Monday, April 8, 2013

Repeating the Stages of Foreign Man in Cambodia

Most of what I write rapidly fades away. I'm sure there are a few tattered copies of columns I wrote pinned to a bulletin board somewhere, but most people read, chuckle (I hope) and toss it in the recycling bin.

But occasionally some things pop back up. 

Years ago I wrote a few pieces for Bayon Pearnik, a free monthly publication that could be generously described as childishly irreverent. Not the high point of my career, but you write what you can sell. 

But now one of those "articles" is back and with a large helping of plagiarism and copyright issues! As Khmer440 writer Gavin Mac noticed, the Bayon Pearnik is now in the habit of reprinting old copy and outright lifting stories from foreign publications. And the Pearnik recently dusted off "Stages of Foreign Man in Cambodia," which I sold to the magazine in 2005. (I didn't want my name on it then as it seemed foolish to mock NGOs while I was working for various development organizations.)

As there seems to be some interest in it, I've posted it here. Be warned, Mac refers to it as a "trite" and "crap" "attempt at humor." 

Stages of Foreign Man in Cambodia
Amateur anthropologists have documented these stages in the lives of foreigners visiting Cambodia. To be sure, not all foreigners meet these sleazy stereotypes. Many conform to other, more disgusting stereotypes.
The Professional Tourist Year 1:
You are amazed at the hustle and bustle of the city of Phnom Penh, awed by the ruins of Angkor Wat. Every pub and guesthouse you visit has air-con. You see Cambodians as friendly and lovable. Motodops are an adventure and you often try to converse with them in your pidgin Khmer. The nightlife is exciting, your savings are impressive, and life is grand.
The NGO Worker Year 1:
Within hours of arriving in Cambodia you have signed a contract with a no-hostage clause and a request that “short-term volunteers not form long-term relationships.” The first night you truly understand tropical heat when the fan dies along with the power for hours. The second day you discover your stipend will cover rice, and not much else. Your social life consists of the occasional card or board game, played with other volunteers as poor as you.
The Professional Tourist Year 2:
The country loses some of its charm, and you lose most of your savings, when you threaten to kick out your rent-a-girlfriend in a drunken rage and fail to police your passport and bankbook before passing out. Air-conditioned rooms are a distant memory and the finest brew you can afford is served at BB World. You started teaching English at a school, but it failed to pay you before it went bankrupt and disappeared overnight. You eat rice every day.
The NGO Worker Year 2:
After being promoted to a project advisor, you can finally afford BB World! Unfortunately, you’ve been assigned to a project in a distant province and are only allowed to visit Phnom Penh for organizational meetings and recuperation from such tropical niceties as malaria, dengue fever, and typhoid. Your social life consists of being heckled by the village idiot in the local market and the medical staff at your favorite clinic. Much to the chagrin of your superiors, you have formed a relationship with a local.
The Professional Tourist Year 3:
After a few bad starts, you have amassed enough experience to be hired by a language institution that actually pays its teachers. You complain bitterly about Khmer and Vietnamese women to all who will listen to you between rounds at the local bar/brothel, yet are unable to refrain from “flirting.” You consider the temples to be little more than dull heaps of rubble, but you still take every chance to hire a motorcycle and ride out to the provinces as it gives you a chance to run down locals.
The NGO Worker Year 3:
After writing a winning proposal advocating that a 16-degree office is an optimal work environment, you’ve been promoted to the country management team. The five-year, $500,000 grant from USAID covers a competitive salary, a large air-conditioned office, three accountants, a driver and a late-model all-terrain vehicle that will never travel farther than the airport. Renewal is assured, so
long as never condone prostitution during working hours. You’ll need that salary, as your upcoming traditional Khmer wedding
will cost more than most Cambodians make in 15 years.
The Professional Tourist in the future:
You’ve plowed your savings from teaching into a small business that caters exclusively to tourists. A bevy of girls looking for foreign husbands actually run the business. This steady trickle of income allows you to more fully enjoy your burgeoning alcoholism and the resulting foolish antics. Most expatriates avoid you, but the freshman tourists find you a colorful and remarkable wit.
The NGO Worker in the future:
After years of hard work, or work at least, you have risen through the ranks to be country director of your respective NGO. While you rarely see the poor Cambodians (or your wife and children) you came to this country to help, you know you are doing them good with your hectic schedule of coordinating meetings, action planning and resource networking. In fact, you rarely see anyone outside your circle of NGO directors, consultants and advisors. But other people don’t have air-conditioning.
And the piece's final line, which I did not write (it was added by the editor):
Any bells of familiarity ringing?
Which makes it hilarious that they reprinted it. 

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