It’s my first Ugly American sighting and I’ve spotted a fine specimen. He’s in his 50′s, with salt and pepper hair and a Just for Men mustache. He’s stomping up and and down the motel cafe, raising hell because his ‘girl’ is late.
“Call her again. Damn Cambodians are always late!” he bellows to the waitress — though, why she’s involved I don’t understand. He’s getting glares from everyone in the area, but is –of course– oblivious. I hate him immediately.
About this time, the ‘girl’ shows up — she’s a pretty Cambodian woman around 18-19 years old, with long black hair and is dressed in designer jeans and the obligatory sparkly top. The US may have invented the Bedazzler, but the Cambodians and Thais have elevated it to an art form.
After enduring a long harangue about her tardiness, she explains that she lives on the far side of the city (a city of 2 million people, no less) and that traffic was slow. “Well, then… you should have left earlier!”
As they sit down to order, he explains that she can have anything she wants and that “they even have Cambodian food here.” She can’t find what she wants on the menu and speaks to the waitress in Khmer.
This provokes a huge laugh and a disbelieving “What? Can’t you read Cambodian?!” from the Ugly American. I start wondering just how much trouble I’d get in if I strangled him — does foreigner-on-foreigner crime even count in this country?
After they finish eating, he pays the meager bill and they stand up from the table. I’m thinking that from here they’ll head to a club or a bar, but instead he marches up the stairs to the room as she follows quietly behind. Apparently, the “wine and dine” portion of the evening is over and it’s time for business.
The next day I find myself sitting once more at the Riverfront Restaurant, checking email and editing photos from the day before. The Riverfront has been my favorite spot for the last couple of days because of its optimal mix of shade, breeze, free wifi, and cheap beer ($.70 draft). It’s a surprisingly tough combination to find — cheap beer spots have wifi that never seems to work or none at all, while the spots with good access want $2.50 for a beer, with food prices scaling accordingly.
I notice that the very sweet and shy waitress is smiling more than usual and paying me a lot of attention. She’s quite beautiful and probably about twenty years old, dressed in a matching yellow uniform of a white blouse, tight jacket, and even tighter skirt. Her name turns out to be Chea and she asks me the usual questions of where I’m from, whether I’m working or on holiday, and what I do for a living.
Without prompting, she volunteers that she only makes $15 a month working here and that English school eats up a lot of that. She’s fascinated by my iPhone and says she wants one herself, but they sell for over $400 here in Phnom Penh. As she leans over the table to pick up a glass, she casually adjusts her jacket, giving me a glimpse of her bra. If I had any doubts before, I don’t now — the game is definitely afoot.
Chea hovers about my table while I tinker and, after awhile, asks if I’ll be here until 5:00. She is about to get off at 3:00, then has English class for two hours. While I’m trying to decide where to go with all of this, she blurts “You go to supermarket?”
I look confused and say “Supermarket? Why?” Suddenly, she’s very embarrassed and I’m not sure what I did wrong. I try again: “Sorry, I don’t understand. What is supermarket?”
Her eyes light up. “Supermarket is big market over that way,” she says, pointing. “They sell all kinds of things there — clothes, dresses, skirts…”
Ahhhh… Now, I understand. I’ve always been too poor to be a Sugar Daddy, so I’m really not quite sure how to react. She’s beautiful and sweet, but the situation involves a kind of sexual calculus that I’m not quite ready for.
“Oh, I see,” I say. “No, I not go tonight — I have to meet a friend.” The look of disappointment on her face is genuine and hits me right in the gut. “But I will see you tomorrow morning, yes?”
With that, she smiles brightly. “Yes, I work tomorrow. I will see you then!”
I pack up and head to the hotel, feeling like a complete bastard. My bus leaves at 7am.