Sunday, February 20, 2005

Guns and Go-carts

Well here we are in the epic city of Phenom Phen (not really). The city itself is not much to look at. At one time the city was one of the hippest French occupided cities in SE Asia. But after losing almost half of its population due to the genocide a few years back, it is still trying to finds its way. The water front has a few beautiful French style buildings left over from the occupation, but the rest of the city has less character than Al Gore. Anyway, we booked a tour to see the sites of the city which actually sounded rather interesting. We set off in the early morning (Of course 7am) to go see the killing fields, which is were the Khmer rogue systematically killed and buried over 20,000 people. For all of you non-history majors, the Khmer rogue were a communistic rebellion in the seventies led by pol-pot. Basically, the Khmer rogue (KR) killed all citizens of Cambodia who were educated, or in the least bit offensive...so almost half the country ( up to 3 million people). The site was about 15kms out of the city, and the first thing you see when you pull up is a glass building holding over 8,000 skulls. I was pumped. The mass graves had been dug up, but they found less than half the bodies. Going to see tourist attractions in SE Asia is a lot more rough and in your face than in the cushy USA. When we were walking to the excavated sites, I tripped over some human bones that were still sticking out of the ground. In case that was gut wrenching enough, their were piles of clothes from the bodies all over, and bone piles for children to play with. The don't pull any punches when telling the tourists about the KR methods for decapitaion, or slaughtering of infants. I'll save you the details, but the KR were meaner than my girlfriend when shes tired and hungry. After the guides let us touch and take whatever we wanted we headed off to the KR interrogation facility, which was a converted high school in the downtown area. The prison was what you expected it to be, heinously brutal. They showed us the torture devices, holding cells, and pictures of the victims and guards. The most unsettling thing in the prison was actually a series of portraits done by one of the seven people who lived through his captivity (out of thousands). The paintings showed the everyday life of the prison, which included brutal beat downs, water torture, and my favorite, putting snakes in women prisoners pants to make them talk. After seeing these horrible atrocities, we headed to the next logical event, shopping at the Russian market. Im not sure who designs these tours, but the order of events is interesting. The Russian market is a giant tourist trap that sells any pirated item, or knock off piece of crap you may ever desire. We deferred our souvenier shopping for a brighter time and just ate in the food vendors. The second half of the tour dealt with uninteresting museums, and the cambodian palace. The only highlites were the beautiful silver pagatota, with its over the top collection of ornate objects, and the imported monkey at the hill top temple. The monkeys were brought in to liven up the scene, by fighting and through their feces at each other. It was the first time I really missed my friends in New York City. After seeing all phenom phen had to offer, we had a few drinks and watched HBO. The next morning we booked our bus to Vietnam, and decided to give the city one more day to impress us. In our new found tradition, we sought to find what local people do for fun. We needed someone who had their finger in the local pusle, so we tracked down a tuk-tuk driver and asked for advise on our activities. The tuk-tuk driver's name was Jake, and he spoke English, as if he were from Australia. Jake told us that he thought we should head to the north of the city, and visit the army base were the will let tourists shoot guns on their firing range. I am not a fan of guns, but could not dismiss the (hopefully) once in a lifetime opportunity to fire machine guns like rambo. Our tuk-tuk driver was a master of swerving in and out of traffic, as we sped past entire families on one moto (6 People on one bike was the record). When we arrived at the army base, we felt like we shouldn't be there, due to the armed guards and very forbidding gate, but the guards just smiled and waved as we flew by them. It begged the question, why bother to guard the gate at all? Anyway, naked children began to run after the tuk-tuk yelling hello. this was the first time people were trying to be nice without actually wanting money, and it was quite refreshing. As we pulled up to the firing range, which was marked with an American Bomb painted as a sign, we saw a few Caucasians toting around large machine guns taking pictures. I couldn't believe how causal the whole thing was. We just strolled in picked out whatever gun we wanted on the gun racks on the wall, and they led us to the firing range. Christine opted for the more modest Russian style pistol, while I went straight for the M60 (the gun Rambo used in the First Blood). The gun was huge and after negotiating the price, I picked up my belt, thats right belt of ammo, and went into the private sound proof shooting range. The gun was huge and scary. It made Christine not even want to be in the room, but I had already agreed, so it was on. I tried to use the sights on my first shot, but didn't want to put my face that close to this huge gun, so I just fired to see how powerful it was. The M60 is used for cover fire, which is to say it is too powerful to aim in normal situations, and is used to keep all living creators from moving, in fear of getting cut in half. This gun was no joke. The recoil felt like a punch in the shoulder, and when you kept the trigger down, it would let off at several bullets a second with a deafing thunder clap. It make my stomach turn when I realized that the gun I held's real purpose, and opted not to purchase another belt of ammo. When I got the target back, I realize that I fired too many warning shots, and had too much sympathy for the thug painted on the target. When I did hit the target, The hole left could fit a roll of dimes through it. I shuttered when I realized what this gun could do to a carbon based organism. After being gently teased by Christine about my aim, I bought one more clip for the same pistol she used and took no mercy on the paper assailant. I was just trying to scare him at first, but after he refused to move, I was forced to shoot to kill. When we compared targets, I had clearly better aim than my girlfriend, but she still claims it was a draw. We declined to keep firing, and rejoined our tuk-tuk driver for some consoling words. He recommended go-carts to take our minds off of the idea of shooting large weapons in a war-torn country, and we were excited about the idea. Christine has had some success with go-carts in the past, and claims to be the best. The last time we faced off(At Goodtimes,Boston), my go-cart was broken and she lapped me (as did everyone), but in typical Ian fashion I put her in the wall so hard she actually bruised her back. It was a humiliating defeat, and the people gave me another car, which I won the race with. This time I used all my mercy with the paper targets, and pledged victory. After a warm up lap we lined up in our polling positions and waited for the green light. The go-cart were fast, and Christine hesitated to really push the machine. After the first lap we were under the yellow flag, because Christine broke her car. As a gentleman I waited for her to pass me and proceeded to still win a decisive victory. After posing on the podium for a moment for all of the staff to admire, I goated the tuk-tuk driver into taking us for a victory lap in the tuk-tuk. The owners were not impressed, but Jake certainly clenched a better tip with the move. On the way home Jake drove us to the lake district, where we could relax and watch the sun set over the lake. We had a lovely dinner, a few beers, and some heated political debates. It seems everyone in the world is very curious how we let George W get re-elected. I hung my head in same, but was amused to see how almost every foreigner we meet knows more about US politics than most US citizens. I digress. We wanted some take out, so we stopped by pink elephant pizza (a famous establishment), and went home to watch HBO and prepare for Vietnam tomorrow. Cambobia was an enchanting place. The scars of its recent genocide are everywhere, but the people are as nice as anywhere. I don't know if I'll come back here again, or at least not until the Im arranging the next great bachelor party. With Guns, Go-Carts, And Hooker Watching, Cambodia is the Coney Island of SE Asia, and you don't even have to pay to see circus show.

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