Jan 11th Day Eight.
Packing my stuff before leaving for Cambodia is a worrying experience as i seem to have even more room in my case than on the way over despite having bought things and been given gifts. With a slightly mystified feeling i take one last look around the room that has been home for a week and head off to the taxi to go to the airport.
Cambodia is right next door to Vietnam and because of this they run lots of flights a day, but for small numbers of passengers. Basically it means we get put on the smallest plane any of us have been on that has propeller, not jet, engines. I found this pretty exciting for some reason, maybe due to it seeming more like the planes i might have drawn as a kid, but Jon (Lamont) did NOT like it. The man suffers a little from a BA Baracus like fear of flying that is usually under control, but on this occasion seeing the propeller right outside our window seems to take him over the edge into a definite state of acute anxiety. Bless him.
He needn’t have worried as we landed in Phnom Penh without issue and flew low enough to see the river delta and plenty of temples in the middle of nowhere.
At the airport we get filmed by a TV crew as we sheepishly get into our taxis then filmed again as we leave them to get into the hotel. This is surreal, but it turns out we’re one of the few western bands to play Phnom Penh so this is big news. Amazing and more than a little humbling/frightening.
We get taken for some traditional Cambodian food and its damn good. I expect this to be all the rage once some fashion icon swears by it as a diet to stay slim (nothing to do with the vast amounts of speed and self induced vomiting of course) and they open hundreds of restaurants in London. In fact for all i know it already IS the fad food of the month in London.
At this point i had no idea that one of the weirdest evenings of my life lay ahead.
First we went back to the hotel and it hit me that i felt like SHIT. Too many free beers, too many packs of cheap cigarettes and too little time sleeping had taken its toll and i crawled into bed hoping to stay there for 24 hours and be refreshed for our upcoming shows. However i’m told we have to go meet the Tiger Beer representatives (why can’t this kind of thing ever happen when i feel great?) for dinner. Now this is where it starts to get odd.
The venue for dinner is a North Korean restaurant. Not just a North Korean themed one, but an actual business outpost of the country itself. The staff are all North Korean and as far as we understand are not actually allowed to leave the restaurant. If you have even the vaguest awareness of what North Korea is in terms of government and contact with the outside world you’ll understand when i say that even in my semi comatose state i knew things might get a little weird.
The main dining room could hold maybe 150 people but there’s just 25 in there, 15 of them are our gang; the band and the Tiger Beer crew. So its quiet. The lighting is bright, weirdly bright in fact for a restaurant so there is not much of a relaxing vibe and this lack of relaxation continues as they bring out the first few courses. I’m a pretty adventurous eater and Jon (Lamont) is especially, but i think we both felt some unease as a red, “bloodied brain matter” looking dish is put in front of us. I ask what it is and get told it is pickled cabbage. Not too bad at all compared to what i thought it might be. I’m not a fan of the flavour, but i feel i ate enough not to offend anyone. The next few things in fact aren’t that different either, odd looking but innocuous dishes that again i don’t like much but i can happily eat enough to stay polite. Even James seems to be just about managing getting by mostly on charm as the local women sat near him seem to think he might be a member of Kings Of Leon. Or possibly Jesus.
Then i make a fatal error.
I let my guard down and take a mouthful of this dish i’d describe as grey and black slices of weirdness. It is truly gross, like the texture of a boiled ear lobe with hard feeling parts of sinew and cartilage all accompanied by a weirdly gone-ff meat flavour. I choke it down and whilst pretending to be totally uneffected ask what i’d just eaten. It turns out it is some kind of boiled and pickled pig’s ear. So at least my first instinct was pretty accurate. I then cleanse my pallet with some small, deep fried fish that get left in the sun to dry (i.e rot a bit) and are cooked whilst filled with their own fertilized eggs (i.e pregnant). I tell Jon it all tastes great and wait to see him recoil in horror, but he seems to actually like it! Is there nothing this guy won’t eat?? Anyway this was just leading up to more weirdness. Remember i felt REALLY ill already and very very tired so the whole thing is remembered in a slightly nightmarish haze. Oh and i could barely speak. From shouting along to Pantera the night before at the bar i’d killed my vocal chords and was just croaking out my responses to our hosts and sponsors. Shaming.
Anyway the waitresses took to the stage (had i mentioned there was a stage with nothing on but a drumkit?) and danced what appeared to be a traditional dance. I always squirm in my seat during these touristy moments, but they were good and they’re just doing their job. Then they come back onstage holding electric guitars, a bass, mics and one of them gets behind the kit. Now i did NOT expect this. A screen is revealed and they mime their way through what i think was an ABBA song but the drums are played live by a girl in full traditional dress and there is a sound desk to oneside with again a girl in the full North Korean get-up sort of miming mixing. The song finishes and another instantly starts but this time i think the bass is live too and still the drummer pounds away and smiles like mad woman while the read the lyrics in Cambodian to what i think might be another Western pop song, but i’m not sure. Then as soon as it ends i feel a sense of dread, i somehow know what is coming.
“Hello sir here is the song book”
I turn to see one of the girls (the drummer in fact) offering me a song book with 1000 karakoe songs to choose from. I take it and turn back to the table mumble out excuses about my voice being totally fucking NOT THERE but am confronted by a table full of laughing band mates, a manager with imploring eyes and some very expectant sponsors. After taking forever to decide on a song i finally manage to get Si up onstage with me to sing Wanted Dead or Alive by Bon Jovi and Si saves the day by taking the lead with me croaking in the background in this incredibly bright restaurant, dressed head to toe in black feeling like an alien and more exposed than ever. Jon and James get pushed onto stage and end the song half miming half playing along to Bon Jovi. The Japanese tourists present seemed to love it. Thank God that’s over!
But hey, guess what? It isn’t! Somehow people want more and again we’re not really in a position to say no so tune up a guitar that has never actually been played, just mimed on and play our own song ‘Sometimes’. After Si saving the day moments earlier he then throws the band by forgetting the chords to the verse and we get to the end feeling like total idits, but STILL more is wanted! The band hurriedly leave the stage leaving just me and my non existent voice to play a song on my own. Oh and to help me fade away into the background one of the waitresses has placed a massive brightly coloured garland on my head. I somehow get through ‘Come Home’ and leave the stage being handed flowers by the staff like some kind of traditional Olympic victor crossing the finishing line. Not a night to be forgotten in a hurry.