Originally from Thailand, Oak Chan has been part owner of Blue Chilli since it opened its doors in 2006. He has been a huge supporter of the drag queen show, here in Phnom Penh, as well as in Thailand, and performs in his own shows twice weekly at Blue Chilli Pub. Read on as he tells Stephanie Mee about his path to success in Phnom Penh’s vibrant drag queen scene.
Stephanie: What made you want to come to Phnom Penh to open a bar?
Oak: I came to Cambodia as a tourist two years ago, and I fell in love with the people and the country. At that time there was only one other gay bar in Phnom Penh, (Salt Lounge) and so I thought it would be a good idea to open another place for the gay community.
S: When and why did you start doing drag shows?
O: In February this year, I decided to throw a few parties at the bar. I saw that not many people knew about drag shows in the city, and I thought it would be fun to do something different and exciting. After a few months, the parties became very popular, and so we decided to make them a weekly event.
S: Where did you find the performers?
O: All the performers are staff and some customers of Blue Chilli. We get together every week and practise new songs, try out new outfits, and make up new acts that are sometimes serious and sometimes funny.
S: Do you find that the shows are well accepted in Phnom Penh by the community at large?
O: I think so. In Cambodia there is a word for ladyboy, which is the same as in Thailand – katoey – have you heard it before?
S: Yes, but does isn’t it a derogatory word?
O: No – not necessarily. It just means a man who dresses or acts like a lady, and it can be a normal word, depending on who says it, and their meaning behind saying it. In Cambodia people are very kind, and I think the shows are great entertainment for everybody, not just gay people. We have a very mixed crowd for the shows.
S: I’ve noticed that every Friday and Saturday you have a large, mixed crowd as well as a group of moto and tuk-tuk drivers, and passing people who gather outside to watch the shows.
O: Yes, everybody can enjoy them (the shows).
S: How does Cambodia’s ladyboy scene differ from Thailand’s?
O: In Thailand, the scene has been around for a long time, and so it has progressed into a large and very open community. Here, the scene is just starting and so it will take time before it is as popular as in Thailand.
S: Where do you see the future of drag shows in Cambodia going?
O: There are many bars that do drag shows opening in Phnom Penh now, and I think that in the future it will get much busier, and much more popular.
S: What is your favorite part about doing the shows?
O: I just love entertaining people, and making the customers happy. The customers are so important to us, and when we do the shows, we can see that they are having fun and enjoying themselves. Everybody has fun, and that is the best thing about the shows.
Blue Chilli’s drag shows run every Friday and Saturday night at 11:00 PM sharp. They usually pull in a pretty substantial crowd, so unless you don’t mind standing, get there early.