By Munawar Alam
Manila to Phnom Penh took almost a whole day to reach, by Singapore airlines. There was a 4-hour halt at Singapore. Still I took it because of the reliability and quality of service it provides, despite having to wake up early, for the morning departure around 7:30 AM. This had become a routine while handling the Cambodia Railways project.
Phnom Penh airport to Amanjaya hotel was a flat rate for taxis charging $12, so no haggling for the passengers. Cambodia was a dual country nation and the shops accepted USD and the local currency.
As I sat in a taxi, the driver seemed more than merry with a naughty smile, "sir, welcome," while watching me from his rear-view mirror.
"Thanks," I responded, tired from the 13-hour journey, with 1 hour still to cover to reach the hotel.
"Sir, are you here for business or leisure?"
Driver, "oh, first time?"
"No, been here before."
We were in a traffic jam as it was peak time for office leavers. It was around 1730 hrs.
The driver kept staring me from the rear-view mirror. It was unusual. I could sense he wanted more conversation, and that he has something going on in his mind.
Driver, "many tourists come here. For short skirts."
"What is short skirts?"
Driver, "the bar girls."
"Oh, yes, I see. So, they are taking them out or stay in bar."
The driver was now grinning. He has finally had me talking. Probably expecting some business.
Driver, "you can ask the bar if you want to take out."
"How much do they cost?"
Driver, "to take out is $10. Then if you want the girl and depending on the girl, it can be $30 to $50."
"So costly. What about the society girls, or more modern girls?"
Driver, "they are very costly. Maybe you have to pay about $100 to $200 to the bar to buy drink. The girls themselves may not take money. They are looking for young western, white skin, for fun. They are costly. Why would you do that, pay so much, when you can get cheaper at the other bars."
"How do you ask them to go out. They are not allowed to go, is it?"
Driver, "oh, ask simple questions. When at bar, you like the girl. Ask her if you can take her out. She will tell you. You pay the bar for drink. People take out for 3 or 4 hours, or whole night. Most people want for few hours. They don't want to be bothered with girls for the night. Just ask simple questions."
"How do you negotiate the rate, or do you negotiate at all?"
Driver, "just ask simple questions. You ask the girl. Generally, people don't negotiate. They ask, and if rate is high, just tell her, you were only asking. Simple."
"So you go out with them a lot?"
Driver, "not now, I am married. Earlier yes."
"So you paid lot of money."
Driver, "no it was free. I knew a lot of these girls. I just went to bar, paid for bar drink, and then go out."
"How many times, you would do this?"
Driver, "several times a week – 3 or 4."
"Why don't you do it now?"
Driver, "getting old. Also am married."
When we stopped at the hotel and I was getting out of the car, there was a girl, nicely dressed, but looked like a society girl. I was taking my luggage out. The driver took hold of my arm, and twisted my neck towards the girl who went inside the hotel, and said to me, "look, look, the skirt girl."
He then winked and went away.