Wednesday, 30 January 2013

ASIAN UPDATE: Assault with a deadly sound system

Another report from our roving Asian correspondent, Suzuki Samurai—this time from his language school in rural Cambodia.
Each day in Asia I see something mental; but some sights and sounds are more insane than others. Today (Sunday) started out inspiring, then ended up surreal and downright stupid. I write this at the very culmination of the insanity.
The day started well: blue skies and the ubiquitous smiles of the locals; but today was also graduation day at the school in which I’m resident—I was looking forward to being part of it.
The school’s Deutsche sponsors were in town for the event, so the locals laid it on. Colourful sun covers, a stage, and what was the largest sound system ever devised by man for a school event. The speaker stack was 3 meters high by 4 meters long; this in a courtyard of just 40 square meters. A rather pleasant Cherman fella, who seemed to know what he was talking about, reliably told me he counted 5000 watts of amplifiers.  We could have hosted Shihad, with several thousand decibels to spare.
Now I’ve been to many, many rock concerts over the years in stadiums, clubs and pubs everywhere from NZ to Vietnam. I love my rock and punk very raucous and very, very loud, as I’m sure some of you who know me will testify. I have even been known to make the scotch-fuelled decision to be part of a last-gasp night-club adventure; even though I hate the places and their thump thump thump.  
But those places are quiet. By comparison. What I was about to experience was assault with a deadly sound system.
The graduation started as you’d expect. At 12:06  students between 6 & 16 began coming forward all smiles, handshakes, hands in palm-to-palm prayer ‘thank yous’ as Cambodians do, a photo. All great stuff. All very humbling. Time for a tear or two.This part of the show was over by about 12:54pm.
Then it started…and at maximum volume.
What erupted out of this ginormous PA system was a deafening combination of something like Khmer folk music mashed up with dupstep, and ignited with gelignite. Something like a fireworks convention in a flammable phosphorus factory. 
It’s still going. It has been going now for 7 hours straight. As I write this it is 8.04pm, and 150 small Cambodian children have going nuts to a  head-splitting racket all afternoon, all within a few meters of a sound that had me seeking respite in my room at 2.30pm.Everyone is having a good time (everyone except for me and zee Chermans). Of course, Cambodian lives are hell a lot of the time, so we can hardly begrudge their enjoyment, but this is just irresponsible & bloody dangerous for the kids’ hearing—not to mention mine—but not a soul here seems either to understand or care.    
This phenomenon is not exclusive to Cambodia however. It’s ubiquitous. You can see it in Vietnam, in China, in Thailand; at weddings, product launches, parties, shop openings, everything—including graduations. I’ve seen (and heard) MCs screaming into microphones so loudly the distortion is making it almost impossible to hear; madmen with bull horns speaking directly into the face of someone standing a foot in front of them; dancers at night clubs in which the music is so loud and the room so small its almost palpable it’s like being assaulted by dark matter. I’ve even been to a coffee shop in Vietnam at 10am in the morning, for what I hoped would be a quiet coffee and a cigarette, only to be assaulted by nightclub-level volume in a place which hosted what appeared to be business people each trying to concentrate on the material on their laptops.    
I’ve been told today that Cambodians like the music to be insanely loud to show off to their neighbours, including those in the next town, that ‘we are having a good time, with huge sounds, so we must be enormously rich.’  Q.E.D. apparently. Such notions of showing off are frighteningly popular in modern Asia: if you’ve got a bankroll you have to flash it around, drive a black sedan, be a pig to service staff, and above all else walk with a strut and generally behave like a complete wanker.
If you’re not? Then just pretend.  
Who knows who you might fool.
Suzuki Samurai posts irregularly from around Asia. Check out all his posts here.OWWW


  1. It is quite similar to what patrons of the Rugby Sevens will endure at Wellington's stadium this weekend, except your Cambodians had a better sound system and classier taste in music.

  2. As someone who married a kiwi cambodian and spent some time in cambo, I feel your pain. Nice people but loud as fuck.

  3. Hilarious, during my time in Jakarta I found that malls and in particular cinema's were not air-conditioned but outright chilled!

    Always needed a jacket to watch a movie.


1. Commenters are welcome and invited.
2. All comments are moderated. Off-topic grandstanding, spam, and gibberish will be ignored. Tu quoque will be moderated.
3. Read the post before you comment. Challenge facts, but don't simply ignore them.
4. Use a name. If it's important enough to say, it's important enough to put a name to.
5. Above all: Act with honour. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.