Tuesday, February 03, 2009

LIFE IS CHEAP, TOILET PAPER IS EXPENSIVE

Finding the motorcycle gang was never going to be easy. The Lone Brothers clubhouse, located in a backstreet bar run by the first biker club in the country, was a long walk up a karaoke street in the north-east quarter of the southern Cambodian coastal town of Sihanouk Ville. The national port of Cambodia, Sihanouk Ville is renowned for its brazen daylight bag snatches, the brutal skullduggery of its moto and tuktuk drivers, the overwhelming depravity and debauchery of its visitors, the smouldering piles of garbage on its roadsides, and its beautiful islands and beaches.
Now when i say this street is filled with karaoke bars, i don't mean to imply it is in any way civilised. For karaoke is simply a revenge attack launched upon the West by the Japanese in reprisal for their loss of the Second World War. But the Japanese have at least made some concessions in this warfare. Although they systematically bombard most major Western cities with this aural shrapnel, at least it comes out with English subtitles. But this Sihanouk Ville street, with its shanty bars and blaring Khmer karaoke music, is such a brutal assault on the senses that it must surely contravene the rules of warfare under the Geneva convention on atmospheric detonation. Worse, the street has next to no signs in English. And, walking back, after the power suddenly goes out and i am plunged into a heavy and humid darkness - the entire hellish scene lit by a mere half moon - things did get a little weird.

Walking up the hill, as the sun sets over Gulf of Thailand like a slice of orange sinking into a blue jelly and absinthe cocktail, i watch a woman driving a bullock and some calves in circles around a field. I have no idea why. But then, i don't know why there are large flat boards on the side of the road holding what appears to be slowly drying mounds of human excrement, either. Some of the foibles of the human soul must forever remain a mystery to me. All i know is i am glad to escape the bar down the hill, where i stopped to ask directions and quench my thirst with a simple Angkor lager on tap. At 50 cents, these ice cold beers were so hard to pass up that i had several.

I was greeted in the bar by an old, shirtless Dutchman wearing shorts, weird-looking tattooed symbols, and a hat.
"Have some of this," he says, offering a joint.
"Don't mind if i do," i say.
I cup my hands carefully to create a handformed chillum, placing the joint between my first and second fingers. What do you give the man who has everything? Penicillin. Can't be too careful nowadays. I hand the thick smoking reefer back to the barfly as the barman pulls my pot of beer.

"Geek," the Dutchman says, proffering a wizened hand.
"Mark," i say.
"You know the principle of Om?" Geek asks. "Mark, I once saw my foot covered entirely with bees! They communicated with me using the patterns of Om. As the Queen of my country once said: 'Nature is under control but not disturbed' - but she is a liar. A liar! And how do i know? I tell you the truth now - because i have seen this with my own eyes! Mark," he says, grabbing my leg, "You know, if you look under the paw of a dog, what do you find?"
I shrug my shoulders, perplexed. I don't know. A fucken paw print, maybe? I can't seem to find any coherent thread in Geek's story. I might be forgiven for thinking these rambling propositions are merely a string of non-sequiturs issuing like steam from the boiling brain of a demented crack head. But you never know. Perhaps i am missing some mystical truth.
"You see the soul of a baby, only sideways," Geek explains. Nope - demented crack head was right on the money. "You know the universe is vibration. But Mark," he says, jumping to his feet, "They took the stem of these babies only to cure the Queen of the Netherlands, like this," he lunges at me and grabs my skull, "From here to here!" he makes slashing motions at my forehead and neck. "If a baby is cut it will bleed to death! And I was in the prison for fourteen months! This tattoo here, these three lines, these represent the three kingdoms of heaven!"

I take a sip of my beer, and glance around, surreptitiously, for an escape route. Geek stares at me through yellow prescription glasses, with clear, round bifocal lenses set into the bottom. He has his head tipped back, peering at me through the bifocals with his pinpricked pupils, checking to see that i am still paying attention, or, at least, still seated on the bar stool next to him. He continues with some rant about the eye of God. I nod from time to time. The beer is not bad. But poor Geek is clearly a nut bar. Definitely he has had too much of something. I zone out as he continues his frenetic and garbled concoction of animism and drug-fuelled symbolism. A girl is singing songs of love on the microphone next door, in competition with some bizarre coconut rap coming from across the street. Bamboo and vines form a screen on one side of the bar, and down the steps in the tiled pavilion some Khmer boys knock ivory balls around on a billiard table. Bicycles and motos criss-cross the dusty dirt street out front. Late afternoon sun illuminates the motes as they drift lazily under a circling roof fan.

Eventually i manage to peel myself away from this mad Dutchman, who continues his rant regardless of the fact that the bar stool next to him is now vacant. Instead, i strike up a conversation with the Khmer barman. It is a short conversation, as i expect he has limited English, and involves me using hand signals to order another pint and to ask if he knows anything about a motorcycle club somewhere in the street. I spread my arms wide and imitate the sound of a Harley Davidson. He nods. "Oh yes, they up the street, way up, four hundred metre. You see big bike. Where you from?" he asks, staring at the red Maoist star on my black cotton bag. "Canada?"

The questions here are always the same. Where you from? Where you go? Ah, if only i knew. It is too deep a philosophical point to even begin to fathom. I shrug my shoulders, resigning myself to the postmodern philosophical position of Whateverism.
The barman tells me the biker bar doesn't open until after dark. I finish my beer and order another.

For some reason, i had supposed the Cambodian biker club would be frequented and run by Cambodians. But the only Cambodians in the bar are the bar girls. Klaus is German, about fifty or so, with a leather vest laced up at the sides, a skull cap, and a big handlebar mustache. He is drinking black coffee. A Honda Shadow leans idly outside the front of the Lone Brothers' compound, underneath their 'colors' - a skull and crossbones with red and blue flames exploding out each side. The girls stand, equally idly, around the bar.

The bar menu advertises hard rock, hot girls and cold beer. I opt for the cold beer. So how hard is it to start a motorcycle club in Cambodia, i ask Klaus. The land where everybody, except the cops, gets around on a scooter.
"Is not easy. We are Cambodian chapter of the Thailand Lone Brothers MC," Klaus explains. "We have now six members."
Six?
Klaus looks down into his coffee. "But one rides a 250cc trail bike." Two of the other members, it seems, ride 600cc Honda Shadows, like the one parked outside. But there are club members with a couple of larger bikes, he assures me.
And when is your next ride?
"We maybe go for a ride together in June."
June? I blow some froth across the bar. I was hoping to put together an article before June.
"Is not easy getting all our members together," explains Klaus.
Can't be that hard - there's only six of you.
"Our President runs another bar. He is busy there. But we were going to this weekend go for a ride to Thailand, to see the motorcycle show, five thousand bikes will be going there from all around. We were going to go there."
And? What happened?
"Is not easy." Klaus stares sheepishly into his coffee. "But we ride to Kep before."
Kep? The seaside tourist town of Kep is a leisurely two or three hour drive down the coast, through the Elephant Mountains. You can get a nice feed of crab there. I'm starting to think these guys don't exactly bring a town to its knees when they rumble into town. Or, in the case of the 250, sputter into town.
OK. So they are not exactly the Hells Angles. And maybe riding big fuck off bikes in Cambodia is not for everybody.
"Riding to Phnom Penh, it is the cows that are a big problem," admits Klaus. "And the slower scooters, they do not use their lights. And the roads not so good as Thailand."
Maybe the bar and biker club is just part of their retirement plan. A beefy, if somewhat aged biker on a big black machine pulls in a bit later, and a few younger-looking heavies in tatts drop in to quaff the beer and squeeze the women.
The Lone Brothers bar. Hot girls, cold beer - and apparently they do a hearty goulash soup. I order another beer.
As the town's power fails and the lights go out on my long walk back, i hear some girls calling at me from somewhere in the darkness. "Mister! Mister!" Several sets of hands grab me and lead me, blind in more ways than one, into one of the now darkened bars. "You sit!" They thrust me into a chair and begin to massage my head, shoulders, arms, legs - and, as one of them pulls off my Blundstones - feet.
"Where you from? Where you go?"

5 comments:

Juice said...

Good writing once again mark.. Just sell this to someone ready to publish the hard truth..

ramsnake said...

Great stuff MRC - keep 'em coming mate - and look after yourself in that place. You risk getting massaged to death!

miCheLLeBLOG said...

How did civilisation ever get to this? It's an oxymoron.

sarah toa said...

That is great Shark, its worth missing you just to read this stuff!

melinda said...

You always said to meet you at the heart of darkness bar, I should of realised you were speaking quite literally lol- I had no idea it was referred to that because of the unstable electrical supply! Crikey, well there you go, you learn something new every day (if you have something to do with it :)
Mayhem!