Saturday, August 3, 2013

Dreamt of a dead friend

A hard man to like.

Career soldier (Brit) and mercenary, retired. Veteran of the Malayan emergency. Did some work in Africa too. Lived in Singapore for years. A fat, alky, chain-smoking whoremonger and a teller of good stories. We lived in Sihanoukville for a few years back in the mid-90s when the wars were still on and there were but a few barang in the province.

We'd sit streetside at the town's number 1 brothel (Victoria), drink beer and talk shit. The taxigirls would tease me over hanging with the old man, calling him 'your father Chris.' (Actually, that began in 96. I had been working in the countryside for a couple of weeks and was in town for the weekend. Apparently it was a slow night at the brothel and a couple of the girls called me to come hang out and drink. I told them I couldn't because I was watching movies with Chris at his house that night. They said, "oh, you do whatever he tells you to. He your father?" Forever after that he was 'your father Chris.')

Anyway, he loved bird watching (real birds) and history books and old guns. He had a French MAT-49 he bought in Vietnam mounted on the wall of his bar in Sihanoukville that I don't think anybody knew was fully functional. I taught him how to use computer and helped him write letters to his aging mum back in England. He'd tell me how great Lee Kwan Yew was and I'd argue Singapore lacked civil rights. Drove him mad, those human rights arguments. He'd call me every few nights (when the phones were working) and say "Come drink with me you Commie bastard." And I usually would.

He introduced me to the Hash House Harriers and the quaint colonial tradition of mixing exercise with chugging beer. He got into petty wars with just about every other barang in town. But not me. Me he treated like a son.

A codger when he died suddenly back in July 2003, somebody sent me the news by email in Prey Veng where I was working the election. It threw me. I didn't see him those last few years before he died. He had moved to Chiang Mai. He never met my daughter. I wish he had. Meant to take her up there to show him, but somehow never got around to it.

The other night I dreamed I was in front of Monument Books in Phnom Penh, looked over and there he was on the ground doing sit-ups as part of a drinking game, cigarette hanging out of his mouth per usual. He saw me, jumped up, ran to me calling my name, smiling as he rarely would, and threw his arms around me. We hugged. (We never hugged in real life.) Arms still around each other I looked up at his face, overwhelmed with emotion and said, "But you’re dead." He looked confused. I said "in 94." He looked up as if he was trying to remember. I started to cry and said, "or in 97 or 98." I couldn't remember. I recalled talking to him on the phone from Phnom Penh during the fighting of July 97, unable to hear him for the noise of machine guns and tank fire down the street. 'It couldn't be 97' I thought, looking up at him again, tears streaming down both of our faces, him smiling but looking confused.

And then I woke up, face wet, alone here in my hotel room in Prey Veng.

RIP my friend.


  1. Beautiful story, thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for this. Brought some memories of my own.

  3. It is posts like this that keep me popping into your blog. I'm a young 'un and missed all the early excitement, it's nice to read real stories.