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Life's a drag at Phnom Penh's flourishing gay bar scene

Life's a drag at Phnom Penh's flourishing gay bar scene

For the glamourous performers in the increasingly popular drag shows at the capital city's Blue Chilli and Green Flame bars, hallelujah! It's raining men

IF a small, dimly lit bar off Street 19 is pumping out Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston on a Friday night, don't walk away - peep in and you might just witness the next big trend in Phnom Penh's rainbow community.

Drag shows are a fairly recent and underground form of entertainment in the capital, but the men who perform in all their feathered, sequined glory are ensuring its soaring popularity.

Blue Chilli owner Sokha said they have been putting on weekly shows for almost five months, and with each performance, the audience numbers grow.

"If it's not raining then the club is full, inside and outside," Sokha told the Post. "In the beginning it was just friends. Someone had a birthday party and one of my friends likes to perform, so we put on a song and that's how it began."

There are two shows a week, Sokha said, with his business partner Oak and staff member Deedee as the main performers and others joining in.

Starting drag shows was a way to be different from the numerous other gay businesses in Phnom Penh, and Oak said their shows were popular because he pays attention to details and gauges audience reaction to each performance.

"If I look at them after a song and they are not clapping or are looking unhappy, I'll never perform that song again," Oak said. "It's a funny act. Even if it's a sad song, we will try to make it funny."

It's hard to meet 28-year-old Oak and imagine him doing anything other than flamboyant performances, but he did an eight-year stint in a marketing job in Thailand.

"Four years ago, I met Sokha in Bangkok and he told me about Cambodia, which I hadn't really heard much about. I came here to travel and really liked it, but I thought, ‘There are no gay bars.' So I said to Sokha, ‘Let's open one," Oak said.

"Two years ago, when we opened Blue Chilli,  [the gay men] were shy," he added. "But now, they are ready to meet new people and go out together. Soon I think the gay scene here will be like Bangkok."

It's a funny act.even if it's a sad

song, we will try

to make it funny.

Sokha said that the shows have opened up Phnom Penh's gay community to a different form of entertainment, "something which is fun."
For the boys who perform drag shows at another Phnom Penh bar, Green Flame, having fun is what it's all about. Green Flame owner Trung said they love it so much that sometimes they'll put on a show just for themselves.

"Sometimes they can't bare standing around in guys' clothes, so they change [into dresses] and just put on a show!" Trung said.

Green Flame is a new addition to the gay-friendly scene in the city, having been open only two months, but once again the diva drag show draws in a sizable crowd to the tiny hole-in-the-wall bar.

"Usually there are about 30 customers, but if the bar area gets crowded, they watch from outside," Trung said.

Trung, who is Vietnamese, said that Phnom Penh was welcoming to the gay community.

"It's hard to have a small, gay business in Vietnam," he said, "but here I have no problems."

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