Cambodia: The White Building - Prostitution In Central Phnom Penh
If we talk of Cambodia it’s hard not to mention the 40 years of war, the genocide of Khmers Rouges, the next civil war, the mines, even today collecting life and future of dozens of innocents every year and the trauma among population. Nevertheless, today, it sounds like a new promising era is coming. Indeed, since the last 5 years tourism is developing very fast, new hotels, buildings and entertainment resources are flourishing the country. Angkor Wat temples, the beaches of Sihanouk or the killing fields in Phnom Penh where thousands of people were assassinated, are sold as nice attractions to foreign tourists.
And as expected, similar to the countries around the south Asian region, like Thailand or Indonesia prostitution and pederasty arises as one of the biggest market and solution to make easy and fast money. The way this practice is promoted and disseminated is colorful and assorted all over the country. From big mafias which operates internationally to local extortion thanks to neighbors or even closers.
One of the most dramatic places where this happens is in the middle of Phnom Penh. Just few hundreds of meters of the Royal Palace lies the emblematic building planned by the cambodian reputed architect Vann Molyvan.
The so called White building is a huge structure of cement projected during early seventies to solve the overpopulation in the city. In 1975 came the Khmers Rouges and expelled all the urban population from the city, the building remained unfinished. After war, although the structure, was almost habitable, most of the plumbing, electricity, running water and evacuation appliances were not. Nevertheless the urgent need of cheap dwelling attracted many people to star living there.
There’s actually living around 3000 people here, mostly in poor and anarchic conditions. Among them are many adolescents tempted to consume and/ or collaborate with drug mafias and many girls that come from rural areas to Phnom Penh, looking to improve their standards of life.
Most of them end up being prostitutes due to several reasons. Sometimes it’s the same family who send them to the city in order to gain money for them, sometimes, it’s a friend, or boyfriend, who introduce the girl into the building and make some money for this. It is also possible that the girl started her life inside because the “welcoming conditions”. After borrowing some money from them, frequently called “the older brother” the doubt will never end consequently they must to go on.
The way this is made is not new. In fact is being repeat again and again in other parts of south Asia. Once they lost their virginity, they feel the cannot go back to their normal life. They think, society will reject them as having sex outside wedding in rural areas is forbidden, and feel the need to get refuge among their work partners. Fear, despair, loneliness and vulnerability are quite common among them. Apart of this, drug consume, and violence by the “brother” is also common.
That is what told me Mae, Mom, Thabi and Sreida. Workers of the Sharky, a night club more in the infamous riverside of Phnom Penh, like Hearth of Darkness, or Talk about. Others, sells their services inside de building, but this is more common with local customers for around 5 dollars. Any of them with their personal drama trying to solve the daily expenses and managed to make better their standard of life. Like the gils showed in the great documentary of this place by the filmmaker Rithy Panh: “le papier ne peut pas prendre la braise” (Cambodia 2007). Always rejected from society, and threatened by venereal infections like AIDS.
In this way, the White Building is part of the back room of the tourism in South Asia. Nothing new if we have a look to other countries in the region. Where life is worthless and domestic violence is inside home. A linked drama whose starting point is, doubtless, the customer.
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