Taxi Girl Grip:

By late morning we reached the border post 'The Battalion of Provincial Police 625'. This is the HQ of the guard that patrols a ten-kilometre wide strip along the frontier with Vietnam up to Laos and down as far as Mondulkiri; we had to get past here to make it to the door with Vietnam. It was a hot and dusty parade ground with some low tin roofed barracks. Sena asked if we could see the Chief but he was out. His deputy was called. It looked like they had already signed off for the holiday as the deputy came to meet us in a casual shirt over his fatigues. Sena greeted him like an old friend.

Deputy had the look of someone desperately trying to remember on what occasion he'd made the acquaintance. He was a man of manners though and rather than commit a social faux pas he invited us in. A table was pulled out and we sat on the veranda under the tin roof and tea was served. Sena's performance was large; he was not going to let me down or let Deputy off the hook. Deputy had the look of a man trapped in a spoof TV show. He was waiting for the cameraman to dive out and say, "Hah you believed these were the Chief's friends but they are the infidel!" He was wavering. Sena grabbed Deputy's hand and placed it onto his knee; he put his arm around his shoulder. I thought this isn't going to work but Sena looked to me with a toothpaste ad smile "Can we buy these boys a case of beer?" "Sure." I said. Sena had him pinned down like a virgin in the grasp of a Bangkok Taxi Girl. The only way out for Deputy now was an ugly scene or submission. He gave in and the tension fell away but Sena kept Deputy's hand firmly placed on his knee for the moment. He said through Sena, "You must think we are not very disciplined drinking beer during the day." "No, no it's nearly the holiday after all." A few more of the ranks turned up and we were invited to stay for lunch and to help drink the beer.

A young guy appeared with the drinks. He wore a gold shiny shirt with flouncy sleeves in the Saturday Night Fever mould. I thought he must be from the little store across the road but he was one of the guards dressing down for the day. He minced back in a trice with lunch. It was some kind of stew as green as new mown grass. I produced my bananas and French bread. Sena explained that I was a monk. But it's ok for him to drink beer? The Deputy gestured pointing to the glass and then me. Sena nodded yes. "Sena, what's in the stew?" "I don't know it has small bones like some kind of rat." Mmm nice I thought. "I have to eat it though"

With everybody's glasses filled we stood to toast each other. It looked like being a session.

It was good to be in the shade as the midday sun was intense and Sena was more than entertaining. It was nothing more hanging out with the boys talking pub rubbish. With more than half a case of beer already tucked away Deputy said he had something to show us. He reappeared from his office with a dangerous looking bottle of hooch. He explained that this was very special rice wine and invited us to try it. He poured a small glass each as carefully as if it were nitro glycerine. They looked expectantly on the monk. I popped it away with no problem, it was indeed good stuff. This met with general approval and they downed theirs. I thought I might gain a little extra kudos by doing it again and offered my glass for a refill. Deputy held the bottle close to his bosom and spirited it off to the safety of his office.

With a few beers inside him Sena was getting a touch overconfident and talked to me in theatrical whispers of how he had bullshitted the chief at this very checkpoint last year. I reminded him that he still had a moto to ride lest he got anymore cocky. We stood for yet another toast, it seemed the boys couldn't drink sitting down.

Sena went off in the direction of a pee leaving me with the guys. In faltering English the Deputy enquired, "So, how do you like Cambodia?" "You speak English!" I gasped.


Back to Extracts