I now own a Cambodian cow - a live one - but I have grave fears for it's safety.
I blew a lot of shit up on Monday and I shot me quite a few coconuts as well. It was a blast.
On the drive back to Phnom Penh from Siam Reap on my last day in Cambodia, my intrepid Cambodian guide Johnny asked me again if I wanted to shoot and bomb stuff. I had been thinking about it for a couple of days and I couldn't see why not so I told Johnny that I would. I told him that I would like to shoot and blow some stuff up.
I asked Johnny whether I could also drive a tank around and fire the tank gun. He told me that he hadn't heard back from his brother Rambo on that but he would ask the General when we got to the army camp. He told me that he didn't think it would be a problem. The army base that we went to wasn't too far from the Phnom Penh airport and I had a couple of hours up my sleeve before I had to fly home. Firing a rocket launcher seemed like as good a way as any to pass the time.
When we got to the army camp we were met by a fairly elderly General who was accompanied by a couple of Cambodian soldiers dressed in army fatigues. Both the soldiers were carrying rifles and the General was adorned in a splendid khaki green uniform with a jacket that was emblazoned with medals. Lots of them. The General seemed genuinely pleased to see me. Johnny and Rambo had made some calls about our arrival so the General and the soldiers were expecting us.
When I alighted the car I gave the General a serious salute which he and both of the soldiers returned and the General then warmly shook my hand. None of the Cambodian army dudes spoke any English so Johnny translated for us. I thanked the General for letting me come to his base and told him that I was looking forward to blowing some things up. The General told me that I was most welcome and then he asked me for some money. I handed it over. I asked the General whether I could take some photos of me shooting and blowing things up. When Johnny translated this request the General grimaced a bit and one of the soldiers pointed his gun at me. I took that as a no and put my Blackberry away in my pocket.
The General then smiled broadly, saluted me again and marched off.
Johnny and I and the two soldiers than climbed into an old and beaten up military jeep and drove down a dusty dirt trail. We drove into a jungle that was thick with trees and creepers. Johnny and I sat in the back seat and the two soldiers sat up front. It was a bumpy ten minute ride.
Our destination was a clearing in the midst of the jungle. It was very steamy and hot. At the edge of the clearing there were a couple of wicked looking machine guns waiting for us as well as two rocket launchers and a box full of ammunition and bomb looking things. About a hundred meters or so away on the far side of the clearing was a felled tree on which were placed a dozen or so coconuts.
I was a bit alarmed when I observed that a cow was tethered next to the felled tree. The cow was fairly skinny and sickly looking but it looked quite calm. It was grey in color and had big brown doleful eyes. It was munching away on some tufts of grass.
I told Johnny that I didn't want to shoot the cow or blow it up. I told him that I had no interest in harming the cow at all. He had a rapid fire conversation in Khmer to the two soldiers who seemed puzzled at first and then a bit agitated. I instructed Johnny to tell them that I was a pacifist by nature and I didn't want to kill anything. There were more animated discussions before one of the soldiers pulled out a walkie talkie and barked some orders into it. About five minutes later another jeep pulled up and two different soldiers jumped out. One of them untethered the cow and walked it away and the other one drove the jeep back into the jungle.
I have mentioned in an earlier post that I have never shot a gun before in my life. Nor have I blown anything up. I am a shooting and bombing virgin. I must confess though that I was looking forward to the experience because I doubted that I would ever get the chance again.
It was a one off event.
After the cow was safely led away one of the soldiers picked up a gun and handed it to me. It was quite heavy and it smelt of engine oil. Johhny told me that the weapon was a fully automatic AK47 and it had a full magazine of bullets.
The AK47 was first developed by the Russians during the Second World War and it is a formidable weapon. There are both automatic and semi automatic versions of the gun. The Chinese produced their own range of AK47's - including a type that is also able to launch grenades. This is the type I was given to shoot.
Fully automatic and able to launch grenades.
I asked Johnny what I was supposed to do now and he told me that the magazine was full and I should fire away at the coconuts. So I did. I pulled the trigger and held it down and I blew those coconuts away. The gun kicked like a mule and it got quite hot but I have to say it was very good fun.
It was exhilarating.
The coconuts never stood a chance.
It only took twenty or so seconds before the magazine was empty and I was gagging for more. One of the soldiers picked up the other gun and handed it to me. This one was fitted with a bomb looking thing. Johnny informed me that it was a grenade and all I had to do was aim and fire. There were no coconuts left on the felled tree and the tree itself was riddled with bullets but I took aim regardless and pulled the trigger. My shot missed the remains of the felled tree but the shot blew a palm tree that was immediately behind it to smithereens. It was very loud and spectacular.
It was sensational.
I wanted to do it again.
Smithereens is an Irish word. It is derived from the modern gaelic word 'smidirin' which means 'small fragments'. The Irish have been blowing the English and each other to smithereens for centuries.
One of the soldiers picked up the rocket launcher and handed it to me. He spoke again to Johnny who asked me if I was sure that I didn't want to blow up the cow. He told me I could turn it into hamburger. I assured him that I was quite happy just shooting trees. Both he and the soldiers seemed a little disappointed but I didn't give a fuck. The soldier helped me position the rocket launcher on my shoulder and he put my finger on the trigger. He then took a couple of steps back. It was very heavy and I could feel my shoulder sag. The trigger was stiff and it took quite an effort to pull it. I once again aimed at the remnants of the felled tree and I pulled the trigger very hard. I could feel the rocket surge as gas ignited and I could smell cordite as the projectile fired.
It made a 'whooshing' noise.
The concussion knocked me backwards and I fell on my ass and Johnny and the soldiers thought that this was hysterical. I missed the felled tree again but half the jungle seemed to explode and catch on fire. It was very loud.
I wanted more.
I fired the rocket launcher two more times and I blew the jungle to pieces. I wanted to go and have a closer look at the carnage I had caused so we all strolled down to the hit point. A couple of trees were smoking and smoldering and there was splintered wood everywhere. It was very impressive. It was also as hot as all hell so the soldiers and Johnny and I moved into the shade.
I gave the boys a cigarette and we all smoked while we waited for the tank to arrive.
The tank wasn't very long in coming and I heard it before I saw it. It rumbled and clunked it's way through the jungle towards us and pulled up about twenty or so meters from where we were standing. It wasn't a very big tank and it was much smaller than I had expected. There was a bit more jabbering between Johnny and the soldiers in Khmer before Johnny told me that I couldn't actually drive the tank but I could shoot it's gun. I told him that this was fine by me. I jumped up on the turret with one of the soldiers and it clanked it's way back to where I had fired the AK47 and the rocket launcher.
The hatch opened and a tiny Cambodian soldier emerged. He was covered in sweat. I squeezed my way down into the tank and into the armored oven. It was so hot I could hardly breathe. There was another little Cambodian soldier inside and he showed me levers that moved the gun turret and a red button that I had to press to fire. There was a periscope thing through which I could take aim. He showed me four fingers on his hand which I assumed meant that I had four shots available.
I took aim at the remnants of the trees I had already blown up and I fired away and I then blew large tracts of the jungle away.
I can only imagine what damage I would have caused to the cow.
The whole shooting and blowing up exercise took less than an hour and I was covered in oil and sweat and I stank of explosive. My ears were ringing and I was grinning from ear to ear. I really enjoyed blowing trees up.
It was exceptionally good fun.
As we were driving back to our car in the jeep Johnny asked me what I wanted to do with the cow. He told me that I had actually bought it in the shooting and blowing up package. I told Johnny that I didn't think that I could take it back to Singapore with me but I asked him whether he would like it. He laughed and told me that he didn't have room for it in his Phnom Penh apartment.
I told Johnny to give the cow back to the soldiers. I also asked him whether he thought it would be safe and looked after. Johnny told me that he thought it would be OK but I somehow doubt it. I have grave fears for my cow's safety. I suspect that it will soon be shot or blown up by a western tourist.
It may have been already.