The irrepressible and apparently indefatigable British-based American comic and occasional burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller recently returned from another of her globetrotting trips. Here she is, in Part 1 of a 4-part jaunt…
This was my third time in Asia but my second time in Cambodia. The anticipation and excitement in this trip was getting to see people I have grown to love.
The man who books me in Cambodia is a prince. His name is Dan Riley and he is a kind, thoughtful man and a devoted father to his 8-year-old daughter whom he calls The Curley Girly. When I saw her last, she was six years old, shy and very quiet. This year, however, she has developed attitude. She is as tall as I am (which isn’t that difficult to achieve) and locked to her mobile phone.
This visit, Dan has an assistant, JB, who helps him get people to the comedy shows he produces, run the shows and take care of the visiting comedians.
In Cambodia, especially, comedians come to do shows from all over the area. Dan works closely with Nick Ross in Saigon, Don Dockery in Hanoi, Eamonn Sandler in Jakarta (all British), Umar Rana in Singapore and Matthew Wharf in Bangkok plus various others in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Pakistan, and beyond to create tours for international comedians with big names and little nothings like me.
I have grown inordinately fond of all these men and now, instead of coming here to this part of the world only for comedy, I return because I want to see them all again and find out how they are.
You cannot just enter most of these countries without a visa – tourism is a money-making operation these days.
In Cambodia, you must pay $35 American dollars to get a visitor’s visa. American money has become an international currency in this part of the world and in Cambodia and Vietnam you can often pay for products in that currency and receive your change in the country’s currency.
JB was waiting for me at the airport and we took a cab to the same hotel I stayed in the last time: The House Boutique Eco Hotel.
It is a charming hotel with a big swimming pool, a rustic bar and lovely, understated rooms, nothing like the Hilton or the Ramada. The rooms are small but adequate with a sink in front of the shower and toilet rooms with air conditioners that sometimes work and showers that eventually give you hot water if you wait long enough. You cannot drink the tap water in most of these countries. The hotels give you a ration of bottled water and a fully equipped fridge filled with beer that you pay for.
Phnom Penh is a crowded city. The roads are clogged with cars, bumper to bumper and they are all lined with open shops where people sell anything and everything. The air is thick and pungent and the humidity makes it almost suffocating for me. Evidently, you get used to it if you live here.
The saving grace here is the people.
Cambodians are smiling, welcoming human beings and it is sad to me that the expats are all living lives far more luxurious than they would in more Westernized countries. But the natives are very poor and work long hours to earn enough to feed their families. There is no such thing as disposable income for them.
Everyone you meet has an interesting story because they have all decided to leave the place where they were born for more opportunities and different lifestyles.
JB is British and so is his wife, but they have lived all over the world. Many of the expats here teach English at various levels and his wife teaches in a university. Dan Riley does promotion for a casino. Running a comedy club is a not very lucrative sideline for both Dan and JB though both have hopes of doing comedy eventually on a professional level.
I arrived on a Friday evening and my show was the next day at The Box Office, the same place I was in the last time. It is upstairs in a small bar. The show is in a small room that Dan and JB pack with people. The overflow watch the show on a video downstairs.
The host this time was Paul Glew, a very funny competent performer who has lived in Phnom Penh for a long time. Usually the line-ups are all male but not this time. Dan had also booked a local woman and Francesca Flores, a female comedian who is now living in Saigon but who will be joining the Peace Corps in Guatemala in 2020. Women are finally getting noticed in this all-male, very white profession.
The house was filled to overflowing and included a lovely, well-behaved dog, which is more than I can say for most of the rest of us, probably because the dog only drank (bottled) water.
I performed the entire last half this time, which was also a wonderful experience for me because, the first time I was there, I featured for Gina Yashere (always an honor). This time I was the headliner… so I had graduated to a higher level!!!
I had a late afternoon plane back to Bangkok the next day, so Dan kept me company for a bit before JB took me to the airport. The waiting area at the gate was very crowded and London has spoiled me.
I expect people to stand up and offer me their seats when I appear, now that I am of a certain age – much as they once swooned with admiration when I was younger.
Evidently, in Cambodia it is only the children who get special consideration.
However, as I stood there trying to create sufficient guilt to get someone to notice that I was standing, a woman got up, gave me her seat and then said something I could not understand to someone I assume was her husband.
He took out his phone and showed me text in English that said: “How old?”
I typed in “86” and everyone oh-ed and ah-ed and whispered to one another.
I felt like a museum piece.
…IN BANGKOK, SAIGON, HANOI and JAKARTA…