Friday, March 07, 2008
Every adult Khmer male --be they passengers on a rattling public bus, tuk-tuk drivers, tour guides, or guesthouse proprietors-- and no matter the innocuous circumstances of our conversation, at some point offer us women. It comes after being offered rides on tuk-uk and smoke-smoke, always 'cheap-cheap' for us. There are but two destinations: the Killing Fields and the shooting range. "You shoot AK-47," they say in their pitch. "You shoot rocket launcher, $200." For a few dollars more, you can shoot at a live chicken.
Due to the geography of these Phnom Penh tourist attractions, the usual circuit has the Killing Fields as the first stop. Tour buses idle at nearly the same spot as did the Khmer Rouge trucks that carried all the doctors, teachers, and educated urbanites out here some thirty years ago to be brained by wagon axles and garden hoes and turned into longan orchard fertilizer. And after you view the stupa stacked high with eight-thousand human skulls, you can mingle amid the butterflies and birds or perhaps take shade under the tree that they once smashed babies against. The sun blazes overhead; your skeleton shivers.
It is as you depart that the tuk-tuk drivers will inevitably pop the question: "You go to shooting range now? Shoot AK-47?"
To offset the gauntlets of English-speaking hustlers who offer Khmer women to us farang, we take a new tact, rather than simply answering "No thank you." Instead, friends and I answer brightly, "Yesyesyes, we want women for boom-boom." Gesturing the boom-boom act to show how badly we want to experience the "real Cambodia," we then add our lone stipulation, our hands shaking with pantomimed recoil. "We want boom-boom. And we shoot woman with AK-47, okay?" This elicits huge belly laughs from every would-be pimp.