S INGAPORE - The door at the Orange Grove Suite in the Orchard Hotel in Singapore opened slowly with nobody in sight. I walked in and exiled Prince Norodom Sirivudh popped out from behind the door with only a towel wrapped around him. "I will kill you," he said laughing, with two fingers pointed at me in the shape of a gun.
He then added with a sigh, "My first day of freedom!"
Sirivudh has been a bit of a joker for as long as I've known him, which goes back to the late 1980s when he ran FUNCINPEC's Humanitarian Aid Department out of their tiny offices on Soi Suan Phlu in Bangkok.
His humor remains undiminished, in spite of the fact that the black art may have played a part in getting him exiled from his native land and packed off to a chilly Paris and an uncertain future.
The Prince welcomed me into his plush, two-room suite and offered a continental breakfast - courtesy of Singpore's Ministry of Defense, his hosts for his brief stopover in the city state. He looked rather somber and as if he'd lost some weight.
Sirivudh told me that he wasn't talking to any journalists and so anything he said had to be "off the record." That was part of his agreement before he left Cambodia.
The invitation to breakfast came the night before after I'd left a message at 1 am with the hotel duty officer for the Prince to call me. At 1:30 am Sirivudh called me back and said to come by to Room 1742 at 7 am.
Breakfast lasted over an hour and our discussion covered the waterfront:recent events, the last two years and future plans.
A couple of other people knocked at his door and I left with Sirivudh inviting me back for lunch.
At 1:30 pm I rang up Sirivudh's room and got one of his Singporean handlers: "Can I speak to the Prince, please?" "Who's calling?" "Mr. Hayes." "One minute, I'll check... I'm sorry he's not here, do you want to leave a message." "No thank you, I'll just wait for him in the lobby." "Oh!"
I puttered around the lobby and some guy came up to me whispering "Are you Mr. Hayes?" "Yes." "Please follow me." We went up the escalator and I asked the man who looked like someone you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley, "What's your name?" He replied "Gun."
Cheerfully, I asked, "Are you with the Ministry?" "No, I'm with him," came the reply.
Sirivudh was having lunch with a "friend" in an almost empty restaurant. He encouraged me to have a beer and some fried rice, joking that I should eat all I could because it was on the Ministry of Defense tab. Mr. Gun and another guy sat at a table across the room. They didn't seem to be smiling.
The waitress came back three times to serve more rice while we talked. We toasted free beer from the Ministry and a Merry Christmas.
I asked Sirivudh if I could take his picture; he asked Mr. Gun who said "OK" and we went back to his suite. We talked about the press situation in Cambodia. Sirivudh joked that if I died in Cambodia, I shouldn't worry because lots of famous politicians would come to my funeral. We bade farewell and he said "Courage".
That night, the phone rang and it was Sirivudh inviting me over for a drink at his hotel. I trundled on over to the Orchard and up to his room. We then went down to the lobby bar and met two other people. Drinks were ordered.
A band was playing. Sirivudh sang along with an Elvis tune. He wondered aloud if he could sing one of his favorites with the band. A Singaporean friend said that only band members with the proper permits could sing in bars. The Prince asked the waitress anyway who looked confused. Sirivudh joked about maybe having to sing for his supper in the subways of Paris if he ran out of money.
Sirivudh told a few more jokes and one of his friends laughed while saying, "See, that's what got you in trouble."
The Prince finally joined the band and sang... "Feelings. Nothing more than feelings... Feelings, whoa, whoa, whoa, Feelings, I wish I'd never left you..."
I'd never seen him look so sad.