In Cambodia – where I went on honeymoon – there is a curious spectacle: lots of older Western men walking around with rather attractive young local women on their arms.
I’d heard about this kind of thing before and the TV presenter Louis Theroux did a terrific documentary on it – British and American men, in their 60s and 70s, travelling to the Far East to buy a bride.
At first I was horrified by this, after all it’s a bit seedy. But then, the more I dwelt on it, I realised what a fine idea it was.
I mean Mrs Canavan looks OK now – if she’s wearing make-up and you’re stood at least six feet away – but in five or 10 years, when things begin to droop, it’s handy to know that I’ll be able to update to a newer model.
Instead of having to witness Mrs C growing old and wrinkly, I can simply nip off to Asia and purchase a 21-year-old, who would not only look better but would have more energy, thus allowing her to get through much more ironing.
The downside is that these brides you can purchase often speak no English, which means conversation around the house might be a bit limited.
But as long as she learns the basics (‘what time do you want tea?’ ‘let me switch Match of the Day on for you’ – that kind of thing) then we’d get by.
Now just in case any of my wife’s family are reading, I jest of course. I’m not that shallow or heartless. No way would I get rid of Mrs Canavan completely – she could move into the granny flat above the garage.
Bride-buying aside, Cambodia is a curious place.
Tourism is huge, which means lots of money coming in to the economy, yet poverty is rife. Stroll around the streets of Phnom Penh, the capital, and you’ll see naked children – four or five years old – sleeping rough with their mums, and piles of litter and rubbish strewn on pavements.
I read that 40 per cent of children in Cambodia are malnourished and as recently as 1999, life expectancy for men and women was less than 50.
Now keeping those grim statistics in mind, allow me to tell you about the American gentleman at our hotel who I witnessed complaining about the shower in his room.
“Listen,” he said to the poor receptionist, “it said in the brochure it was a power-shower. But it ain’t. Hardly any darn water comes out.”
He paused, wiped his substantial nose on his shirt sleeve, and added “What you going to do about it?” – then stood there as if expecting the lady to reach beneath her desk for a spanner and sort it out.“I’m sorry if the shower isn’t to your satisfaction sir,” she said in perfect English – thus displaying considerably more intelligence in one fell swoop that her oafish customer, “but it is our best room and being a developing country, there are sometimes issues with the hot water that are beyond our control.”
The American looked at her as if she had punched him in the face for he went berserk, ranting about how it was impossible for his wife to wash her hair “under something that’s barely a dribble”.
It took all my self-restraint not to walk over and quietly, yet forcefully, point out that simply by staying in this establishment and having access to a shower he was already better off than 99.9 per cent of the entire Cambodian population, and perhaps he might want to reflect on that before whining on about the vigour, or lack of, his damn shower.
However, if you can bear not to have the world’s finest power-shower for a couple of weeks, and are feeling adventurous, I’d recommend Cambodia.
It feels like proper travelling and gives you a sense of genuinely seeing the world, rather than just stopping in the usual sanitised resorts.
Plus you can buy a new wife. What’s not to like?
The killing fields still taint the memory
The reason why Cambodia has problems is because of its horrific recent history.
In 1975 the Communist Party – led by notorious dictator Pol Pot – snatched power and decided to convert the country into an agrarian society, which basically meant making everyone work on a farm.
Anyone with an education – teachers, doctors, actors, businessmen … who might realise what a daft idea it was and not go along with it – was killed. Anyone who even looked like they might have had an education – so, and I’m not making this up, those who wore glasses or had soft hands – were also bumped off.
It was brutal, state-sponsored mass-murder.
During the next four years three million Cambodians out of a population of eight million died at one of 150 execution centres set up around the country. To save the expense of buying guns and bullets, men and women were suffocated to death by having plastic bags put over their heads and babies killed by smashing them against trees. Just horrific.
Thankfully, Pol Pot was eventually ousted in 1979, though – for reasons I still don’t fully understand despite having read about it repeatedly – he retained the support of the United States and Europe, and he managed to live a long and decent life in the jungles of south west Cambodia before he passed away in 1997, at the age of 72.
A modern-day Hitler, yet he went unpunished for what he did.
Incredible – and many in Cambodia still feel the effects to this day.