In the winter of his life, a philandering Aussie doesn’t mind getting gout in his you-know-what.
A long, thin stretch of beach is adorned with bar after bar after restaurant after bar, all proffering cheap beers and an assortment of other strange things for sale.
Pretty and laid-back by day; cheap, brash, and abuzz with neon lights and thumping bass sounds at night, unpronounceable Ochheuteal Beach attracts throngs of leather-sandaled, dreadlocked, tattooed, Moleskine notebook-clutching, ukelele-strumming, nocturnally-hard-partying layabouts.
Feeling our ages (and marital status) acutely, we were far more comfortable at Ochheuteal’s grown-up cousin down the road, the quieter and eminently more sayable Otres Beach.
But before we found Otres, we would learn that Ochheuteal attracts a whole different kind of stereotype too. We sat down at a beach bar (how could we not? – draft beers were 50c) and struck up a rather memorable conversation with a sex tourist, an old man (Western, of course) on the prowl for younger (much younger, of course) women (Cambodian women, of course). Soon enough, another man joined our conversation.
What follows below is as literal and faithful a retelling of that conversation as I can recall. It’s not terribly insightful or probing — it was never an ‘interview’ to begin with — and is nothing more than a passing encounter between strangers lasting an hour, perhaps less.
Meg has proofread it for errors and omissions, and agrees that this is exactly how the conversation went. I note this only because she asked me to say a few words — share some opinions, hers mostly — about the (rampant) phenomenon of sex tourism in Southeast Asia.
However, I’ve declined to do so, for reasons I hope will become clear in the telling itself. You decide. Comments welcome. As he is the star of the show, so to speak, I’ve given the OA the final word — beyond this point in the conversation were merely finished drinks, paid bills, a few platitudes, and a “see ya” as we went our separate, very separate, ways.
It all began with sticks and balls. Snooker, of all things, was playing on the small cathode ray TV and Megan was asking me how anyone could watch this.
Megan: Why are those tiny people playing pool on TV?
Kevin: They’re not tiny people; it’s a huge table. It’s snooker, not pool.
M: And people watch this? It’s worse than baseball.
K: It’s far better to watch than baseball. No one spits. And you never have to see Boston excel at it.
Old Australian Man Next to Kevin at the Bar: *leans in to our conversation* Watch this, I reckon he clears the table here. Wins the frame.
K: Great shot.
M: *sips drink, looks away, bored*
OA: Yeah, he’s got it, if he can line it up right after downing that last red, he’ll clear the table.
Man on TV: *clears the table, wins the frame, shakes hands with opponent*
K: Cheers, you called it *clinks glasses with OA*
OA: What brings you to Sihanoukville?
K and/or M: Oh, just passing through for a couple of days on our way to Koh Rong. You?
OA: I come here coz the beer’s cheap. Can’t drink like this on the Gold Coast *points to the chalk board that confirms, in writing, that in fact we are drinking 50c drafts of Angkor*. Might need to start slowing down, mind you. I’m eighty years and seven months old, and the other day I just got my first bit of gout.
K: That’s good going. I had gout once in my twenties. It’s a real swine. Big toe. Could barely walk for a few days without wincing in pain.
OA: Yep, that’s exactly where it got me the other day. Bloody bastard. Right in the top of me big toe. *lifts his foot out of his sandal to show me his toe*.
K/M: *a quick glance at each other: how did we go from snooker on TV to an old guy’s gouty toe in the space of three sips of beer?*
OM: Tell ya where I wouldn’t mind getting the gout though. *laughs, looks down into his lap*
K/M: Why? Coz you don’t use it anymore?
At this, an eavesdropping Yorkshireman at the corner of the bar coughs lightly to disguise his laughter.
OA: That’ll be the bloody day mate. Me girlfriend’s calling me every day, “When you come Phnom Penh, when you come Phnom Penh?”
K/M: *sputter* Your girlfriend? Your girlfriend is in Phnom Penh.
OA: Yeah. Well, me current one.
K/M: *orders more drinks*. Current one?
OA. Oh yeah. I find a different one every time. Come here about every 3 months and stay for a month.
K/M: *another quick glance: oh, thaaat kind of girlfriend* And each time results in a different girlfriend?
OA: Mostly yeah. I stay in touch with some of them, but mostly a new one each time. I met this one walking down the street.
K/M: Which street?
OA: This street. The one behind you, mate.
OA: Was walking down there a couple of days ago. She’s pretty, I thought. Hello, I said, how old are you? Twenty-seven, she said. I was glad about that. That’s perfect, between twenty-five and thirty is good, mate, they know what’s going on. I don’t want the kids, seventeen, nineteen, no way. So we got talking and I took her back for the night. You never ask them how much or they’ll tell you they want forty or fifty dollars. No, what you do is, you take em back to your room for the night, take em out for breakfast, then give em twenty. Twenty-five if they were good.
At this point in the conversation, the old eavesdropping Yorkshireman at the corner of the bar raises his 50c glass of Angkor draft to an absolutely stellar shot of snooker on the TV, and chimes in.
OY: *with a grin* He’s right. They’ll rob you blind if you ask how much first.
OA: Yeah, twenty-five max. This one, after a few days, she had to go back to Phnom Penh. I sent her on her way with about two hundred or three hundred bucks, something like that. So now she’s calling me every day wanting me to go up there. “When you come Phnom Penh, when you come Phnom Penh?” I told her Thursday.
K/M: Today’s, what, Tuesday? You’ve got some preparing to do. Get rid of the gout for starters.
OY: *laughs* I gave mine two hundred bucks the other day too, doubt I’ll ever see her again. Well, onto the next.
OA: Yeah, when they go off to their families you give em a little something extra. Two hundred. You can’t give them any more than that, though, or they’ll stop going to university or whatever it is they’re doing. Stop working. If you give em five hundred that’s too much. They’ll stop working for too long and become reliant on it.
K/M: Do you have a family back home?
OA: Not really.
OY: Two brothers. I see them once a year, maybe. And my late wife — well, she wasn’t my wife, she was my parter — I see her daughter once in a while. She loved it here, my partner. Loved to travel. Then she got cancer and it took her pretty quickly. Three years ago.
K/M: Sorry to hear that.
OY: Yeah, thanks. Cheers. We knew it was coming. I took her ashes to India and scattered them in the Ganges. That’s what she wanted me to do. Since then I spend most of my time here in Southeast Asia. She wanted me to be happy, to find other love. Apart from my brothers and her daughter, there’s a few friends, but I only go back to England a couple of times a year at most.
K/M: So you’re retired?
OY: More or less. I’m turning sixty-five soon. The brothers want me back in England for it. I keep telling them, why would I want to pay for some big party back in rainy, dark England with people I never see, when for fifty or sixty bucks here I can have two ladies visit me for the night?
OA: *approving grin* Too true, mate. Too true.