Around three years ago I was working for World Vision New Zealand, and everyone always said “Oh wow, that must be so rewarding”. Well, it wasn’t, at least not up until September 2012. Most of the employees were absolute arseholes.
Then in September 2012 I was selected to travel to Cambodia with a colleague Quincy (or Que as he likes to be called) to witness first-hand the work that World Vision does out in the field.
A free trip to Cambodia for a week, I couldn’t believe it! I was all set to have my life changed. I had just become a father in the previous months and was really looking forward to seeing some heart-warming instances of joy, hope and transformation.
In a meeting I had with my manager about the trip, I found out that they were going to give me $300 US dollars for my ‘per diem’ for the week while I was there. I actually had to Google what ‘per diem’ was after that meeting. When I found out it was basically ‘free money’ I was over the moon, I immediately deleted ‘per diem’ out of the Google search engine and typed in ‘pubs and bars in Cambodia’. I saw that there was an Irish pub called ‘Paddy Rice’ right on the riverside of Phnom Penh, about 3 kilometres away from where we were staying. As far as I was concerned, I was all set.
"Can you sleep on planes?" A colleague asked me on Friday arvo, two days before I was flying out. “Of course I can, waddaya mean, can you sleep on planes, what a stupid question, who the hell can’t sleep on a plane?” I’ll tell you who can’t sleep on a plane: Me, that’s who.
It turned out that because Que and I didn’t check in at the same time we weren’t sitting next to each other, which is a good thing because he is the same size as me. A flight attendant approached us as we were waiting to board and gave me a different boarding pass, I was a little confused.What do I need this for, what was wrong with my old one?What a good bitch! What a result! I was about 6 Singapore slings deep as we began our flight over Australia. Holy shit, that place is big! I swear that most of our flight to Singapore was spent flying over that goddamn country. There is nothing good about Australia.
Nothing sir, we have just moved you from one seat to another.
Any specific reason for that? Is it a better seat?
Well, we had you and Mr Filiga booked as a pair on this flight but as you didn’t check in together you aren’t sitting with each other. We have just changed your seat so that you are now sitting together.
Is that not O.K?
Oh ... nah. It’s fine.
Well I was going to say, we have moved you next to Mr Filiga because there were two spare seats in his row and we thought because you are both a little larger than most of the passengers you could benefit from the extra room, it is a nine and a half hour flight after all, you don’t want to be crammed in to the middle seat of the middle aisle.
Oh god, I love you. Thank you so much!
Singapore Airport is huge, on the Lonely Planet’s top ten list of airports to be stuck in, Singapore is number 3. You have to take a train in order to get between terminals, brilliant. I was definitely looking forward to our 9 hour stopover in this airport on the way home now.
Our flight from Singapore to Phnom Penh was only 2 hours long. Turns out that I couldn’t sleep on that plane either, dammit! When we arrived in the Phnom Penh airport it was 10:00am Monday morning. The last time I went to sleep was at Sunday morning at around 3:00am, I was struggling ...
There is nothing more unnerving than being in a country that you know nothing about, have no sense of direction in and then to find out that there is no one there to pick you up from the airport (as was promised). We must have sat there for over an hour waiting for someone to come grab us before I began to panic and took some action. I looked over at Que.
Fuck this bro. I’m gonna go and see if I can call World Vision Cambodia, surely they’ll have a call centre and hopefully someone will come grab us.I couldn’t find a number for World Vision Cambodia, so I went back out to find Que chatting with a Tuk Tuk driver. He asked us where we needed to go, so I got out the address for our hotel and asked him if he knew where it was, he assured me that he did, but I could see that he was uncertain.
Yeah bro, sweet as, I’m gonna go and have a dart.
Don’t wander off too far man, you sweet to watch my bags?
Yeah man, allgoods.
You sure you know where this is?Listening to Cambodian people repeat the same words over and over was going to be something that I would grow incredibly tired of as the week progressed.
Yes yes, of course it is
Of course what is? That doesn’t make any sense, do you know where this hotel is or not?
Yes yes, just down the road. Twenty dollars, twenty dollars.
Twenty dollars to get there?
Yes, twenty, twenty.
And you’re absolutely sure that you know how to get here?
Yes, yes, for twenty dollars I know, twenty dollars.
We finally arrived at our hotel on the back of our Tuk Tuk, which must be Cambodian for ‘Death Trap’. Our driver clearly didn’t give two shits about anyone else on the road, cutting people off and honking his horn every two seconds. It turns out that there is actually no such thing as an ‘angry beep’ of your horn in Cambodia, which I find odd as most people we cut off looked, well, pissed off.
Our hotel was better than expected if I’m honest, free Wi-Fi, massive room with air con and a minibar fridge with $2 Heineken’s (I smashed back like 5 as soon as we got there). I skyped home to let my wife and daughter know that I had arrived safely. I then skyped my brother, who told me:Don’t go to sleep bro, no matter how tired you are man, don’t go to sleep during the day time. Fight it until night time.He was right about the sleep thing, too. Quincy went to sleep around 2.30 pm on that Monday, after not having slept since the Saturday night before we arrived. He slept through me bashing on his door to invite him out to dinner with myself and our work colleague Siobhan (from World Vision New Zealand) at around 6.30 pm and apparently woke up at 03:30 in the morning raring to go and starving, but he couldn’t even get room service as the kitchen was closed.
What do you mean don’t sleep? That’s exactly what I plan to do, man.
Don’t bro, honestly, you’ll wake up at shit o’clock in the morning wide awake and not be able to get back to sleep bro. Seriously, fight it for as long as you can and go to sleep when it’s dark. That way your body clock won’t get out of sync.
Yeah bro, all good, I’ll head out to a pub and smash some piss for a few hours and then just grab some dinner and then hit the hay.
Where you gonna go to hit the piss?
There’s this pub on the riverside called Paddy Rice. An Irish pub.
Ha! You managed to track down the one Irish pub in Phnom Penh? Hahahaha good man!
Alright bro, talk again soon.
The worst day for me in Cambodia was our first full day. Siobhan told us that she had back to back meetings all day at the World Vision Cambodia offices and that Que and I should go out and do some touristy things. So we called our driver (who was supposed to pick us up from the airport the day before but had got the times wrong) and he took us out to the killing fields.
I really wish I hadn’t gone there. It was horrifically scarring. One part in particular called ‘The Killing Tree’. This is a tree where Pol Pot’s soldiers would massacre children, infants and new-born babies. The audio guide that I was listening to called Sopheap would proceed to tell me that the usual method of killing these infants was that the guards would swing the babies around their heads by their feet and whack their heads against the tree and then discard them into a shallow grave about two meters right of the trees base. I have never cried so much in my life, not even when cancer finally stole my mother a year and a half earlier. I don’t think that this would have affected me as much as it did six months earlier, before my beautiful Lucy was in my life. Jesus, that Pol Pot was a wanker, a real piece of shit. Who the fuck kills babies?
After my buckets of tears we headed to the pub. Finally some drinking time. Que says he’s not much of a drinker but that didn’t stop him from buying 2 bottles of Pinot Gris in a bucket of ice for himself. I was happy with the $1 Angkor pints. I had over $40 to spend every day on food and necessary items that I didn’t need to provide receipts for, I had no accountability for what I had spent this money on and it was brilliant. I must have had at least 8 pints before I needed something sweeter. Cider it is, Magners cider, real Irish cider in a real Irish pub.
Thought you weren’t much of a drinker bro, Jesus you’re gonna need another bottle.After Que came back (cider-less I might add, useless cock), I headed off to the toilet, and rather childishly I carved my name into the wall with my hotel room key, ‘LEE WEIR’. I know for a fact that it is still there, my friend Cole took a photo of it in 2014 when he was there. He also had carved his name right next to mine. He is my best friend after all.
Oh you know, lots of people like to boast about how much they can drink, I’m pretty modest about it.
So, you in for the long haul then?
Could be, we have a big day tomorrow though, up at 6, man.
Yeah true, then a three hour drive, that’s gonna be fucking shithouse, man.
I’ll probably just listen to music.
I’ll just fucking sleep, man.
Well, suppose I should go and grab another bottle of wine,
Sweeeeeeeeeeeet, grab me a cider while you’re up bro.
The night progressed rather quickly, before long, we were at another pub, and it was quite a dodgy looking dank hole down a flight of stairs; like something out of the movie ‘Hostel’. I found myself talking to a lady boy towards the end of the night, his name was Mahh (pronounced Mar) and he had everything done, everything was gone. I very drunkenly asked Him why he did it.
So what do you want to know?We got back to our hotel at 2.20 am, we had to be up by 5.30 and ready to hit the road at 6 for a three-hour drive to our next destination.
Just why really, I mean don’t get me wrong, at times I wish that I had a minge too, but I’d never go to those lengths. Are you a gay? Do you slam guys?
Really Lee? (Laughing) you can’t just ask him that?
No, no it’s O.K., it’s O.K. yes I do, I do guys, sometimes girls too.
Piss off, you’re telling me that there are men and women that get into bed with you happily? And you tell them that you once had a dick?
That’s so weird?
No it’s not, why? Why is that weird? People just do this, it is very normal.
That’s the other thing, I thought lady boys came from Thailand?
There are a lot of them in Thailand, but Cambodians are more beautiful.
Yeah I can see that. So have you ever been with a guy and a girl at the same time? Like a guy/girl/lady boy threesome?
Yes, yes, yes I have.
Shit, that’s weird.
It was 5.30 am and I have never hated an alarm clock so much in my life. With stale alcohol gushing from every pore in my body I slunk out of bed and using the wall as a support beam, made my way down the hallway of my room to the shower. A shower will help. The shower didn’t help.
The drive to our next destination, a village on the Cambodian/Vietnamese border called Samrong Tong seemed to take a lifetime, the fact that I was making them stop every 20 minutes so that I could vomit on the side of the road didn’t help. There are potholes everywhere on Cambodian roads & I managed to fill one of them entirely with vomit. It was really something quite special. The staff that were travelling in the van with us were under the impression that I was suffering from food poisoning.
World vision were finishing up their work in the community and putting on a big celebration for the community members. Quincy and I were guests of honour. We were the face of World Vision New Zealand to them. To the community members of this village we were the people that had been helping them develop their community for the past fifteen years. This was it. This was the moment that I was looking forward to, the reason that I was selected to be on this trip, to witness the life changing transformation of hundreds of people in this village.
Que and I were sat on a beautifully constructed and decorated temporary stage but seated on what had to be the most uncomfortable chairs in the world if not the entire universe; I don’t know if there is life on other planets but if there is, I reckon that even they would have been gutted with these chairs. We were to be sat on these chairs for 3 hours. 3 long hours in the Cambodian sun, with a hangover that rated in my top 3 ever!
I wish they’d stop looking at me. All I need to do is vomit and I can’t. Maybe a drink of water will help. Water didn’t help. I leaned over to Que and whispered:
Psst ... Bro. I’m not well ay.
You need to vomit again?
Yeah bro. and I really need a shit.
Just ask Siobhan if you can go, she won’t say no.
I don’t wanna leave the stage, everyone will look at me and think I’m being rude.
Yeah probably, but why do you give a shit? We’re leaving tomorrow, you aint gonna see none of these people again.
Yeah fair call.
Psst ... Siobhan, I really need to go the loo, is that cool?
Yeah of course it is, get one of the guys sitting next to you to show you where it is.
Excuse me sir, could you lead me to the toilet?
Yes, yes, of course, follow me, follow me.
Now, the squat toilet is not something that I am confident in using. Especially not in this state. It was a one room wooden hut with a porcelain hole in the ground and a big trough of water and a bucket to wash your shit down with. First things first, the spew. I couldn’t aim from where I was standing into the porcelain hole on the ground so I hurled into the water trough. There were very few chunks, mostly liquid and stomach lining. Classy Lee, real classy. Now, time for the ‘Booze Poos’. With Que’s wise words ringing in my ears “You aint gonna see none of these people again” I took of all of my clothes, placed them over the toilet door and gently sat down on the porcelain ground (because I didn’t trust my bowels to shoot straight down if you follow). I aimed my shooter right at the hole and let loose. As I sat there on the cold porcelain ground starkers with shit everywhere I had to chuckle; Having only been alive for 25 years I knew already, that this exact moment was going to be the lowest point in my life to date and probably would be for some years to come.
As I washed my shit down the pipe and cleaned the rest of the porcelain I got back into my clothes and was led back to the stage to my throne of death. I had to be on this hellish chair for another hour at least and I wasn’t coping; Seriously, I can’t do this. The smell of shit somehow made it back to the stage with me, which was quite odd because the clean-up was very thorough. I even wiped with my hand, so there is a possibility that some of it may still be on my hands or under my fingernails. After a detailed inspection and several nonchalant ‘sniffs’ I discovered that my left leg, just below my calf was covered in shit. So just to recap – I am now sitting on stage as a guest of honour at an extremely prestigious event sitting next to some rather important dignitaries, suffering from severe alcohol poisoning and covered in my own faeces. I take it back. This is the lowest point in my life.
The end of the ceremony was nigh I was promised. I really wish I hadn’t have stayed out as late as I did the night before. I deserve this. This has to be the worst experience I have ever had. I was all set to have my life changed for the better and I cocked it all up. My last power-chuck came on strong and unexpected. I was still on stage and went to burp, as I brought the wind up through my throat my entire mouth filled with vomit. I freaked out and started panicking, then before I knew it I put my head into my T shirt and vomited. Amazingly I didn’t get one drop of spew on me. It went straight from my mouth, through the gap in my shirt and hit the ground below me. I managed to sweep most of it under the chair with my foot rather discreetly.
When I look back at this trip I have to say that it was the best opportunity in my life that I have ever wasted. I feel that had someone else gone on this trip they would have had more of a connection and life changing experience then I did. Though this trip did change my life, I left Cambodia feeling that I really should have been a bit more grown up about the decisions I made ...
Actually, no, I don’t. Fuck that, I wouldn’t change a thing. I don’t need to finish this piece with some kind of moral realisation or self-epiphany. I went to Cambodia for free, got shouted on the piss for free and made a total cock out of myself in front of hundreds of people I am never going to see again – Result! At the end of the day, bad decisions make great stories. It must be good to know that no matter how bad your life may appear to be at this point in time, you can rest easy and take comfort in knowing that you have never been covered in your own shit, sitting on a stage in front of hundreds of people.
© Lee Weir