WE PULL UP outside the Centre. The dust resettles on the path, I pay my driver two dollars and slide my helmet off. Sweat trickles down my back as I pull my hair off my neck and tie it into an unruly bun. It’s 8.30 am, but the sun is piercing through the smog as if it is midday. I enter the gate and a boy smiles at me, clasps his hands together under his chin and lowers his head. He takes my helmet and bag off my shoulder and heads to my office. The other teenagers bow slightly and smile as I begin my long walk up the outdoor corridor. The staff, only a couple of years older, hug me and we stroll with arms linked as we catch up on the weekend.
After two years here, the unspoken rules of male–female affection don’t apply to me. Maybe no rules apply here, in this underworld of street kids. I’m sure it looks that way to any visitor, Cambodian or otherwise. But it is not lawless, just different. They wear their jeans low off their hips below their underwear line, have tattoos and piercings and their hair dyed bright yellow or pink. They strut rather than walk and I’m sure that if I met any of them in a dark alley I would be terrified.
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