What a shame I cannot manipulate the text in the heading of my blog posts to make that BIG really BIG .
Last night was surreal and I am still pinching myself over the experience.
Around two weeks ago a very ornate wedding invitation turns up at our house . It turns out we have been invited by our friend Tai Banh ( son of Tea Banh – Deputy PM and Minister of Defense ) to his brother’s wedding. To be held at the Cambodian Red Cross ( of which Hun Sen’s wife Bun Rany is matriarch ), Tra ( my brother-in-law and Lieutenant to Tai – confused yet ? ) told us they were expecting some 4000 people. Struth. In the week leading up to the wedding Phalla and Leakhana ran around like mad women trying on every dress in town, coming home deflated every day because everything was too expensive, didn’t fit, wrong colour etc etc. In the end I was getting a bit fed up with it and snorted ” just buy a bloody dress will you ! “.
Last night rolled around and the girls had spent all day at the salon primping and preening. I came home at 5.30pm from work and collapsed as my back was killing me due to spill in the garden a few nights earlier whilst playing silly buggers with all the kids. We were playing a game where you donned a blindfold and then had to swat everyone around you like a pinata and whilst trying to avoid Danay’s fiery attach, I slipped and bend double over a sharp edged garden wall. So I needed a little lie down and eventually we jumped in Phalla and Tra’s car with me driving and headed out to the CRC compound. As we approached things started to get a little..er….interesting. For a start, at the gate to the small side street that leads to the CRC a phallanx of Cambodia’s feared Flying Tigers, regular RCAF and police were ensuring it was wedding guest first and all other traffic dead last. There was then a slow and stately crawl of around 300m with helmeted Flying Tigers positioned every 4m or so and as we were actually driving through a small neighborhood, all the residents hung out of their front balconies watching the calvicade of Bentleys,Mercs, Porsches and Lexus’ cruis past. Just before we got to the entrance a huge group of about 40 very serious Khmer men came striding up the road and it was no less then Hun To and his body guards. One of Hun Sen’s nephews, Hun To is feared by every single Cambodian and for good reason. Google “Hun To Cambodia”. Enough said.Funnily enough…it’s not the first time our orbits had crossed. Some of you may remember back in 2006 Leakhana and I accidentally rode our dirt bike onto his ranch up in Mondulkiri and were swiftly removed by AK47 toting guards.
After parking the car in the full-to-capacity dust bowl of a car park, we made our way through a sea of about 100 private bodyguards , an airport style walk through security scanner and into the main courtyard of the CRC which was….well…..just amazingly surreal. White silk laden tables as far as the eye could see, hundred and hundred and hundreds of men in suits and women in their finest frocks, security with little CIA style wires coming out of their ears, massive theater size screens erected everywhere broadcasting the main dance floor for your viewing pleasure and more fresh flowers than Holland produces in a year. We were met by Tra who was clearly completely exhausted after planning all the food and beverage logistics ( er…..$100,000 on drink alone !) and he took us over to what seemed like the reserve C grade outer table . We stood around for a while and then finally we were also joined by Dara ( another of Thea Banh’s son’s and a real wild card ) and another young guy and his wife and friends who I am pretty sure is one of the other DPM’s sons. Dripping in diamonds and Hermes and with a watch that would put Simon Cowell and Randi Jackson to shame, this dude was smooth. Plus he drives a totally beefed out Toyota Tundra pick up so in my books that is king. We then get lead away from the outer masses and into the main ring and closer and closer and closer to the dance floor until we are seated in a very nice position thanks very much.
The table was loaded with Heineken and Johnny Walker Special Reserve and food delivered by smartly bedecked catering staff with tall white chefs hats started arriving in waves. Better than your average Khmer wedding grub that’s for sure. Everyone around us was transfixed by the massive screens. The camera crews were focused on the dance floor as the bridal dance was happening and there….oh look…..it’s the Bride and Groom and Hun Sen and Bun Rany and Sok An and Thea Banh and a veritable who is who of the power elite in Cambodia. All about 100m from where I was sitting. I swear…..it was just incredible to be the one of only about 4 whiteys at the whole wedding and realising that it doesn’t get any bigger than this.Well…ok…maybe if HS kids got married but still….. I noticed that on the rooftops of some surrounding buildings there were soldiers watching over everything but strangely, at ground level, it was surprisingly casual. I asked Leakhana if she thought it would be ok for me to approach the dance floor and take some photos and she said ” Of course ! “. So i did !. I got so close to the Prime Minister of Cambodia that the smell of power just about knocked me off my feet. What has always struck me about Hun Sen is how relaxed and good natured he seems to be. Ok thats probably the wrong word but last night he was casually dressed in slacks and a blazer and he seemed more than happy to go round and round dancing with his wife and friends. At one stage on the big screens we all saw him try to leave the dance floor and get dragged back by his wife which bought a huge laugh from the crowd and a broad smile from the man himself.
As we ate I was in real pain and every time a shout out of “cheers !” went up I had to get out of my seat which was no fun at all. I hardly drank a drop of alcohol – may be 4 beers all up but ate like a piglet. Some interesting observations. At no time was the wedding ever full. As it started at 5pm, and as is the custom, people were free to come whenever they wanted. We arrived at 8pm and by 9.30pm the wedding was thinned out considerably. Khmer don’t tend to hang around like we do in Australia. In,eat,drink, out. Going to the loo ? no worries…..just use a tree in the garden behind the CRC – everyone else was ! Fancy a dance ? Women only. When I asked Leakhana where all the men were she made the international sign for ” drinking ! ” . There was also this massive stage at the front that must have featured something earlier in the day because that night it was one singer only ! Around 10pm Hun Sen left and trust me…when he rolls, he rolls heavy. As he stood up from his table a huge crew of PMBG ( Prime Minister’s Body Guard) arrived out of nowhere and it was then a well rehearsed and fairly leisurely exit to his waiting car. Everyone stood up and he smiled and waved and was off. Just like that. We left around 11pm and by now my back was screaming out at me ” lie down for god sake man ! “. As I retrieved the Camry from the car-park I drove out behind about 5 ute loads of MPs and had a huge HumVee behind me. I felt like I was rolling heavy !
Like I said ……surreal.
ps ; sorry about the crap photos. My digi has a flash issue or something !