Many firsts are taking place in Cambodia. Did you hear about the Royal Engineer
who parachuted into Pailin? The Gecko did. He dropped in unannounced, managing to
avoid mines and all. He would do it again, but the local powers that be nixed the
idea. Could be a first-and last-at least until Pailin gets its own chapter of Skydivers
The Khmer Rouge are threatening to start issuing their own currency for the zones
they control. The Gecko wonders who will be the lucky recipient of the contract to
print the scrip.
The Gecko notes that markets are carrying all sorts of odd commodities these days.
In Kompong Thom he saw 30-liter sealed bottles of drinking water for sale with"UNMO"
stenciled on the side. He thinks he heard the hawker in charge shouting "Get
'UM while they're hot."
In Battambang the popular Stung Khieu restaurant ices down their beers in pink garbage
cans with "Cambodian Red Cross" stenciled on the side in Khmer.
The list of items for sale by an NGO worker upon his departure from Cambodia gives
an indication of how expats on the front lines here cope with creature comforts in
what is considered a hardship post.
The sale list included: one Braun beard trimmer, a Phillips cooker with oven, a coffee
grinder, one de-humidifier, two emergency lamps, one fan, 27 golf clubs, one Phillips
rotating electric grill, one Italian grill, a hair dryer, an electric kettle, two
"kill-mosquito" lamps, two stabilizers, a vacuum cleaner, and a Krups whisk,
whatever that is.
The Gecko tells us that English accents in Cambodia are so varied as to boggle the
mind. Does an Argentinean's English make sense to a Bulgarian, or a Russian's English
to a Ghanaian? And how are the Khmer supposed to cope with all these dialects?
The Gecko overheard one brief exchange: A Honduran entered a restaurant and greeted
a waiter with " Ow are jou?" The waiter replied, "Wait a minute,"
and promptly came back with a glass of orange juice.
The Gecko's advice for one and all of the visitors to this noble land, however briefly
they stay, is to learn some Khmer. It's useful for ordering in restaurants, better
yet for the peace process.
The British marines are making themselves welcome in Stung Treng. They recently rescued
a boatload of Khmers who capsized in the Mekong. The unlucky lot were plucked one
by one from the river, and then, to the astonishment of the bystanders on the shore,
the Brits went back and deftly picked up all the travellers' possessions as well.
Is that called doing your job or what?
A novel way of dealing with bandits was heard by the Gecko recently. A would-be robber
in Kompong Som walked up to a white U.N. vehicle, leaned into the window brandishing
a pistol, and demanded some cash. In one fell swoop, the bloke in blue half nelsoned
the culprit while ripping away the gun. The startled brigand was then pushed away
with a few four-letter "thank you, not today's." The expunged magazine
and disarmed revolver were then thrown out the window as the chastised pirate-who
may think twice before he ever tries to pull a fast one again-fled double time in
a state of panic for points unknown.
The Gecko doesn't advise this response methodology for the general traveler but notes
it as one way of dealing with a mind set that has, regrettably, become the norm for
too many "tax collectors" as a result of decades of war.
Everyone knows the Khmer Rouge aren't cooperating with the peace process, but have
you heard of their latest subtle tactics in Phnom Sre Veal up north? The K.R. came
into town and ripped down all the UNTAC posters announcing Phase II. They then put
up their own signs saying in Khmer that if the U.N. came back they would shoot up
The Gecko is aware that many people have been anxiously awaiting word on the condition
of the elephant that stepped on a mine near Kampot. Word from UNTAC is that the fellow
is okay, if slightly limping still.
Want to do some light reading in your spare time? The Gecko notes that the National
Library is open and has been since 1981, after it reemerged from the Khmer Rouge
era with 60 percent of its books destroyed. Library cards are available to Khmers
and foreigners alike for 100 riels a pop. The current collection includes 17,500
books in English, 23,000 in French, and another 139,000 in Khmer. New selections
are being added daily. Books can be taken out for two weeks at a time. Check it out.
With scores of new companies flooding into Cambodia, the Gecko keeps his eyes open
for good corporate citizens. Enterprise Oil, a British-based oil exploration firm,
is setting an example that other companies might follow here. They're supporting
the Cambodia Trust Limb Project, which provides artificial limbs to some of the thousands
of people who have been injured by mines.
Last but not least, the Gecko looks forward to the upcoming mini-Olympiad to be held
at Olympic Stadium on Sunday, July 26. The UNTAC Games will run from 8 a.m. to 1
p.m. Come see UNTACs from around the world display their skills in volleyball, basketball,
football, tug-o-war, and a variety of track and field events. Attendance is free.