While I was on holiday in Cambodia earlier this year at the coastal resort of Sihanoukville, in an internet shop near the beach, I heard a really strange conversation between two Cambodian people. One woman walked in through the door said hello to the owner then said in Khmer
"Not many dogs on the beach or inside the restaurants today"
The owner, a man replied "No, very few dogs in here today either. Done very poor business today."
"I think there are very, very few dogs visiting the town this year".
I wondered what the heck they were talking about, and then it dawned on me - when they were referring to dogs they meant "Foreigners/Tourists" In other words - you and me! You see, I have visited Cambodia many times, have learned the language and I knew that they use the racist name of dog ( in Khmer a dog is called "Chic-ai") when referring to tourists. Though that conversation just about took the biscuit! And I want to warn other foreign visitors to Cambodia, just how racist the Cambodians can be.
It is not just to their tourists that Cambodians are racist, they also refer to their fellow ethnic Vietnamese Cambodian citizens as: Youan (which basically means: filthy, black, thieving, low-cast Vietnamese person), charming hey! Well, check out the following conversation. Sat outside in a café in Phnom Penh, next to me were sitting a young Vietnamese couple. They seemed really nice people but at some point they seemed to try and sink into their seats. I wondered why, then I focused on a conversation between two very dark skinned ethnic Cambodian girls stood right in front of us. And I was gobsmacked when I heard just how racist their words were, every other word was: "Youan! (filthy Vietnamese)", "Chic-ai! (verminous foreign dog)", "Youan!", "Chic-ai!", "Youan!", "Chic-ai!" and so on. And they were stood right in front of us! Not caring a jot who they offended. But it seems that such disgraceful racism is just accepted behaviour there.
Ironically though, it is the Vietnamese Cambodians (VCs) who can be the worst racists when dealing with the tourists in Cambodia. Especially in the seaside town of Sihanoukville, where up to half of the population are VCs. You see, the VCs who are lowest of the low in the eyes of the ethnic Cambodian population, see a way to elevate themselves in society by being superior to the foreigners. And they tend to be ashamed of any Vietnamese connections and want to be seen as full blooded Cambodians. Thus they have a ‘Compensation Complex', making them want to be Super Cambodians and thus: Super Racists! And besides the racist word "Chic-ai" or "dog" that they use for foreigners, they also use coded words such as "How!" (which comes from "Woof!"), or just "Chick!", or "Chicky!" For example, one day while in Sihanoukville, on the bar strip of Serendipity beach, I witnessed a fairly plump, young, white girl, dressed in just beachwear leave The Monkey Republic Bar and the Motorbike taxi drivers, (or "motodops" as they are also known) sat opposite shouted out to her HOW!,,,HOW!,,,HOW! (which also means "Woof!,,,Woof!,,,Woof!). Then the motodop guys with great big sneers on their faces would crease up in hyena style, derisive laughter aimed at the girl. Then I realised that it was not just outside the Monkey Republic Bar that they were hurling these disgusting, racist insults, it was outside ALL of the bars!
Service with a sneer
I also noticed that the waiters in Sihnoukville when dealing with a foreigner greet you with the biggest and ugliest, contemptful SNEER that they can come up with - their top lip drawn right back and down, exposing their top teeth. And with every comment they make they follow it with a contemptuous chuckle - as if they are only helping you because they pity foreign vermin and find such fun in laughing at you.
There is a street that runs parallel with the popular Ochheuteal beach in Sihanoukville that has a long line of barbecue restaurants there. The clientele there are mostly kindly, retired, old, foreign visitors. Waiters stand at the entrance of the restaurants and try and call in customers. Yet, I noticed that most of them would be sneering and beckoning in foreigners with dog-whistles! And sneakily calling the old foreign visitors "dogs" then doubling up in howling laughter because the tourists couldn't understand. When I thought of the disgusting way the locals treated these kindly old visitors, who were just providing a living to the Khmers, it made me sick. What kind of hospitality is that?
From Serendipity beach to Victory Hill, there is a beautiful, peaceful coastal road on which I used to walk and cycle between the two. However, I got so sick of the racist shouts I used to get from passing motorcyclists that I gave up using it this way. Nearly every time I walked/cycled this road a VC on a motorbike would shout out "Chic-ai!" (dog!), or "Chicky-Chicky (dog!)!". Even a policeman in uniform shouted out racist abuse once. But these people were nearly always Vietnamese Cambodians. Since then, I have only driven this route on a motorbike and I never get racist taunts any more - it just showed that the little cowards only shouted the abuse because, I was on foot before and they were travelling at high speed on their motors.
At the village on Victory Hill the population are almost 100% Vietnamese Cambodians (VC's); I call it Little Saigon. It is difficult to tell them apart from ethnic Cambodians because the VC's frizz their hair and tan their skins to blend in, but they are much more skinny than the Khmers. Here in the village you can hear racist language against foreigners everywhere - in the many bars and restaurants etc. In an internet shop just to the right of the entrance of the village while using the internet in there, a VC young man would often stand right in front of me, just staring fixedly down at me with a look of utter contempt on his face. When I challenged him once and asked what he wanted, he just uttered "How! How!" (another word for "dog!") and walked off in disgust.
There are motodops hanging around Victory Hill selling all kinds of drugs to passing foreigners. Some foreigners ask for cocaine but receive heroine instead, because the dealers don't have cocaine. From that point on the foreigner is under a death sentence! This is because they go away and sniff it like cocaine but the local heroine is so strong that it immediately kills the young tourist. And yet the motodops/dealers who all speak good English must know what they are doing, but are happy to make just $1 or $2 for the price of the life of a young foreigner. Death after death is reported this way in the high season. Around April time, one such death occurred to a young German tourist in Victory Hill this year. The following morning of the fatality I was sat opposite the guest house in a restaurant and observed the behaviour of the staff and motodops as they went mingled outside. Instead of showing any sadness in respect of the dead man they were just the opposite - beaming with their usual sneering laughter and shouting out anti - foreigner racist abuse up and down the street!
I don't know where Cambodians have got such utterly abhorrent racist attitudes to their foreign visitors from, nowhere else in South East Asia do people openly insult foreigners. Although a speech made a couple of years ago by their prime minister didn't help. He once said in a public speech
"The long noses (foreigners) aren't always smart".
Can you imagine your own prime minister using such language in public? I won't be going back to Cambodia until they start to treat their valued foreign guests with dignity and respect. Maybe by people like myself speaking out then, the Cambodians might realise that there may be a link between: routinely calling their visitors "verminous dogs!" - and the dwindling number of tourists visiting them!
"All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing"