Khmer Chameleon

I'm going to depart from my usual hard nosing the gaming highway and share a slightly more stylish update on my latest whereabouts...vacationing in Phnom Penh now, a refugee from an impending and overdue divorce settlement and lately taking a break from billiards in the girly bar next door.

Y'see, Kell's got his stubby Dwarvish hands full keeping things balanced between the Pure Land of the rpg old school and the punishing regimen of the Hell of the 10,000 Bargirls. Just trying to keep my yin going and my yang coming, so to speak, is either going to gain me a lot of XPs or shock me like an undead badass and drain a few levels. Here's a few gaming related anecdotes and annotations from the jungle -

Last week, well into my cups, I let slip to the other expat boozers at the table that I play alot of D&D and write some too. The kind of geek statement of faith you immediately regret. This big Canadian blurts out he used to work for SSI on the Gold Box games in the 80s. Before long, we're all (American, Brit, Aussie and Canadian) talking fantasy gaming while watching a gaggle of bored Khmer chicks shooting pool. So, primed with an idea...

I went shopping in the big, shabby Art Deco central market and manage to find a copy of JENGA. Now, that game along with Connect 4, are wildly popular with the Thai demimondes, but seemingly it hasn't quite caught on with the Cambodian scene. I've even read with some interest the indie rpg Dread, which claims Jenga infuses drama into roleplaying. Gorram, but them's two things I love - drama and roleplaying. So, you see why I couldn't wipe the shit-eating grin off my mug as I brought that baby into the bar. I'll cut to the chase and just say groups of Khmer girls get VERY excited pulling wooden blocks. Watching them, I thought, goddamn...wish I had Mousetrap. I love that little blue diving man, don't you??

Anyways, that's when I'm feeling social. In the evenings, I like to sit and watch people in this other, much more dimly lit expat dive with a long curvy bar and $1 Angkhors. It attracts those long-term (s)expat punters and MILFy Khmer ladies (and the French, but you can safely ignore them). It's not so much a fun place as it is a prime spot to observe the extremes of indelicate human behavior. with some pretty decent fish and chips. This one night, I'm sitting way down on the end of the bar when this old mama-san looking gal hits me up for a cigarette. We don't speak, and she buys a drink and sits like she's waiting for somebody. About 1/2 hour later the spitting image of Gary Gygax sits down on the other side of her, orders a lemon soda, and they have this conversation:

Gary: You ok?
Lady: Ok. You? You what time go here?
Gary: Uh (looking at watch). 10:30
Lady: You go home tonight?
Gary: Later. I'm looking for Tam. Did you see her?
Lady: No. Tam go home Battambang I think. You call mobile phone her?
Gary: No.

Both sit in silence for 45 minutes, while I consider the possibility this is really some posthumous Elvis -type sighting of Gygax. I want to ask this guy his name, just to check, but don't.

Lady: After I go home. See you later.
Gary: Yes. I'm going home now too. You want to share a tuk-tuk? It can stop at your home on the way? You want a ride home?
Lady: You want go boom-boom with me?
Gary: No, no. You can take the tuk-tuk with me. Tell the driver where to stop. After he will take me home.
Lady: After boom-boom?
Gary: No, not after boom boom. I'm going home. Do you want to ride on the way with me?
Lady: No. I'm going home with the moto.
Gary: Ok. Take care. I'll see you later.
Lady: Bye. Mr Gary...I will see Tam tell her Mr Gary look for her!

I sat for another hour flabbergasted wondering about coincidences and synchronicity and other heavy Robert Anton Wilson shit before settling on Jaegermeister for my nightcap. That only made me more curious (after I threw up).

I've also been doing the rounds at a place called the Zeppelin Cafe, with this huge collection of old vinyl rock and roll. God only knows how this stuff survived the Khmer Rouge. The owner's a long haired Cambodian hepcat, and like all Asian hippies he loves his Santana. After a couple rounds of beer, he pulls out the Ros Sereysothea albums. I'll let you check out the mp3's available online at the Aquarium Drunkard. You can also read up about Ros on

You'll find a sweet collection of late 60's/early 70's Khmer rock and roll. Sorta Booker T & the MGs meets Santana over a spiked mai tai. If nothing else, check out Yol Aulorong's Cyclo Ride, Ros Sereysothea's Old Pot, Tasty Rice and Old Sour and Sweet or Pan Ron's Sralanh Srey Chn...this is the genuine "Apocalypse Now" soundtrack and rocks hard and real. Predictably, all of these musicians disappeared during the Khmer Rouge years, so this is literally rocking into doomsday.

Now enough of this internet cafe hoo-hah, I've got a fatty in my pocket and a hankering to watch a sunset. As they say in Pakistan, time to chello.

Photo: The late, great Phnom Penh dive 'Broken Bricks'. Closed after the meth-fuelled innkeeper provoked one too many beatings from his Khmer neighbors. Irony just doesn't play well in the Orient.

Next Time: Lin Carter & Amateur Cryptozoology on the Angkhor Trail


The Badger King said…
What exactly do you DO in Cambodia, other than hang out in bars of questionable moral quality? 8) And how the hell did you end up there?
Kellri said…
I live and work in Saigon, Vietnam. Just vacationing in Cambodia - only a short bus journey away. I've considered relocating, but am fearful of the outcome - it's no country for old men.
clovis said…
sorry about the d-vorce . . .

as an experienced traveller
(100s of girls and thousands of drinks) ; - 0

let me give you some drinking advice (that has held me thru 11 Mardi Gras)

after a heavy night of drinking
before you go to bed
take 25mg phenergren
(non-narcotic/ anti-nausea)
and drink two large glasses of water
your mornings will be better