Stampede. Wine. Flowy Pants. Phnon Phem, Cambodia

11 Dec

I’m on wine glass number two. Perched at the Foreign Correspondence Club hotel bar in Phnon Phem, capital of Cambodia. Outside bar. Overlooking river front. Just had dinner. Something called fish run Amok. Just realized the “cool” bar is on the roof top, not where I am.
A hottie just passed by heading to the rooftop bar – tall, tan and messy hair. Tan. Wait, I already said tan. No ring. Need to take a closer look.

A pasty, pissed single dude, sitting next to me, just bolted for the roof top bar. He looks Russian. I’m on wine number two, getting’ ready to order my third. And, thinking I look kind of cute. Can’t waste this cuteness on the Russian.

What am I wearing? Well, I’m glad you asked. My $3, red “linen,” breezy, no-fitting blouse… My black breezy, hippie skirt with a coconut clasp and elastic waist. My hair has the frizzy, humid, bangs-are-growing out look. My eyes are bright after sixteen drops of Visine. And, if you look closely, mascara residue from this morning’s Cambodia customs graces my lashes. Yep, looking hot in Cambodia. Must do something with this super hotness.

I flew into to PP from Vietnam around lunch time, the day after 400+ died in a stampede only 1,500 feet from my hotel. The Cambodian people are shocked. Walking around lightening incense. Crying. The men in orange sheets – the monks – are walking the river front. Praying. Sitting. Staring. The energy is below low. It’s non existent. Outrage and anger has not set in yet. They are focused on counting the dead and creating conspiracies.

After I checked in, I slowly walked the waterfront to orient myself and capture this moment. Let me step back. Cambodians from all over the country came to PP to celebrate the Festival of Lights. The purpose is to celebrate a good harvest. It is three days of festivities from food, rides, selling goods, parties… All culminating in the last night of fireworks, which was the night of the stampede.


I signed up for a 2 day tour of PP – it included airport pick-up and “tour” of the Killing Fields. Chet was my guide these next two days. In route to my hotel, he gave me his version of last night’s stampede. Chet first said he had a premonition something bad was going to happened. His Italian clients (tourists) insisted on going to the waterfront – by the island – to see the fireworks.

He said, “No. I will not go there– too many people…especially by the island…island is new….just opened…too many people…” Italians don’t like being told “no” and reported him to his agency. It was only a few hours later, more than 400 young kids are trampled to death crossing the bridge to get off the island.

Chet said he went to the hospital this morning. He wanted to help people. Give them money. Buy them caskets. Anything. He said, there are no more caskets left in the country. And, the hospitals are full. People who are alive, can’t find their loved ones.

He heard a story where a woman called the hospital inquiring about her son, the hospital said, “he’s dead.” She had a heart attack on the phone. Died.

Chet said, the story on the street is some kids yelled “Fire! Fire! Fire!” into the crowd as a joke. There was NO fire. But, the people did not know it. There are only two bridges – one going to the island and one leaving. The island is “new” in that some developer – sister of the current Prime Minister – has built a casino, entertainment area, the works. People go to the island for concerts, celebrate birthdays or get married. Weddings are a BIG business in Cambodia. The opening of the “entertainment” island has been heavily promoted on TV, radio, newspaper. Those traveling from the countryside wanted to experience it first hand.


Chet said, the night of the stampede, about 1 million people gathered for the fireworks. Let me put this in perspective. It’s like a million crammed on Park Avenue in Winter Park. We’re talking only six or seven blocks. And, a small bridge to a an island the size of a super Wal-Mart.

When the stampede occurred, it was around 11:00 pm – or teen time. Meaning, the families with small kids and elderly had left for the evening. According to Chet, when they heard “fire,” they panicked. Teens crossing the bridge pushed, shoved and trampled each other. Some jumped into the river, but the water is very shallow and they died on impact. Others jumped by accident into electrical wires. The police were there, but did nothing – to direct crowds before, during or after.

It has taken only a day, and the conspiracy theories are out. After spending some time here, I found Cambodia to be conspiracy capital. Also found out, the conspiracies later turned out to be right. This conspiracy said the incident was planned. One of the Khomer Rouge’s tactics in its killing hey-day, was to gas/poison people. The stampede survivors said around 11 pm, it was really hard to breathe by the bridge. People panicked – and that is why even more people died. They were gassed. Could not move. “They” are blaming the wedding businesses. That’s right. Weddings… The island has taken a very lucrative profit stream from wedding planners, wedding halls, wedding caterers…. Reasoning is if “something bad happens” then the island would loose business, and money would roll back in to these other wedding folks.

The other theories have to do with the corrupt Prime Minister. His sister owns the island – given to her brother. The Bank of Canada wrote the loans. Somehow, Canada and the PM family is involved in this – or people are trying to get back at them.

In this morning’s paper, the Prime Minister equated the stampede to the killings by the Khomer Rouge political party … Now, that is going on a limb for KR and their leader, Pol Pot, killed over 1.2 million in three years. Bad comparison buddy. And, bad politics… KR political party is still around. They must have ticked off the PM earlier in the week for him to say something so stupid.

On November 25 the government declared is the national day of mourning. I will still be here. Very interesting. Interesting that God placed me here. Why? By the way, is that Thanksgiving? When is Thanksgiving?

Also, the government said it is giving a couple hundred dollars to each family to help pay for funeral costs. Talk on the street is it is “hush” money. The other talk is the people will never see it and government officials will pocket it. Which one do you believe? Survey says, number Two – embezzling the money.

I’m now listening to the guys next to me. Why do foreigners have to smoke. Gosh, this guy is HOT and then whips out a cig. Buzz kill. They are talking about number dead. They think it is closer to 500. CNN said it is 300, but CNN has it wrong. Imagine that…

I noticed some guy “ogling” me out of the corner of my eye. FREAK alert. Some old man. Wearing hot red, flowy pants. And, a white flowy shirt. Big belly. Grey hair. Smiling at me. I can see him. I’m ignoring him. Pretending I’m working. Typing faster.

Damn, I can tell he wants to talk to me. NOOOOO. I want to go to the third floor. I now want the Russian…. WHY do the freaks have the confidence and NOT the hotties.

Please stop. Tell him to go away. Someone. I will take small, petite smoker dude over guy in red flowy pants. I think I’m going to get my check soon. Go upstairs. I’m getting my check. FUUUUUUUUU.

He just walked over to my table. He just asked me what wine is best – REALLY? We are in Cambodia, not France.

He said, “Anything but Chardonnay…I’m from Austria… From the wine country and I don’t drink Chardonnay…” Well, my response? “I”m drinking the $2.45 wine. And, it’s chardonnay…I like it.. It works..”

He said he will try the wine and invited me to sit at his table. I could NOT say NO. I should have followed the Russian. I bet Red flowy pants will buy me a glass of the $2.45 wine? What do YOU think? OK. Let’s see what he has to say…I’m upgrading on the vino. Going for the $5.00… UGH…

One Response to “Stampede. Wine. Flowy Pants. Phnon Phem, Cambodia”

  1. Scott M 12/12/2010 at 10:09 pm #

    wow, amanda. that firsthand account about the stampede helps put things in perspective. it’d prolly make you true-life vomit to know how little the event resonated over here. thanks for the details … i think.

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