A Conversation Gone Wrong in Cambodia

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A Traveler Conversation Gone Wrong in Siem Reap, Cambodia
One of the things I really love about traveling is hanging out and talking with other travelers.
Meeting a kindred soul and sharing tall tales for an evening can be the highlight of the day. Meet the wrong person, though, and it can become a nightmare.

I was drinking a 50 cent beer and finishing up a late lunch at Temple Restaurant in Siem Reap, when a grizzled older man sat down at the table next to me. He looked to be about 60, with buzzed gray hair, arms covered in blurry sailor tattoos, and two hearing aids the size of cell phones. He was quickly joined by a pleasant Cambodian woman in her forties whose name, I would soon learn, was Po.

John was from Australia, traveling through SE Asia for a couple of months, and was hammered drunk at 2pm.

He introduced himself as John (although, to be precise, I should spell it JOHN! since he shouted constantly). He was from Australia, traveling through SE Asia for a couple of months, and was hammered drunk at 2pm. He had a habit of squinting and sticking out his lower jaw after he spoke, like a demented Mr. Magoo.

I tried to keep up my end of the conversation, but no matter how loud I spoke, his reply was always “What? What?” He’d lost his hearing in the Vietnam War and told me he hadn’t used a telephone since 1974. “Isn’t that some shit?!”

After he worked out where I was from, he said that he’d like to visit the States but couldn’t. “Too many felonies. While everyone was getting rich selling coke in the 90′s, I was stuck in prison for dealing smack. I coulda made millions.”

Thinking it might be time to move on, I motioned to the waiter for the bill but he served me another beer instead. Great.

Po, I could tell, was quickly tiring of his drunken rambling — she would look at him, then look at me and roll her eyes. At least she had the advantage of only understanding a small percentage of his tirade. Thinking it might be time to move on, I motioned to the waiter for the bill but he served me another beer instead. Great.

John decided to enlighten me on the differences between Cambodia and Thailand. “The whores are cheaper here and a lot less hassle. I’ve been dating Po for nearly two weeks now and haven’t paid her a penny. And I’ve been giving it to her good every night, don’t you know! She’s crazy in the sack!”

Po pretended to not understand and focused on her curry. I squirmed about uneasily in my chair. John was a real charmer.

Po said “Maybe you help me? I want him go home and me go to my home. You tell him?”

He did have his softer side, admitting he was crazy about Po and wished he could take her home with him. “You understand ‘marry’?” This prompted more eye-rolling on her part. About this time, she leaned towards me and said “Maybe you help me? I want him go home and me go to my home. You tell him?”

Oh sure, I thought. I’ll tell your drunken, ex-con, ‘Nam Vet boyfriend that he should go home alone tonight and forget about any boom boom. That sounds like a fabulous idea. I took the coward’s way out, pretended not to understand, and simply shrugged. The waiter passed by and I asked for the check, making sure he understood this time.

As I paid the bill, she had apparently broached the subject because he was shouting “What?! What?! I don’t understand!” The wide-eyed staff were worriedly gathering around the table and I decided that this was definitely the right moment to move on.

A few blocks away, I found a cafe with free wi-fi and settled in to do some writing. Twenty minutes later, I saw John walking by on the street. I ducked my head and thought he’d missed me, but he appeared at my table and sat down, ordering a beer.

“Can you believe what she just did? I got up to use the toilet and she walked out on me! I can’t believe it. I just bought her a $900 dress today. That bitch! I just can’t figure out why she left.”

I tried to be sympathetic, but he couldn’t hear me and didn’t want to listen anyway. He wanted his $900 dress back, but most of all, he wanted to know “Why?”

“Every time I visit Asia, I leave with a broken heart.”

“I think I scared her off with my serious talk. That marriage stuff must have spooked her. Every time I visit Asia, I leave with a broken heart. Why?”

He stared into his beer for a bit, while I chugged mine and prepared for my second escape of the evening. After a few minutes, he looked up and slurred “You know, maybe it was because she saw me shooting all that heroin this morning…”

“Yeah, John,” I said. “That might have done it.”

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Monica April 21, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Wow – this was quite an encounter. The drunken ex-con/ex-sailor ‘Nam vet sounds like a character straight out of a book. It’s awesome! Hope you keep these stories coming. I love hearing about people & culture as oppose to “I did this and I did that” kind of travel blogs.

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wes April 21, 2010 at 7:03 pm

aww, thanks Monica. I find the interesting stuff is in the details and the misc. strange encounters. John was quite a character – a real force of nature…

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Anna April 21, 2010 at 8:18 pm

You just topped your last story.

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wes April 21, 2010 at 8:25 pm

No way. I didn’t have to poop my pants or anything for this one…

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Erica April 21, 2010 at 8:41 pm

Good lord!

HAHAHAHA

While this may have been quite the awkward situation, you have to admit that it makes for a great story. I almost wish we could have seen a picture of him. I love seeing old men with faded sailor tattoos.
.-= Erica´s last blog ..Fuzzy Friends =-.

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wes April 22, 2010 at 7:06 am

I wish I had a photo of him too, though I wouldn’t publish it since I was so frank about his behavior. He had gold teeth in the back that glinted when he grimaced — really added to his ‘look’…

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Akila April 21, 2010 at 10:01 pm

Cambodia had some of the skeaziest people in it. It was like the world’s weirdest and most uncomfortable people show up in Cambodia and hire their prostitutes. We literally left Sihanoukville four hours after we arrived because it was just too much of that.

By the way, I love the way you told this story. Hilarious.

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wes April 22, 2010 at 7:09 am

Thanks, Akila! I had pretty much the same experience in Siem Reap: the first day all I met were people who either bragged about all the hard drugs they were doing or how cheap the prostitutes were. Very awkward. Finally, I met a delightful expat named Dennis from Canada who was building a house in SR. Spent a couple of evening drinking beer and learning about his life there — great time.

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Josh | The Wander Project April 21, 2010 at 11:55 pm

WOW! A great story told very well. Nice job, sir.

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wes April 22, 2010 at 7:09 am

Thanks, Josh! I had to cut out some of the saltier details ;)

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BodesWell April 22, 2010 at 12:46 am

Great photos and solid writing — really enjoyed this post ;)

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wes April 22, 2010 at 7:10 am

Thanks, Jason. I really dig your site, btw…

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Guy McLaren April 22, 2010 at 12:01 pm

There are some real whackjobs out there but there are some really interesting folk on the road, I met a nurse from Australia that works for six months then gets on his bicycle for six months. Been living like that for 9 years when I spent time chatting to him.
.-= Guy McLaren´s last blog ..Top 10 Interesting Sights in Namibia =-.

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wes April 22, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Agreed. I’ve met some amazing people during my travels and some I’d rather never meet again. Just like life in general, I guess…

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Nick April 22, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Dude awesome story. Had to be amazingly awkward at some times but that is awesome. I really enjoy the way you write. Keep it up. I’ll be back for more.

Stumbled. ;)

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wes April 22, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Thanks, Nick — I appreciate that. It’s funny: things that make good stories are always uncomfortable while they’re happening ;)

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Nick April 22, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Reminds me of a 4 hour flight to LA. It involved a sleeping mom and a smelly baby that thought I looked like a punching bag while sleeping. The best part was the crowd of people watching that thought it was funny too.

Looking back it makes a great story, but totally sucked in the moment.
.-= Nick´s last blog ..The Catalyst for Becoming Bold =-.

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wes April 22, 2010 at 4:26 pm

Heh. Nothing in life is free, I suppose. Not even good tales…

Andi April 23, 2010 at 9:20 am

This is SUCH a crazy story it’s almost unbelievable!!! What a LOSER! That poor woman. I hope she made it back home safely.
.-= Andi´s last blog ..India: Day 1 =-.

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Michael April 24, 2010 at 9:40 am

great story, wes
salty old sex-pats, what a breed

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wes April 24, 2010 at 10:49 am

ha! sex-pats…

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Michael April 24, 2010 at 9:11 pm

yeah, I read this one out loud to Gail and she was totally cracking up
your stuff lends itself well to the spoken word

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wes April 25, 2010 at 2:36 pm

ha! thanks, mate.

Maria Staal April 24, 2010 at 7:56 pm

Great story. Very funny. It seems you have a knack for meeting strange people. At least this guy didn’t start talking about Star Trek… :)
.-= Maria Staal´s last blog ..Can a quirky Family Tree make things Clear? =-.

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wes April 25, 2010 at 2:37 pm

ha! good point. I probably would have run out on the bill and missed out on a crazy story ;)

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Miss Maria April 25, 2010 at 1:25 am

WOW. What a story.

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Nancie (Ladyexpat) April 30, 2010 at 6:34 am

You meet all kinds traveling in South East Asia! Great post.
.-= Nancie (Ladyexpat)´s last blog .. =-.

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Nancy September 2, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Really amazing. I’ve met some people I’ve just hated on trips as well. Thus far all the sleaze has been directed towards me by the locals (although that’s not the only reason for disliking someone), not stuff I’ve witnessed thrown at someone else in this brash Western sex tourist way that would simultaneously break my heart and make me throw the heck up. But I haven’t spent as much time in SEA yet.

And yet…once it’s over, it’s always pretty funny.

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Michael Tyson September 27, 2010 at 7:47 pm

Can you maybe not mention he’s Australian? How about Austrian – maybe you misheard him? Not many people know that Aussie and Austrian accents are very similar… On the other hand, at least he’s no in Australia.
.-= Michael Tyson´s last blog ..Part 2 – How a Week Doing Not a Whole Lot Was One of the Best Weeks of our 14 Months on the Road in Europe =-.

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wes September 29, 2010 at 9:00 am

Haha. Hey, sorry man… I just tell the facts as I find ‘em ;)

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Carole November 6, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Wes – you are hysterical!!!

It’s stories like this that make blogs worth reading.

Keep ‘em coming!
Carole recently posted..Whats New Since Your Last Visit Look HereMy Profile

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wes March 15, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Awww… thanks :)

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Elise March 12, 2011 at 11:58 am

Oh Dear. That makes me embarrassed that I am Australian!!! What an absolute ‘derro’ as we say in Oz! We met up with a similar guy on our way from India to Nepal. He was Aussie as well and had been working in Mumbai the last 10 years making ‘films’ (what type he would never say!) and playing his Saxophone in different bars around town. We made the mistake of sharing a mini bus with him into Thamel and then he even wanted us to split a room with him. We ended up just trying to lose him in the maze of tiny streets in Thamel!

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wes March 14, 2011 at 9:21 am

Haha! I’ve met a few like that too. Thamel is perfect place to lose someone, isn’t it?

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Elise March 15, 2011 at 11:21 am

It sure is! Ant and I even lost one another a few times through those streets! Every bloody shop looks the same! I kept thinking ‘I just passed this pashmina/northface, prayer flag shop!’
Elise recently posted..VOTE FOR US! 3rd Annual Trippy Awards!My Profile

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Brad March 19, 2011 at 10:46 pm

What I discovered in my travels in to avoid eye contact with people like that. Unfortunately, they are thick as thieves when traveling. I avoid eye contact, and try not to say anything. If that fails, I do the “crazy man” act, that is, mumble to myself until the person leaves me alone. But then again, you want a good story sometimes!

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Matt E. May 21, 2011 at 10:09 pm

“I had to cut out some of the saltier details ;)”

Awww c’mon man! There’s no such thing as too many adjectives esp. when they’re filthy! JKJK. But yeah YET another awesome story.

P.s. sorry for commenting so much on your page here especially when I have NO IDEA who you even are.Your writing’s just really good,and I’ve kinda had some weird attraction to S.E.Asia ever sence my friend,Emerson came back from there and told me (and made a zine!) about his escapades.Keep ‘em comin’ dude,South Florida’s boring hahaha

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