Press Pass issued by Ministry of Information, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Kingdom of Cambodia

 

Small clean room with bed, sink and fan three dollars per night.Each morning outside the Capital Hotel, a cement block building located in Phnom Penh,a sizeable group of young eager Cambodian’s wait to ferry backpackers on their Honda Cubs.

I always pick Elephant Man. Burliest of the lot, he speaks English, charges fifty cents a ride. I hop on his feisty scooter and put my arms around his waist.

“Where to?” he asked.

“Ministry of Information.”

“Why you need?” he asks as we dart through traffic.

Years ago the Khymer Rouge had killed his family.

“Hey,why you need?”

I tell him a small bribe obtains a Media Pass.

“To stay longer at Angkor Wat.”

“Oh…OK…” says Elephant Man, pulling up to an office once used by the French. I hopped off the Cub. “See you tomorrow.” Elephant Man disappeared in a roar of blue smoke.

The MOI clerk, a gaunt man whose angular skull inhabits his broad Khymer face, whose threadbare white shirt hangs from his body like a wind blown leaf, whose thinning hair reveals traces of something near fatal, said, in purposeful voice, “You passport, please…” I offered him the document, a 2×2 ID photo, and a counterfeit resume composed the day before on computer at the Foreign Correspondents Club. He inspected each item with deliberate care. “One hour,” he said, pocketing the money. We shook hands. “One hour, s’il vous plaît.”

To pass the time and to avoid the oppressive sweltering sun, I walked the beautiful narrow side streets. The faded stucco walls of the low buildings, once bright red or solid blue, recalled sections of Paris. I entManufactured by Teistra in Australiaered a half dozen dry good stores, peeked into classrooms where students chalked graceful Khmer script on ancient slate blackboards. Inside a former French post office, the lone chandelier long past its glory, I bought  exquisite stamps, tissue thin aerograms, a laminate phone card made in Australia. When I returned to the office even the clerk was sweating.

“It is here,” he said, extending the coveted pass.

I took it, and give him another few dollars.

“Merci, monsieur. Merci beaucoup.”

He closed his eyes, then opened them, and bowed slightly. His raised palms pressed together, his lips gathered to shape a smile.  A survivor’s smile. Then he was gone.