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Cambodia: The White Building - Prostitution In Central Phnom Penh

Documentary photo story posted on 14 June 2010 by Victor Luengo Del Ama

Mae with her friends in her room. The White Building, Cambodia 2009

Mae with her friends in her room. The White Building, Cambodia 2009

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.


Inside a night club of Seam Reap. Cambodia 2009

Inside a night club of Seam Reap. Cambodia 2009


In a night club of Siem Reap. Cambodia

In a night club of Siem Reap. Cambodia

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.

In a night club in Seam Reap. Cambodia 2009

In a night club in Seam Reap. Cambodia 2009

 

In a night club of Phnom Penh. Cambodia

In a night club of Phnom Penh. Cambodia

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.

Outside the White Building. Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009

Outside the White Building. Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009


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.


Outside the White Building, Phnom Penh. Cambodia 2009

Outside the White Building, Phnom Penh. Cambodia 2009Outside the White Building, Phnom Penh. Cambodia 2009


Outside of The White Building, Cambodia 2009

Outside of The White Building, Cambodia 2009


Outside of The White Building, Cambodia 2009

Outside of The White Building, Cambodia 2009


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.


Inside the landing. One of  neighbours meeting points. Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009

Inside the landing. One of neighbours meeting points. Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009


Sothia, outside of The White Building, Cambodia 2009

Sothia, outside of The White Building, Cambodia 2009


Inside the landing. One of  neighbours meeting points. Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009

Inside the landing. One of neighbours meeting points. Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009


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.


In one of main corridors inside the White Building. Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009

In one of main corridors inside the White Building. Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009


In one of main corridors inside the White Building. Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009

In one of main corridors inside the White Building. Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009


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.


The so-called "elder brothers" in one house.  Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009

The so-called "elder brothers" in one house. Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009


Tith.  Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009

Tith. Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009


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.


Mom.  Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009

Mom. Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009

Thavi.  Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009

Thavi. Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009

Mom and Sreida in the background.  Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009

Mom and Sreida in the background. Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009 Sreida. Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009

Mom in Mae's room.  Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009

Mom in Mae

Mae takin care of a friend's baby.  Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009

Mae takin care of a friend's baby. Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009

Mae.  Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009

Mae. Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009


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.


In a night club in Siem Reap, Cambodia 2009

In a night club in Siem Reap, Cambodia 2009


Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009

Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009


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17 Comments »

  1. This is the result of running behind western culture without knowing anything abt them. Instead of that every eastern country needs to learn from their devlopment and needs to follow their own culture

  2. Your White Building is not the White Building designed by Vann Molyvann. Vann Molyvann’s White Building is now housing the Build Bright University nearby, and was completely refurbished (and massacred) by Vietnamese architects.

  3. Thank for the history lesson John. By the way…I saw your photos at Meta House….the 15 or 20 BIG ONES quite some time ago….a very interesting take on the new Phnom Penh. Sad to see lots of older buildings biting the dust…at least they saved central market! Cheers! JB

  4. Dear Kiran,

    You are right, in fact I think every country or culture should look for their own way, I mean, in terms of economy, culture, environment… otherway, among many things… we loose diversity, and every country end up becoming the same thing… I am now in Peru, and it is shocking how fast is this country running to be similar to the big rest… tv shows and papers in rupert murdoch’s style, urban big deals over small comunities, (related to petrol and minerals companies…) and in the meanwhile, rural areas remain forgetted and vulnerable (Loreto, Apurimac, Ayacucho…)

    Anyway thanks for your interest

    regards

    vic

  5. Dear John,

    I get confused, there, in Phnom Penh every one calls this building the White Building or just The Building…besides this, there are information in the web which repeats that this is the White Building:

    http://cambodia.ka-set.info/culture-and-society/news-building-phnom-penh-urbanism-architecture-080530.html

    http://carpediemilia.over-blog.com/article-20914544.html

    Please, could you give me your sources and I ll change the text if I am wrong…

    Anyway thanks for your interest and… by the way, for your inspiring carrier too!. Years ago I was working for the Magnum agency in Spain as editor.
    king regards

    Vic

  6. Victor….funny you should cite Kaset,,,,,John Vink is a founder of that site, he helps run the place. I think that the description is fine for a story focused on the present and the story is accurate. One thing that has lead to an increase in prostitution, especially in the more rural areas. is the world economic crisis. Thousands of women lost jobs but needed income.

    I also think that the “trade” is much bigger than people realize at the LOCAL level. Foreign bars and tourist are seemingly blamed in main stream media for the proliferation of the trade, but local patronage is HUGE according to people I know in the transportation industry. For example, a block long modern building was built in central Cambodia which houses bars catering almost exclusively to wealthy Cambodians. The parking lot is filled with SUV’s.

    This aspect of the trade is hard to portray since many of the patrons are wealthy connected local people. I am not moralizing or judging behavior in any way, just trying to maintain a balance of reality as I observe it. Your report is honest and fair in that your time was limited.

    Cheers!

    JB

  7. Ey John!,
    Ha ha, yeah, you are right, I did not note that even the pics are from John Vink… anyway, thanks for your words..

    Besides this, I think that the most important here for me, was to explore few cases, few lives, few experiences of a big chronic problem in almost all the Southeast Asia which is, as you mention, the big mafias of prostitution… In fact I was getting information and interviews of several Ngos based in Phnom Penh like Licadhos about Human Trafficking…
    I met raped girls, (even of 6, 7 years old…) they are many in the countryside, childs which have been forced to work in ships far away from the coast, and collected testimonies of young women which travelled abroad to work as domestic cleaning and end up being the house prostitute for an asian family…
    The general rule was that weak laws or even corrupt staff of the government in the armee, policemen.. allow, help or just use to take part or profit to some extent.. of it… the matter is structural and big as it is linked with international nets which bring people to be forced in several ways to work (not only prostitution…) and, as you say, it is not the tourists but mostly high standing Asian people their clients.
    A big drama which contrasts with the happy attitude with most of common people I met… specially in rural areas.

    I give few web to get more info:
    http://www.humantrafficking.org/countries/cambodia

    http://www.licadho-cambodia.org/

    But I am sure you already know all of this, ( I saw your good work here)… but I include this info to extent a little the text of the feature…

    Cheer form here

  8. Yes LICADHO is good. They have an office down the street here….always fighting for the poor people, freedom of speech etc. You hit the nail on the head. about the issues here. They have good PDF downloads on their site covering the issues.

    I have mentioned them in a few of my blog posts.

    The other thing about your story that people might not realize is that Phnom Penh can be a fairly dangerous place with all these types you mention involved with each other. Be safe!

    JB

  9. Prostitution is not good for health and society.Money is bone of all requirements. They should adopt another profession.Dr.Sandeepo FARRUKHABAD.

  10. Prostitution,this name is known as inferiority complex in peopole. they should leave this profession .Dr.Sandeepo FARRUKHABAD.

  11. its the first time ive heard of white bldg. even though im very familiar pp. and your pics in siem riep are mostly in the small zanzibar, just a few pros in there. here in clean adelaide/australia there are about 3 pages full of brothel adverts every day of the week..per head of of capita you may find we have more prostitutes in australia..but you will find massive amounts of visual police here..and beautiful adelaide city is one of the murder capitols of the world, just a few days ago an 87 year old lady was murdered in her backyard, plus on the same day 2 elderly men..seems that if your city is poor and a bit dirty you will be villafied, but if your city is clean and shiny the prostitution and murder dont matter. tc.

  12. [...] stories. Gaia Photos, a user-contributed photo journalism site describes the White Building in this story about prostitution in Cambodia, while Marie Claire published a particularly sensationalistic [...]

  13. absolutely outrageous. these peoples’ rights are totally violated… best hopes for cambodia. :(

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  16. A few days ago I take a few photos of this White House building which I published on http://online.esud.info/pictures-of-phnom-penh/ I think this project is very beautiful. But at the moment only a few of this buildings is left.

  17. Its like you learn my mind! You seem to know so much about this, such as you wrote the ebook in it or
    something. I believe that you just could do with some % to force the
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    that, this is great blog. An excellent read.
    I’ll definitely be back.

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