Shortly after finishing university, I went with my boyfriend to teach English in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia.The following ten months seriously damaged my hard worked for confidence in the opposite sex and left me questioning my optimism for our highly flawed but relatively respectful culture.Cambodia is a desperately poor country renowned, not only for it’s recent violent history under the Khmer Rouge, but also for its sex industry.Before I left, I had a vague idea that the sex industry existed only for a few sad, beer-bellied, middle-aged western men that I could easily label and condemn.At the time, I didn’t even know what the word “trafficking” meant.I would have guessed it had something to do with the flow of automobiles or people, but had no idea about the process through which millions of human beings are moved into systems of slavery and exploitation, including prostitution.On this visit–after 5 years of analyzing prostitution and working against trafficking–I noticed the tell-tale signs of prostitution: the migration of rural girls and boys from their home village, in search of a way to survive, a cultural affectation for child sex and a large number of old, wrinkly white men preying on the power disparity between their countries and Cambodia.We arrived in Phnom Penh and haled a tuk tuk from the airport to the hotel our friend had recommended.
Bars and clubs are scattered across the town, but as the city is fairly compact and many of the bars are clustered on a few bar streets, its easy to hop between.
Our driver, after unsuccessfully trying to find the hotel, wouldn’t drive us farther down the street, saying this area was “No good.
Only girlfriend-boyfriend hotels and bars on this street.” Passing this off as his way of securing a cut from his buddies when we checked into their guesthouses instead a few minutes later, I was convinced we had to head back to that area the next day and find that recommended hotel. We continued to walk down street 136 looking at other places until we came to Nordic House.
She gave me a quick hush and a head nod that she is trying to hear what is transpiring between two older ‘Gentlemen’ a few steps away.
We both begin to listen as I pretend to go through pictures on my camera.