I caught a bus to the border and crossed into Cambodia where I caught a pickup truck to Siem Reap with ten backpackers crammed in the back. A Cambodian with a lame leg had targeted us all. He wanted his friend’s guest house full with fresh tourists, long before they arrived to the town with the famous temple.
The pick up truck pulled into Siem Reap, 12 hours later. We had crossed two rivers by barges. The lame legged man checked us all into his hotel on the outskirts of the dusty town. I had tabbed up a big bill at the guest house. The man with the lame leg called the police. He’d doctored the bill. Every day I’d be taken to the police station. The lame legged man would be waiting there for me, seeing if I came up with the cash.
Before the appointed time, a spy would come up to me and tell what time I’d be picked up for a trip to the local copper shop. I had no money when the police took on the first day. I asked the policeman for a US$ 20 loan. “You have confiscated my passport. How am I supposed to pay for the motor bike ride back to my guesthouse? “He agreed, and handed over the money.
An Italian journalist who I had done some research for, wired me some money. I paid up the guest house bill and got my passport. The police wished me good luck. It was simple as that, and I was free to go.
It was if nothing had ever happened. I wonder how much the police skimmed off the payment.
I applied for a job at a local school. The expat teachers looked at me like I was an intruder. Still, I had another five dollars in my pocket for my troubles.
The next day I caught the next flight to Phnom Penh. I had to do a runner from another guest house.
Potentially more problems. I vowed to pay them back when I came good.
My Italian friend kept on sending me cash, and another good friend from the States also wired me some money. And the Cambodian from the Western Union gave in Siam Reap gave me $100. It was his Buddhist gesture. Another Cambodian from another guest house gave me a pack of bottled water. Some wonderful Cambodians practiced their Buddhist creed. But you had to be careful of the ex-Khmer Rouge. They were the hard nosed bastards, like the cripple who had set me up.
In Phnom Penh I checked into the back packer lake district.
I was optimistic I’d get work teaching English. Being chased in the forrest by a crazy Thai was long behind me. I still hadn’t got over it, and I made many trips to the chemists in a bid to tame those demons that chased me over an abyss. They had all kinds of goodies that I indulged in. The French saturated the Cambodian market with uppers and downers that all could be bought over the table.
One dreadlocked backpackers asked me where I had been and what I had done. A group of them were smoking dope on the couches, without a worry in the world. Had I said too much? The dreadlocked backpacker looked at me with suspicion. He was a dirty Irish cunt, one of those designer backpackers that I have always loathed. You meet them everywhere, and they are so self righteous.
He was crunching stories he had heard on the backpacker trail. He seemed harmless enough. The Irish crusader would enter my life in a big way. He was here to save the Cambodians from fuck ups like me.
Zack had just finished filming a reality television show on Koh Tao. He wanted to catch up with me. I hadn’t seen him since I left Sydney for Thailand over a decade ago.
I needed to catch up with him. I had no money. And I was behind in my rent. For the past week I had been having a big valium bender. One night I tried to shoot up some valium in my veins. I only managed a scar. I drank it instead. I had many long nights roaming Phnom Penh. Only me and security guards carrying M16’s. I never hit the red light district. I was too busy just surviving. Walking the streets of Bangkok with friends I could rely on was one thing, but being here, I was completely alone.
I knocked on his door at the hotel. He wasn’t in. I asked the reception for a packet of cigarettes and put it on his tab. It didn’t take much convincing. The Cambodians are trusting like that. I was staying at a guest house down near the river. It’s since been filled in and is an upmarket residence. An Irish man, dreadlocks, had caught wind of an Australian backpacker who had done a runner in Siem Reap.
Sammy, a Cambodian who spoke with an Australian accent, didn’t care about my past transgresses, he was here to help me.Some days, Sammy would take me to the gym, where we would work out with former Khmer Rouge. He fed me most days too. I bought a pair of army boots from the Russian market, and I was asked a few times if I was Khmer Rouge.
A Pakistani who owned the Indian restaurant would feed me every day. He was a crime reporter in Pakistan and he took special interest in me. I just couldn’t write up about the crime scene in Cambodia, I was too busy living out my own potential crime story. Mohammed was a true Muslim who practised what his religion preached.
The Irish guy was going to stitch me up. “If I find out you did a runner at the hostel, I will kill you.” He was going to kill me, but not without a fight from me. At a chemist I met a Cambodian who worked for an NGO. While I was scoring my drugs, he offered me a job starting next month. He handed me some dollars, and said to see him soon. He gave me his email and mobile number and I’d be working in a few week’s time. But I didnt’ know it at the time and still I had to let my nightmare play out.
Someone’s knocking on my door. It’s not early evening. I broke a bottle of beer first before opening the door. It could be the dreadlocked Irish scum. He was wearing me out. I opened the door slowly. It was Sammy. I hid the broken bottle under the bed. He asked me if I had eaten yet. His wife had just cooked up a meal.
I was banking on Zack to help me out. We hadn’t seen each other for over a decade. He had aged and was going bald. He eventually agreed to have a beer with me. His first first: “You’ve become a big fat fuck now haven’t you?” He paid up for the beer. He got his last laugh. I had bummed out on my luck and he was now a successful camera man. We agreed to meet tomorrow. Security guards carrying M16’s patrolled the street as I walked back to my guest house. I think Zach took a motorbike taxi out to the chicken farm. There was a glimmer of hope until the receptionist told me the next day he had checked out. He left a note at the reception. “You owe me a packet of cigarettes. Good luck loser.” And after that I had never heard from him.
He had become a mute again.
Help found me. I was offered a job working for an NGO developing their web page. I paid off most of my loans, including the Cambodian from the Western Union in Siam Reap. I never did pay off the other backpacker – I just couldn’t contact them, and it was only a few nights rent I owed them.
I met up with Ted on Khao San Road for a few beers. As good as his word, he said he’d meet me in Thailand. The sun was shining intensely. Thais were selling bootleg cassettes and we were sitting on table outside a bar. He had no advice to give. He was there to give it to me if I asked. He wasn’t my travel guru anymore. We were equals, and that was acknowledged with our silence.
We were just two seasoned travelers enjoying the moment on a busy tourist street in Asia. I was a different person he had met in Central America. Or was I? I had been mesmerized by Bangkok and it seemed the place to be.