop, massage table, dancefloor and turntable is likely to press at least one, if not all, the right buttons.
And while it may not be the stuff of high-romance, after four years' high-schooling in an all-boy ashram, the man can verily claim to have mastered the art of toilet-cleaning.
An apparently adaptable creature, Achaya is attracted to women who like himself are not picky (vegetarians need not apply). He likes eyes, hair and women who dance, drink and read.
What Achaya says
I'm a small-town boy who didn't want to grow old feeling that way, so I packed my bags and left.
Am I better than the others in this competition? I sure hope not - I'd like to think that there are always others out there that are in some way better. Keeps one sharp!
There are probably two things in this world that I love more than women: food and music.
When I say food, I mean the art of putting normal ingredients together to conjure a masterpiece ... and the best part is that the appeal is almost universal.
As a kid I think I spent all my money buying tapes, had about 2,000 of them when technology orphaned them with the CD player.
I live, breathe and sometimes smoke music.
I think I have a song for every situation, every person and every moment that I experience.
I also love motorcycles (just bought a Ducati Monster 800), sport and theatre, though reading is probably my oldest passion.
I'm an ad man and in layman's terms I take something that's good, dress it up to look even better than it is and tell you that your existence depends on the purchase of what I'm selling.
The worst part is, most of the time people listen.
So since I do this every day I'm not going to do it in now...
As I said, I'm just a small-town boy with big, big dreams.
Bachelor number three:
Email: [email protected]
From the panel
If sensibility is a long-extinct characteristic of the modern male, then Pheaktra is an archaeological goldmine.
Impeccably groomed, discreetly stylish and calmly comported, he is refined in appearance and attribute, and seems to personify that old-world adjective, so rarely (woefully) applicable to the Phnom Penh male: distinguished.
He may not speak in the same quantities as your local barfly-cum-suitor, but his words are guaranteed to issued with a greater forethought, humility, insight, wit and pertinence (not to mention good taste) than the numerous inebriates encountered in a night out, whether it be in his native Khmer, fluent English or flawless French.
So too, Pheaktra embodies a seemingly long-lost trinity of traditional virtues: education, hard work and family values. As well as his irrefutably erudite understanding of history and current affairs, he is a picture of humble industriousness and professionalism.
While it may be difficult to extract him from the office on weekends, he is likely to apply the same devotion to those in his personal life as his workplace.
In contrast to the many peripatetic Western individualists who populate the capital, Pheaktra maintains a strong connection with his family in Kampong Cham and is attracted to women with, regardless of their nationality, the same reverence for this commitment. (Here, here!)
What Pheaktra says
I am a calm, peaceful man. I don't like to argue with people and always try to reduce conflict. Whenever I have a problem, I try to solve it with peace - not to win an argument, but to resolve it with a solution that is acceptable to all parties.
I'm also a bit sentimental, and like to read books about society, though most my attention is devoted to politics and history.
In my free time, I choose to listen to music and information programmes. I am generous with those who are generous with me and have no attachment to social class or status and try to practise the theory that all people have equal rights. Accordingly, I always listen to people's ideas before reacting or responding to them.
I'm looking for a woman with similar interests to me, but also, importantly, someone who understands me and my job. I have a lot of friends in my homeland, university and workplace who are very important to me, and I am ready to love back the woman who loves me, my family and appreciates the difficulties of my work. I am passionate about succeeding in my work and seeing those I love achieve the same success in their lives.
To me, mutual respect and understanding is the most attractive thing in a relationship and the trait I value most highly in a woman.