"There should be a health warning on countries like this. If you want to go somewhere and be unaccountable, this is the ideal place, because there are no rules."
-- Eddie Gibson's father, on Cambodia
Where is Eddie Gibson?
Who is Eddie Gibson?
He's a young British dude, early twenties, who high-tailed it out of England and flew off to Cambodia for fun in the sun -- ditching his university classes in Leeds without telling a soul. Stayed in Cambodia awhile, met up with a Cambodian female 'friend' at the Heart of Darkness bar in Phnom Penh, travelled around the country, eventually told his parents he was coming home on such-and-such a flight, only to leave them waiting at the airport, wondering where the hell he was.
He's been missing for months now, and his father was here recently, trying to make sense of his son's life, wondering where the hell he was, and if he was alive, and if not, well, let's not think about that too much.
Cambodia has that effect on people -- the let's-throw-caution-to-the-wind-and-live-life-to-the-fullest attitude that can quickly turn the bubbly-wine of your spirit to cyanide here. The drugs and the booze and anything else you could possibly imagine (and many things you don't) are cheap, cheap, cheap -- and so, to a certain extent, is human life.
I walk past the New York Hotel everyday after work. I think this is where Eddie was staying the night before he went missing. He was a real, genuine, honest-to-god person, people, who went to the same bars I went to, probably at the same restaurants, rode the same motos on the same streets. And, unless he's just been cruising the country for the last six months on his bike, taking in the blood-red sunsets and crystal-white beaches, he's been swallowed up by this very same place.
This is the edge of the earth, of course -- and yet, it isn't, not at all, not ever. We like to believe that danger and suspicion and murder and shadows, dense, triumphant shadows, are the providence of poor and desperate countries like this one.
I used to think so. But, as I've written about before, I was attacked in broad daylight in Japan, the safest country in the world, by a crazy homeless man wielding a two-by-four; a serial killer and his wife preyed upon the streets of my hometown, St.Catharines, which had been my Mayberry (squared).
For me to then come to Cambodia and lionize it as a den of desititution and debauchery, well, that would be misleading. Don't get me wrong -- in many, many respects, this country is a cesspool of the worst that humanity has to offer -- drugs and prositution, human trafficking and pedophilia. It's raw and gaping and visceral here; I'm not denying, could not, deny it.
The thing is, it's open here. It's in your face. It's obvious and clear and, above all, expected.
A homeless nut whacking me in the stomach in Sagamihara, Japan, was not expected; a husband and wife team of murderers in my hometown was not expected.
So, yes, one should use caution here. One should be aware that this is not Mayberry, and Andy Griffith and little Ronnie Howard will not be walking by with their fishing poles anytime soon, whistling their favorite song. Eddie Gibson is missing, and I fear for what could have happened to him; I fear that this beautiful yet indifferent land could have eaten him whole.
But I will keep up hope that he's alive, safe, chilling in some backwater village somewhere up in Battambang province. Cambodia is cruel and heartless, yes, but it is a place on earth, no more, no less, and darkness itself, the darkness within us, has no exclusive, geographic stranglehold on the human heart.