Column #277 Cambodia’s Funky Munky and a Child named Mom
December 1, 2006
Cambodia’s Funky Munky and a Child named Mom
The advertisement was bound to catch my eye:
Pie and Darts Night – The Funky Munky
Enjoy a savory selection of pies and seasonal vegetables every Friday evening followed by a traditional British darts tournament.
I was hooked immediately.
I like apple pie. I love darts. I had to go. But there was a problem.
The Funky Munky was in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Where the hell was that?
A sort of collection of old villages that have grown together, Siem Reap is just a half dozen clicks from the mysterious millennium-old temple ruins of the Angkorian-era Khmer Empire. The ruins including Bayon, Banteay Srey and the legendary Ankor Wat date back to the 9th Century and dot a sprawling forty square mile area of thick jungle surrounding the small town in northwest Cambodia.
The centerpiece is Ankor Wat. Surrounded by a moat and towering exterior wall, the temple itself is nearly a mile square. It was constructed by Suryavarman II in the 12th Century during the height of Khmer political and military dominance in the region and dedicated to the Hindu god, Vishnu. It’s a massive, breathtaking three-tiered pyramid structure, covered inside and out with bas-reliefs and intricate carvings and crowned by five beehive-like towers that rise into the sky. Artistically, archeologically and in terms of visual impact Anchor Wat is in a class every bit as important as the Pyramids, Machu Pichu and the Taj Mahal.
For 400 years, Ankor Wat was totally isolated from the Western World. French colonists were the first westerners to hear rumors from the local population about “temples built by gods or giants.” Most of these colonists wrote off the talk as folk tales, but some believed there really was a “lost city” somewhere which had once been powerful and wealthy.
It was not until 1860 that the temples were first “discovered” by westerners, French missionaries. Intensive research and restoration programs began. These programs continued until the Vietnam War interrupted the work in 1968 and were delayed again during the rein of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.
After capturing Phnom Penh in 1975, Pol Pot’s regime exterminated almost two million people – a quarter of the Cambodian population. They targeted Western-educated intellectuals, educated people in general, people who had contact with western countries, people who appeared to be intelligent (for example, individuals with glasses), the crippled and lame and ethnic minorities like ethnic Laotians and Vietnamese. Most of the Buddhist monks who lived in the Angkor temples were massacred along with the majority of the Buddhist population in the area and the country.
Then the Vietnamese occupied Cambodia and war ensued between the two nations. Much of the area of the Angkorian temples was mined by the Vietnamese and today Cambodia still wrestles with the aftermath. De-mining crews go into the fields daily to find and remove what is estimated to be three million remaining land mines, third in the world only to those scattered about Afghanistan and Angola. The de-mining crews are paid well (about $160 a month) compared to the vast majority of the population. But by some accounts as many as thirty people a day, many of them school children, still loose their lives to land mines in Cambodia.
Remarkably the temples survived all of this. There is some crumbling. There are some bullet holes. There are many spots where the gigantic roots of towering century-old trees have mightily grabbed hold of the structures and seem to be all that still hold them together. Paths are well marked to keep tourists safely out of harms way.
Understandably it is Ankor Wat and the temple ruins, not pie and darts, that draw most visitors to the Siem Reap area. They began to come, slowly at first, in the early 1990s but today tens of thousands flock to the region annually.
As it happened I had cause besides darts to make my way to Cambodia. My old traveling buddy and acclaimed photographer, Richard Sobol, had visited the temples a few months back and befriended a young girl. Her name is Mom and she lives with her mother and father and three younger brothers and sisters in a tiny, stilted, one room wooden shanty with no running water or electricity precariously balanced over the edge of a stagnate pond just inside the crumbling wall of Banteay Ksei. I had business in Bangkok (about a thirty minute flight to Siem Reap) and Richard asked if I would find the child and deliver some photographs and money to help her and her family.
This is something Richard and I have done for years. So many families, like Mom’s – literally a third of the world’s population – survive on less than a dollar a day. You can’t possibly help them all. But you can help some.
Once in Bombay we encountered a little boy named Johnny. In trade for his services as a guide and to find me a place to throw darts Richard supplied his family with a several month supply of powdered milk. We never really found the darts. Instead we pretty much spent the day with Johnny at the zoo. Another time I visited with a little girl named Pae Por who lived in a Karen Hill Tribe village on the border of Thailand and Myanmar. I carried a dart board and some darts into the middle of nowhere intending to teach her and her friends the game but never got around to taking them out of my bag. I spent the day instead meeting her family and pets, including an elephant. I trekked through the jungle with her and her friends to swim by a waterfall. I drank rice wine with her father and the village elders. And then I gave Pae Por and her family everything I had in my wallet – so she could afford supplies for school and so her father could start a small chili pepper farm. It felt great. So much for being an ambassador for the sport…
But it does feel great to make a difference in someone’s life.
This time it was the little girl Richard found. Her name is Mom. She told me she wants to be a dancer. It’s a shame that the odds are so heavily stacked against her dreams.
After meeting Mom and touring the ruins I headed to Siem Reap, just a few miles up the road, to wash up and seek out the Funky Munky, get a slice of apple pie and kick some Cambodian ass at the line. I found the restaurant and bar quickly (at 292 Pokambor Avenue) and settled in with its owners, Mac and Trixie Witney, for the evening.
It turns out Mac and Trixie are from Putney in southwest London. Mac was a builder and Trixie used to make props for television. One day they packed their flat and flew off to travel the world. It wasn’t a spur of the moment thing, not at all. For six months they carefully plotted their route on a map they tacked to their bedroom wall. One of the planned stops was at the Angkorian ruins and they made it just fine – about a year and a half ago.
What was spur of the moment was what they did next. They stayed. They took out a five-year lease on a hole-in-the wall, fixed it up, bought some old wooden tables and chairs, painted the walls blue, stuck some British flags and posters on the walls and hung out a sign. That was exactly a year ago this past September 14. The Funky Munky has now been going strong for fourteen months and business gets better every day.
But there is a bit of competition in town. In fact there is even a street here near the old market called Pub Street. With little to do at night in the emerging village metropolis (the one movie theater shows only Cambodian flicks) the restaurants and bar owners are constantly dreaming up new ways to attract customers.
This was the genesis of Pie and Darts Night promotion that caught my attention in the first place.
It’s not that Mac and Trixie need an extra edge. They already have that. The Funky Munky is a joint where you can get some down home western cookin’ in a region where a big, fat hamburger is a mighty rare find. At the Funky Munky there are twenty-four different kinds of burgers on the menu. But it gets better – at least if you’re British. Every Sunday they serve up a traditional roast dinner with the Yorkshire pudding and the vegetables. You can get sausage and mash. Fish and chips. Meat pies. And to wash it all down there are several beers to select from including Chang, Singha, Angkor and Asahi. The menu goes on and on.
Still, they were looking for something special. Not that the Sunday roast dinner isn’t unique in a place like Siem Reap but there are more days in the week than Sunday and not everybody is British. So they put up a large television and screened the World Cup. Until Portugal ended England’s hopes (“robbed” the British say) all was well at the Funky Munky. They began a quiz night – a sort of local trivia contest – that has become popular. From time to time they air a movie on the television set and this also brings people in the door.
It was in their continuing quest to attract customers that they came up with Pie and Darts Night. For a while, despite the lack of a proper dartboard and the availability of only plastic darts, the new promotion went well. They served meat pies and a crowd developed around the board. Even the local lizards make a nightly appearance.
But then a bad, bad thing happened. Another bar in town created something better. They called it Free Beer Night. Not surprisingly, Pie and Darts Night bit the big one fast.
This is not to say the Funky Munky doesn’t still serve pies. They do – even apple pie with vanilla ice cream. This is not to say that there still isn’t a board on the wall, a stack of plastic darts and the lizards. They are there and during my several hours in the establishment many people wandered in for a game. This is to say that I traveled 10,000 miles to Cambodia for a Pie and Darts Night that went caput months ago.
After five hours, six beers, an order of fish and chips and throwing plastic darts at a beat up paper wound board without wires I found myself pondering my day. I thought about the temples and their nearly millennium-long struggle to survive the competition – the wars, the elements, and the roots of gigantic trees. I thought about Mom and her almost hopeless struggle to survive her competition – poverty – and someday realize her dream of being a dancer.
It felt good to learn something of the history of a place and time about which I knew nothing a day before. It felt good to in some small way help a child who has so little.
Perhaps, I thought, I can do something for Mac and Trixie. I guess I was just in a downright doing-good-things mood.
They welcomed me into their restaurant and bar and, even though I’m not British, don’t know cockney rhyming slang, and don’t think England was robbed at the World Cup, they were humble as I stomped them repeatedly on their pitiful dartboard at their national sport. And then they refused to let me pay for my drinks or dinner. Hell, even if I wasn’t in a doing good things mood I was frickin’ obligated to do something nice in return.
The Funky Munky is great restaurant and bar and even though the darts set up is rudimentary as I write this, the interest in darts in Siem Reap is keen. Mac and Trixie are ardent fans who for years have followed the careers of Eric Bristow, John Lowe, Jocky Wilson, Bobby George and Phil Taylor. They are struggling ambassadors of the game in a far away place.
Mac and Trixie’s Funky Munky is the only establishment in Siem Reap and the only one in all of Cambodia (but for a couple Phnom Penh) that provides any opportunity for someone to learn and love the sport of darts.
Mac and Trixie need a proper dartboard. They need proper darts. They need flights and shafts. They need a scoreboard. They need the equipment to be successful ambassadors in a far away place.
I promised to send them a board and a couple of sets of darts. My package will have been received by the time you read these words.
Now I encourage you to help them too – to do anything you can. Shove a set of flights in an envelope. Send some shafts. Maybe you can send an out chart. Perhaps you have a spare paper toe line or a sharpening stone.
Here’s the address:
Mac and Trixie Witney
c/o Funky Munky Bar and Diner
292 Pokambor Avenue
Siem Reap Province
Siem Reap District
Kingdom of Cambodia
Perhaps you will also consider putting a dollar bill or a quid or two in a separate envelope and include it with the darts paraphernalia you send to Mac and Trixie. If you mark the envelope “Mom” I guarantee that it will get to where it is supposed to go, be appreciated to an extent you can’t possibly imagine and help a very special little girl have a chance at a better life.
Thanks in advance for whatever you can do help Mom and help darts gain a toe hold in Cambodia. And if you’re ever in the region stop by the Funky Munky. Check it out at www.funkymunkycambodia.com. You’re guaranteed to have a terrific time.
From the Field,
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