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Saying goodbye to Tuol Kork ladies

On Friday, Catherine (Taylor), author of Once Upon a Time in Beirut, and I were respectively busy since the next day, she would have to fly to Australia. I wanted to do my best to finish what she planned to do. However, not everything was successfully done but I was glad we could do a lot of things, though. That morning, we went to check out with Phorn Vuth’s family and in the afternoon, we had an appointment with a guy from Friends International. At that time, I felt a very strange sleepiness I had never experienced. Actually, something could explain it. The night before, I stayed up very late and before the meeting, we had a very hot Vietnamese soup.

In the evening, we both made sure we could again see the girls at Tuol Kork, whom we met before. While riding on the road to Tuol Kork, I looked at the blue sky now with some white and black clouds. I was wondering if it was going to rain. Today, something felt very different. The road was not absolutey busy. It seemed like there were no chances of traffic accidents at all. Suddenly, I became agitated and was wondering if I was losing the way.

Somehow, I tried not to worry Catherine. I didn’t wish to let her see me as a bit disqualified fixer 🙂 who couldn’t find a way to a place where he/she has been before. As if God helped me, I turned my motorbike’s signal to the left side and stopped in front of the right brothel. Looking at the time on my rusty Nokia phone, I knew it was too early to come here. It was about 4:30 pm. I supposed that every brothel started up a little later, perhaps about 5 or 5:30 pm. Yet, today was different. I knocked on the door. A new Cambodian woman opened the door. I didn’t know if Catherine felt the same as me. For a moment, I reckoned I was on the wrong brothel. Yet, it’s the one and only!

This young lady had brown skin with a gentle big smile. She was perhaps in her early 20s. After a few words to get familiar with her, she let us in. We asked her where P, a bigger woman among other girls there, was! She told me P was in the room with a man! I knew it is simple to expect to hear this, but I was still shocked. I didn’t know how to tell. I was in awe of confusion, frustration and doubt if this woman who told me she would stop would ever stop and go back to a normal job.

Five minutes later, that young lady went in to tell P to come out and meet us. I was really ashamed! I didn’t know what I was doing! Waiting for someone to finish their business here in the brothel??? I felt I wanted to with all my energy knock down the door and kick the man’s ass! (childish thought). We turned to the lady and asked her if she’d just come and worked here. “Today is my first day,” she said. I thought, “Oh, my God, what on earth is she doing here?” I felt that she’s going to be victimized and stigmatized. I wished she had gone out any minute. Right now!

Cat persisted asking her if she wanted another different and decent job! We obviously were offering instant help if she said yes. We told her there were a few organizations that could assist her life. She shook her head and said she didn’t know and needed to consult her family. Immediately I wanted to know who is her family. Then, P came out and told us that the lady had already received two customers so far. Oh my! I couldn’t believe this. Why did it happen? Why couldn’t she wait for us to help? These ladies meant business. They didn’t need our help. The lady didn’t identify herself much, just telling us she’s a divorced mother with only one son and a family to support back at the village. My heart felt heavy. For one day, I had to bear this painful experience, the experience that I vicariously felt.

Coming out was a rather old bald moto-taxi driver! I wanted to yell at him, “What the hell were you doing up there? Aren’t you bald enough to go back home to feed your own family or go into a coffin?” This reminded me of Ms. Theary Seng, CSD directress who interview a moto-taxi driver, a regular customers of sex workers. He told Theary Seng that he went to a brothel and slept with those girls ‘because he felt he could do or enjoy more with the girls than his wife. I shook my head and mentally pinched myself to wake myself up from thoughts…floating…waiting…heating with hatred!

P came out with a big smile because she could recognize us, like old friends getting together again. Cat told her that she would go back to Australia tomorrow and wanted to come to see how P was doing. P, after hearing this, smiled and said nothing. I knew she felt we treated her importantly, but for her maybe we’re just strangers that would come and go. Cat asked her the same question whether she would stop this job soon. P told that she would quit sooner or later and go back to live with her only son and ill mother. Just now she longed to make more money to save for her debt and her mother’s future medical treatment. ….

At that day, I felt complete confusion. Cat and I had a strange senstation that P might not stop. She was proscrastinating about whether she was supposed to stop or hold on to the same job. A new girl comes and an old girl goes. It’s a circle of life where ‘new’ replaces ‘old’. Will it ever stop? The new ones don’t realize that they are going to be victimized or whatever. The old ones somehow feel fed-up and want to start a new life. This circle keeps repeating, however. The new girls we met today looked so naive.

The young lady looked very comfortable and seemed at peace with herself. I never understood this. She smiled and laughed with P. She and P were from the same village, and when unemployed, she followed P to Phnom Penh. Now that she’s here, she isn’t willing to go back to a very poor village and hard life anymore. To those girls, prostitution is not a very hard job that requires hard work or intelligence – is the only way to leave poverty. Because Cat saw that the three girls with us now were quite quiet and seemed busy with their business, it was time for us to go back. Cat had too many questions in her mind to ask them, I realized.

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