A Phnom Penh gangster. Taken on the balcony of a room behind the Old Market (Psar Chas), overlooking street 110. “Gangster” has a specific meaning, essentially petty criminals specialising in bag-snatching and burglary. Distinguished by tattoos like this one – anyone who has a tattoo like this has marked himself off from normal respectable society. Usually, of course, the tattoo is covered by a shirt. “Gangsters” tend to have brief lives, much of it spent in jail. If people catch them committing a crime the mob’ll beat them to death – sometimes the police try to save them, sometimes not, but most often they simply don’t arrive.
The gangs are violent – this from a Phnom Penh post article in 2010:
“Earlier this month a student was killed and others suffered serious injuries after fights against rival gangs in the centre of the capital, and samurai swords are still the weapon of choice for the gangs. The fighting is brutal and the injuries horrific, but the authorities do not seem to be able to stop it.”
The article makes some very good points about what leads kids to join gangs, but essentially it strikes me as the inevitable result of a society and economy that can’t provide employment, recreation, or even much family life for its young people.
Interesting article here about life in the poorer parts of the city – mentions gangs and much else, though nothing in depth.