January 20, 2013

I’ve just come back from paying my respects to Cambodia’s late King-Father Norodom Sihanouk. This wasn’t necessarily an obvious thing for me to do, being something of a republican, but a lot of people from my office were going, and they asked me, so I thought it would be seemly. I was slightly thrown when I was told we were to meet at the Royal Palace at 0730hrs, but manfully bore up under the pressure, and was there on time, in a newly purchased black tie and wearing a little enamel badge with Sihanouk’s picture on it, with a big black ribbon attached.

Actually, the night before, in a bar, I had tried to persuade a bunch of foreign journalists that they would be mad to miss our little outing; that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of a bit of history, and they couldn’t be very good journalists if their spirit of enquiry didn’t extend to getting out of bed early for once in their lives and so on. So there was a little cohort of cold and hung-over foreign hacks looking murderously at me the next morning, because I’d quietly peeled off and got a decent night’s sleep.

One of the reasons I had decided to go, apart from the solidarity aspect, was simply the chance to see inside the Royal Palace, a vast leafy walled complex in the heart of the city. Normally, you have to queue for hours with hoi polloi and pay $3 or so, which I objected to, so my only glimpses inside thus far had been via Google Earth.

A few years ago I got to go into Buckingham Palace, and went with much the same motivation – to see what the interbred parasites were doing with what should be the peoples’ house. And I was amazed. By the space. Should Queen Elizabeth ever want to hold a polo match indoors, she has rooms where you could do that. Indoor Test match? Yeah, second ballroom on the right. It did little to assuage my burning sense of injustice. And the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh was much the same, if a bit more tropical. Behind those walls, these people have some major space.

It seems like one of the great signifiers of pointless privilege is having acres of space you never use, especially when there are poor people bedding down on the streets outside your palaces. And vast amounts of money, ridiculous military uniforms, stupidly long names and titles, and a lack of intellectual distinction.

But anyway, we trooped past vast manicured lawns and gaudy Thai-Chinese baroque buildings with curling eaves and finials mounted atop of spires. We had to take our shoes off, and file, slowly, into a white-silk padded room with Sihanouk’s rather dinky casket in the middle. The room was freezing cold, which I suppose is what you need with a dead body in this climate, and which would have been nice, if it hadn’t been so early in the morning, and cold anyway.

There was a spot of genuflecting, and then everyone got a few seconds with an elderly prince who was on shift. He was rather sweet: we wai’d each other, and he took my hand warmly and thanked me for coming. I’ve no idea who he was, except that he was from the Sisowath side of the royal family, and my colleagues were ecstatic about it. So that was nice.


Some subjects, loyal or otherwise

Some subjects, loyal or otherwise

They burn Sihanouk in a couple of weeks, in an astonishingly elaborate crematorium they’ve just spent $5 million on building, in one of city’s few parks. Authorities are expecting four or five million people to turn up to watch. Cunningly, a few weeks ago, I booked a hotel room overlooking the site; probably the best-placed room in all of Phnom Penh, so if anyone knows any media organisations who need a camera position and have tons of money, I’m the man to talk to. It’s got a decent-sized balcony, although not royal-big.

2 Responses to “Respect”

  1. interbred parasites! wonderful.

  2. only 1.2 million US dollar only! pls don exaggerate the number!

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