I want to kill bugs, sir!


Perilous afternoons at Café Freedom
1999-05-13 21:44:28

Pigdog in Cambodia
We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold.
-- HST


The most dangerous bar in Phnom Penh is Café Freedom on the west side of Boeng Kak Lake. The number of dangerous things here is great and comes from a whole load of different angles. There's a constant threat of siege by the military police, who are likely to come at any time to apprehend the viciously insane Scottish owner, Brian.

Brian's waiting for them, armed to the teeth, but he's beginning to lose his nerve and is filled with violent paranoia, which makes him attack his customers and his staff from time to time. Several members of the public he has abused have vowed to avenge themselves with grenades. But despite the godawful muddy track to get there, it's a magnet to pot-smoking danger-seeking expatriates who reckon it has the best view of the sunsets in Phnom Penh.

Five or six Café/bar/guesthouses have sprung up along the eastern bank of the lake, and while most travellers stay at Cloud 9, a few innocent lonely-planet clutching souls trickle in under the impression that it's more dangerous to be out at night. Hah! Fools. Those who do stay are usually wide-eyed with fear whenever they're in Brian's presence.

Once a budget traveller and his friends ordered some food which came two hours later, cold, and utterly inedible. "It was so bad, you know, it's five dollars, that's a treat when you're on a budget like mine. I wasn't going to pay the five bucks for that, so I told him so." Brian punched the guy's lights out and the rest of his party fled up the muddy track. The backpacker squinted gainst the afternoon sunlight and said, "Someone's got to grease him sooner or later. What's a grenade here? Like two dollars? Come on."

Brian likes to shock his guests by selling smack, opium and hash in front of them, which is why he was arrested by the military police a few years back. At first the police were all up for trying him in a proper court and got very excited about it, but the Cambodian justice system isn't up and running yet and they couldn't find a judge to try him or a law to try him under. So they beat him up, took his passport and put him under house arrest while they sorted out the details. Sometime soon the police are going to come back and haul him off before a court and he'll end up in a foetid jail cell for ever.

Brian knows the score. That's why he's been sending his minions to the Army market to buy guns for him and planning to go out fighting. One ex-minion, Vandy Has, says Brian's got at least four AK-47s, a whole crate of grenades and a B-40 rocket launcher.

His adversaries, the military police, ride Harley Davidsons and are armed with evil stubby sub-machine guns and have lifetimes of combat experience.

Vandy Has, Brian's armourer, recently fell out of favour over payment for a crate of hand grenades. I found him playing pool at Sharky's Bar, so named because when a Cambodian pimp says it it sounds like "Sucky." "Very soon," Vandy told me, "I'm going to kill him!"

"If I don't," Vandy explained, "Someone else will." Even Titch, the gentle giant who runs the Walkabout Pub concurs. "He'll get what's coming to him," he says. "I wouldn't mind doing it myself."

So this is Phnom Penh's most hated restaurateur. For the tourists relaxing with a reasonably priced G&T after an exhausting day at the Killing Fields Memorial and the Tuol Sleng Torture Museum, it seems a peaceful place to watch the sun go down. But at any moment Brian might crack and go violently insane. One volunteer for the VSO was there when Brian, pupils insanely dilated, began screaming and firing one of his AKs in the air. She's been back every Sunday afternoon since. You never know when the shit is going to hit the fan or who is going to chuck the shit. The only certainty is that Brian is going to fight back with the strength of the terminally insane and the Holy-Jesus B-40 tank-buster.

Every Sunday at the Cocktail Hour the floating lounge fills up with danger-seeking expatriates who smoke Brian's excellent hash and get crazy with fear and tension. So far there's been no battle-hardened Cambodian police force storming the Café, disgruntled ex-employee chucking a grenade behind the bar, or pissed off tourist spraying it with a borrowed AK ("You want ganja, mister? You wan girl? Shoot gun?"), but every passing day can only bring that time closer. Sip your G&T, enjoy your toke and stay alert. Oliver Green / Ganja Gonzo

Over.  End of Story.  Go home now.


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