Oh dear, Daylene Giambrone, you seem to have jumped to unfortunate conclusions about
massage at the Ponluk Restaurant (Massage Message letter, PPP, Nov 7).
Cambodians are very modest in dress and public behaviour. There are social taboos
about public displays of affection. Physical contact in Cambodian society is consequently
ritualized into grooming customs. Among these is massage. The sick are comforted
with foot massages, headaches relieved with head massages and a haircut is frequently
finished off with a shoulder massage.
At the Ponluk restaurant, a massage is proffered by the waitresses with the bill.
As I understand it this is a Cambodian equivalent of a Western Restaurant's "free"
after-dinner mint or liqueur. it is essentially a gesture to encourage tipping and
serves as an alternative digestif. I assume you and your party had presumed that
massage is, in and of itself, sexual in nature.
No doubt your concern for Cambodian women is heartfelt and sincere. Perhaps Tom,
Dick and Harry were guilty of "inappropriate behavior" but without examples,
it is impossible to comment on what way and to whom they were offensive. However,
your insistence on your belief that "Caucasian men were more sophisticated and
possessed more class" is breathtakingly naive and patronizing to the point of
racism. The issue of humans being "mistreated and exploited" is not so
simply gender specific in this country. Rights and equality for all have a long way
to go here.
It is often said that travel broadens the mind. I sometimes doubt that. Many seem
to travel to have their pre-conceptions confirmed; they see what they want to see,
the better to appreciate the "normality" of "home". How sad that
a well-intentioned tourist should have left here with this stereotypical cliché
view of the mores of Cambodia's people and the tourists who visit.
- Sebastian Blockley - Phnom Penh