Kampottering around

October 31, 2014

I’m sitting writing this in the sleepy riverside town of Kampot, one of my favourite places in all of Cambodia. I spent much of the day interviewing disabled infants, which makes for a torrid time, quite frankly, so now I’m relaxing with a stiff gin and tonic and watching the sun set in a blaze of orange and crimson behind Bokor Mountain, watching the fishing boats chug out to sea down the broad pewter expanse of the Kampot River, and starting to feel a bit better.

Kampot is a magical town. I’m not the only person who thinks so: the place is rammed full of expats who’ve moved here to take advantage of the balmy climate, laid-back atmosphere and laughably cheap cost of living. Every evening on the riverside, where I’m currently sitting, the locals and the expats take a passeggiata, slowly, to watch the sun set; many of the expats, though, ride huge Harleys. Truth be told, many of the expats are balding, paunchy, middle-aged European men. I don’t really know why this should be, but it is.

Mostly, the Europeans run bars, of which there are an inordinate number. And most of them are largely empty, this being Cambodia during the rainy season. But I wonder if some of them have imported something strange to this little piece of paradise. The hotel I’m staying at has the radio playing in the lobby and the bar. Which would be fine, except that they’re playing BBC Radio 2, live from the UK.

Now, if you’re not familiar with Radio 2, that might not seem too objectionable. But trust me, it is. Radio 2 is where dreams go to die; the home of hairpieces and ironed jeans, of middle-class, middle-income, middle-life Britons. Radio 2 is purely British, in that it’s solidly turgid, like chip butties and Dralon sofa covers, like EastEnders, like sharing bathwater, like Alan Partridge. I left the UK shortly after I accidentally overheard Radio 2 playing Paranoid by Black Sabbath, and I discovered that my entire rebellious childhood had been traduced and co-opted by a race to the median.

So it’s very odd to sit on the banks of the Kampot River, watching geckos chase across the ceilings, smelling barbecueing pork and revolting fish, and listening to some Smashey & Nicey clone talking about roadworks on the M25 and congratulating Ian and Mabel from “beautiful Portsmouth” on a happy 56th wedding anniversary.

A rat has just run past my table. That’s what I came for.

But I suspect that’s just me. Not drowning. Just waving.


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