Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Fight Club

This week saw 2 fights between Cambodian men around the pub street area in Siem Reap.

Fight #1
Ten Cambodian staff members working at a restaurant here ganged up to beat one Cambodian man at a nightclub. The victim, a twenty-something year old man, was almost beaten to death, the staff bragged, as he was cut with broken beer bottles and hit with iron pipes.

It seems the fight was over a staring incident which took place some days ago at another nightclub frequented by Khmers. A "staring incident" is when one person is perceived to be staring at another. The other party gets worked up because the look is seen to be a challenge. I know because this is a common cause of fights in Singapore, usually among teen gangs and it is the same in Cambodia. I wonder if this happens in the west, or is it an Asian thing?

Other times young Khmer men fight because somebody has bumped into another person while dancing. I think it is understandable given that people get tipsy at a nightclub, but it's a no-no for these young men with fragile egos. If they cannot take revenge on the spot, they bide their time and gang up against the offender later on.

In the incident I described, the revenge happened days later and the gang was made to pay the nightclub owner USD60 for damaging his place of business.

The police came around to interview the victim who is lying in hospital and he has identified the attackers but the owner of the restaurant where they all work kept mum. When the police came knocking, the owner told them his staff members are not around. He is trying to protect them because it's troublesome to re-hire and re-train staff--which business owner wants to lose all his staff overnight?

Still, if the victim survives the attack, he may be able to claim compensation from his attackers and share this with the policemen.

Fight #2
A few days ago, the two cobblers who have tiny stalls on our street got into a fight. At first I heard a woman shouting at cobbler number one, the skinny one next to our shop. The shouting became louder and the woman's husband, cobbler number 2, joined in the fray, trying to punch and kick our skinny cobbler. Cobbler number 2 is older but bigger so he was really having a go.

The wife kept trying to hold him back and twice he made the action like he was going to punch her. If he had punched her I am sure I would have jumped in. Later I learned the two men are father and son. The father kicked and trashed his son's few possessions, like the styrofoam box he uses as a table, and a few small gas stoves the cobbler had just fixed for a customer.

When the father went away and came back with a piece of wood to use as a bat, I growled "Oy, chope." ("chope" means "stop"). I made sure I growled and not scream because people associate a lower voice with the voice of authority. And a scream with hysteria.

Fortunately, I am down with the flu so my voice is lower and hoarser than it usually is. The people nearby all looked at me. The father heard as well, and stopped, but he did not look at me. Meanwhile his wife was trying to pull her shirtless husband away by his belt. When she had succeeded to an extent he finally took a look at the voice. For a moment there I wondered if he would turn on me. But he did not look at me angrily. Maybe it is because I am a foreigner or maybe he knows I run a business here and they're causing trouble for the shop, but he looked at me with eyes cast, like he was embarrassed. And he did walk away.

What I found amazing was that people were just gathering around, waiting to watch a fight. I wonder if Cambodians are the sort of people to mind their own business and not interfere?

Were the spectators going to allow the men to kill each other? Not that it would have amounted to that, I don't think. But you never know. I have seen fights like these before. When some men go into a rage, they cannot stop themselves. They totally lose control. (I was in a road rage accident once in Singapore and my travelling companion and I had to join our taxi driver at the police station because the other driver wanted to beat him up).

I know it is not my business but I don't like to see blood shed. Actually my instinct was to call out to the cobblers that I'm calling the police. But I thought about it and believed the men would just ignore me, because truthfully, I don't think the police would be arsed. But Chhun Hy says the police would have come--to extract money from both men.

The cobblers are both ethnic Vietnamese married to Khmer women and the wife is the second wife who does not like her step son. So the fight was due to a family dispute.

A Khmer woman told me Vietnamese are like that. "When they fight, they scream and shout and don't care that the whole neighbourhood will hear," she said. Cambodians are more shy, or private, that way. They don't like to argue. I've heard this from many people in Cambodia and maybe there is some truth to it. Chhun Hy, a Khmer, says, "We don't like to talk so much, but we will fight." .

Although the last time I witnessed a shouting match it was between two Khmer women fruit-sellers at a market...


Unknown said...

An intesting and brave posting Diana.

I only hope that you are not sued for disinformation or defamation of the Cambodian people.

I am sorry to herar about these disturbing yet all too commonplace incidents.

Please be well and stay safe.

Geir said...

Well, it happens in here in the West, too. In Stavanger groups of teens attack people who stare, sending SMS messages to their buddies about a brooding fight. The papers don't write about it because they don't want to make a big issue about it.


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