‘’folly, (from French folie, “foolishness”), also called EYECATCHER, in architecture, a costly, generally nonfunctional building that was erected to enhance a landscape’’
Kampot is, most would agree aesthetically a pretty town. The town centre contains several old French colonial buildings and architecture in varying but equally charming condition and grabbing a seat outside one of the eateries or bars, especially at sundown is a pleasant experience and has a romantic old-world feeling to it that never grows boring. Sitting here whiling away an evening with a cold beer while people watching and enjoying the ambience of one’s surroundings is something I would suggest to tourists and town citizens alike.
It’s while doing just this that I cast an eye over towards the old market and I began to wonder about something that has been bothering me for some time. Firstly, let me say it’s a great place to grab some cheap food in the tented area with a nice variety of culinary delights both western and Khmer to enjoy. In the past, the only downside to this area was the public toilets. It’s not even that they at times might have given ‘Trainspotting’ worst toilet in Scotland a good run for its money or even that feeling you had as you were crouched in the stall of being watched and thinking that the place either needed an exorcism or security guard as you were unsure what would be awaiting you when you pushed open the cubicle door be it some kind of ghostly spectre or a George Michael wannabe with a smile, but it’s dimly lit sense of foreboding just needed to be addressed and brought up a little in standard to match the family-friendly atmosphere and brightly lit food stalls which are obviously without their own toilet facilities.
And so, when the dreaded pisspots finally disappeared and the first wave of builders arrived on the scene swiftly erecting two skeletal stories behind a battered blue fence, we had a sense of hope and relief that perhaps not only would there be some spanking new toilets installed but, given the scale of the building ‘’something else’’ exciting too. we were of course wrong.
Over a year later the building remains a shell. Its purpose is a mystery. Of course, we could probably go down some official lines of enquiry and perhaps find out what the hell it was/is going to be but it’s far more entertaining instead to listen to the conjecture of self-appointed ’experts’ on the subject. I meekly asked what people believed it would be as I sipped my beer in a restaurant across the road from it.
The more beige answers from the clientele included a minimart, a tourist information centre, an upmarket bar with a disco upstairs and a restaurant and coffee shop. Any of these are of course possible and indeed pretty likely but given how long it has stood there, with every day adding to its mystique, how bloody boring and anticlimactic would any of these options now be? So, I left the more sensible cabals behind me to argue about whose information had come from the governor’s cousin’s friend’s hairdresser and was therefore correct and instead asked some of the more eccentric characters sipping cans on the street corner and patrolling the area with knowing looks in their eyes what they thought. As occasionally they seem better in the know about what’s going on than the average man.
‘’It’s for cockfighting’’ a wild-eyed hairy man told me with complete conviction, I perhaps foolishly ventured that I believed cockfighting was illegal in Cambodia and it might therefore be a little foolish to build an arena for it in the middle of the town He told me I was not only naive and but probably some kind of deranged animal activist before whispering conspiratorially to me to ‘wait and see’ before shuffling off into the night eyeing me suspiciously over his shoulder as he went.
His friend who had remained largely silent during our exchange also seemed to doubt this cockfighting story and pointed to a well-known (and ironically named) bar for fisticuffs down the street ‘’Forget the cockfighting mate, get the boys in there some kind of boxing ring, people would pay to watch that’’ and indeed the idea of Kampot having some kind of ‘Thunderdome’ for the booze or chemically enhanced amateur fight club members who appear from time to time would save a lot of spilt beer, broken glasses and damaged furniture among certain alehouses in the immediate area is a splendid idea but realistically unlikely as much as we would all like to chant ‘two men enter one man leave’ and enjoy a Tina Turner number during the interval.
I next asked a bored-looking tuk-tuk driver sucking on a cigarette if he knew anything about the eyesore, he gleefully informed me that an old lady that spent her days wandering the streets asking for a few Riel from those she encountered was building a house there. I wondered aloud how long it would take to get enough money together to construct something that size let alone afford that parcel of prime real estate with an income sourced entirely on getting a dollar here and there from tightfisted barangs but he just nodded admiringly ‘’she do for many years bong’’ he told me solemnly ‘’now she’s a very rich lady’’ I can only hope if this is true she does some kind of TED talk on economics I’ll certainly tune in.
So finally, as I readied to call it a night and tried to process the varied information that I had been given I was reminded of the rich mans ‘folly’s’ back home. Often towers or arches served no real purpose other than decoration to please the eye. Was this one gone awry? Had some eccentric nutter with more money than sense decided to erect this monstrosity before death or bankruptcy claimed him? Had some high minded creative type perhaps overestimated the beer-soaked brains of many of us and built an art installation representing the loss of the quaint individualism little towns like Kampot have to the cold grey concrete of uniformed globalization without us realizing it? Or it could indeed just be some seriously fancy toilets. Who knows? Perhaps the governor’s cousin’s friend’s hairdresser does but not me. What about you?
Submitted by Kampot Jack