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Weather, Moto Scams, Police, MoT FAQ, Home and Away

Temple Projects, Copyrights, Banks, Visas, Khmer New Year

In Memory, Safety, Ratanakiri, Borders, Singapore, Poipet

Commune Elections, Logging, Roads, A Short FAQ

Copyrights, Rumors, Anlong Veng, Siem Reap News, Scams

Nightclub Closings, Slum Fires, Overland Travel

Every Cambodia Update: August 2001 to the present

Cambodia Update

June 2002

1.) In Memory (again)...
2.) A clarification
3.) Bangkok health care
4.) Pharmacies
5.) Another clarification
6.) Siem Reap - Poipet road news
7.) Police services
8.) Airport departure taxes revisited
9.) Perspective


In Memory (again)...

I can't believe I'm doing this again, just three months since the last.

Greg Schuske. 34 years old. American ex-pat usually known to live in Phnom Penh and sometimes Pattaya, Thailand. Gadget freak. All around supremely nice guy. Pragmatist. True friend. Realist. Great drinking partner and billiard opponent. Bullshit detector extraordinaire. Smiled a lot. Read, wrote, and spoke Thai extremely well. Optimist. Laughed a lot. Probably still laughing.

Early in May out with a group of friends, traveling between bars, about two o'clock in the morning a car veered into the wrong side of Norodom Blvd and plowed head-on into Greg on his motorcycle. The car fled the scene. There were a couple of witnesses, foreigners, but rather than giving chase to the fleeing vehicle they turned their attentions to Greg who had been knocked instantly unconscious. But Greg was only the lead bike of the group and several of his friends were on the scene in a minute. Like probably 98% of motorcycle riders (foreign and Cambodian), Greg wasn't wearing a helmet.

Phone calls were made to the US embassy, and to the police and an emergency services vehicle was summoned. The ambulance turned up after thirty minutes. The police turned up in forty. Greg's friends on the scene watched him pass away in twenty minutes without ever gaining consciousness.

I only met Greg last year. He had a room in a house shared by a number of friends of mine, which is how I met him. He was a computer programmer for the University of Colorado, but due to the wonders of e-mail and internet, he could live in Southeast Asia while still performing his duties in the States.

He loved his gadgets, and often carried a PDA with him. So much he took the thing with him on a motorcycle trip through the Cardamom Mountains, Greg got through, the bike got through, but the PDA got smashed. He shrugged it off with a laugh and got another one.

I had many night's out with Greg, most often at Sharky Bar, sometimes Martini's, and if it was really late, Howie's. He was one of the easiest guys to talk to and I highly appreciated his no bullshit outlook on life that was combined with a ready sense of humor that rarely allowed him to take himself too seriously. And if he thought you were taking your own self too seriously he'd be quick with a comment that would destroy any notion of importance to what you were feeling and reminding you in a funny way completely absent of malice or even offense that your real place in life was nowhere near the one you had imagined. And you couldn't help but to appreciate that.

Unfortunately, it seems no death in Cambodia, no matter how tragic and sudden, can occur in a simple respectful manner. In the case of my friend Lucky, it was robbing his body and the refusal to provide treatment at the hospital due to that very robbery. With Greg, it wasn't so much the hospital services, Greg had died on the scene, and there was nothing for the police to rob because his friends had the foresight to remove his valuables prior to their arrival. But it was the handling of the situation after his death by the US embassy and also the grossly inaccurate report provided by the English-language newspaper, The Cambodia Daily that left a sour taste in the mouths of Greg's friends and family.

It is the policy of the US embassy in Cambodia that in the event of a US citizen's death, a representative of the embassy will notify the family, inventory the deceased's possessions and handle arrangements for transporting the body and personal effects back to the States, though billing the family for this service in excessive amounts. A perfectly respectful funeral at a Buddhist temple in Cambodia can be performed for as little as 50,000 riels ($12.50). Anyway, the embassy policy is reasonable and understandable in the case of a tourist who may have no friends in the country or though possibly traveling with companions, said partners may have no idea how to handle these matters in Cambodia.

But Greg was not a tourist and Greg had a lot of friends. Good friends.

At the accident scene, no time was wasted in notifying the US embassy that one of their citizens had died. Greg's friends also wasted no time in contacting his family in the States and in fact made contact with the family faster than the embassy did. This did not go over well with the embassy. Tough shit.

In making contact, friends in Cambodia and family in the USA discussed the practical matters such as what to do with Greg's possessions, making funeral arrangements, etc. Greg's family trusted his friends to handle the issue of Greg's possessions, selling items which should be sold and using that money to pay any funeral and cremation expenses and providing financial help to Greg's girlfriend. Possessions not having cash value would either be sent back to the States or disposed of under the discretion of his friends. Thus, the only duty for the US embassy would be to sort out the paperwork necessary for certifying the death of a US citizen abroad. Everybody was happy with this arrangement. Everybody except the US embassy, that is.

The US embassy made repeated attempts to inventory Greg's possessions with the purpose of then shipping all of them back to the States at the family's expense. Okay, fine. But Greg's family and friends had already made a decision as to what to do with these items and everybody was happy with this. If you are an American and you die in the United States do the authorities insist upon barging into your home and inventorying your possessions? So why are they doing it here when friends and family have stated not to?

Then there was the matter of funeral services. It was decided that Greg's body would be cremated at a local Wat in a Buddhist ceremony. Half the ashes would remain in Cambodia, half would be sent home. The US embassy continued sticking its hands in every little matter. Okay, guys, you want to arrange transportation of the body from Calmette Hospital to the temple? Okay, do it. But, Greg's mother SPECIFICALLY STATED TO THE US EMBASSY IN CAMBODIA THAT GREG'S BODY WOULD BE IN A CLOSED CASKET. Nobody cared if it was a particularly nice casket, only that it was closed, and would remain closed at all times.

So what happened? An ambulance from the hospital arrived carrying Greg's body. The body was on a stretcher, exposed to the world. Immediately, in an extraordinarily disrespectful display of behavior, a group of Cambodians attending another funeral, swarmed around the body, gawked and stared, some even took photographs. Greg's friends were dumbstruck. The local idiots were chased off and the ceremony went as planned, save for the lack of a coffin.

Finally, when it was time to send the ashes back home, one of Greg's friends sought to include in the box, a video tape and several photographs of the funeral. "Well, it's against policy," said a US embassy representative, but seeing the murderous stare on the face of Greg's friend, reconsidered, "well, okay, I can do it just this time," saying it as if it was a major breach of regulations.

In case anyone forgot or didn't know, I am an American citizen. This is my embassy, my representation, my funding. And I am thoroughly embarrassed and angered by their arrogant, incompetent, disgraceful behavior. You all should be thoroughly ashamed with yourselves. Better yet, get out of Cambodia and go home, you're not doing any US citizen any good with this level of ineptitude.

I'll save the debacles with immigrant visas and adoptions for another column.

Cambodia Daily, you're next.

Just what standards in journalism are you seeking to promote? You claim to be some bastion for high standards in journalism but you couldn't even get a simple story on the tragic death of an American ex-pat correct. I suppose it shouldn't matter that the Daily is owned by an American and is read largely by the ex-pat community, so you really were reporting on one of your own.

One of your reporters (a Khmer, no doubt part of your, umm, training program) phoned Adam Parker, close friend and housemate of the deceased to obtain information on Greg. Parker provided you the proper spelling of Greg's name, Schuske, his occupation, Computer Programmer for the University of Colorado, and the manner in which he died, a head-on collision in a hit and run accident by a car driving on the wrong side of the road. None of this information was accurately reported. Okay, newspapers make mistakes.

Upon publication of a highly fictitious report, Adam Parker came to your office in person to correct this information. And in your printed correction you still got the basic facts surrounding the accident and his employment status wrong.

Do you now expect us to take anything else you report seriously? This was not a difficult story, guys, but more importantly, it's not the kind of story you want to get wrong, either. People do care.

While I can't control the Cambodia Daily or how it reports the news, I, and anyone else living overseas can at least leave instructions with our friends, family, and embassy as to how to handle our effects, obligations, and of course, are bodies, should we come to an untimely end. That is a matter I, and several other Americans and Brits I know here, are privately addressing in the wake of this fiasco.

It's bad enough when you lose a friend and a family loses a son, there's a lot to deal with which everybody handles in their own way, but the actions of the US embassy did nothing but exasperate a tragic situation. I don't expect a whole lot from a US embassy, but a little more compassion, understanding, and human rather than bureaucratic behavior would go a long way. Think about it, guys.

And with all this embassy nonsense, I can only imagine Greg observing it all. He'd raise his arms, shake his head and laugh, "Can you believe it?" he'd say, "My own embassy! Me!" pointing to his chest, "I mean, but, what can you do!!? Unbelievable!" And he'd laugh, raise his glass, "Oh, well" and have a drink. We're with you, man. We love you.

Greg Schuske

An oddity

An oddity... As I'm rather dense about technical aspects of websites, etc. I'm not sure how to fix this bug, but apparently people who enter this site using "www.tales..." opposed to not typing "www" are often not shown the most updated page on certain sections of this site. If you have entered this site using "www" and you encounter any dead links or see an older version of a page that I claim elsewhere to be updated, please hit either the "refresh" button (which for me, doesn't always solve the problem) or reenter the website without typing "www". Sorry for the inconvenience. I will try to get this sorted out quickly.

A clarification

Last month I took the Cambodia Ministry of Tourism to task for publishing on their website what I considered to be an erroneous and downright irresponsible FAQ. In a conversation with a fellow ex-pat it was suggested that I was overly harsh in my condemnation of medical standards and perhaps irresponsible myself for possibly frightening away would be tourists by giving the impression that Cambodia is an unhealthy place rife with third world communicable diseases.

Is quality health care available in Cambodia? Yes. Is it comprehensive? No. I mentioned several places in Phnom Penh where decent, albeit limited, health care is available, the Naga Health Clinic, SOS Clinic, and on Mao Tse Tung Blvd are several Chinese clinics including Ta Cheng Hospital which some people seem to like. In Siem Reap, if faced with an emergency, head to the Angkor Hospital for Children. This is an NGO hospital, and as its name suggests, is geared for treating children, but they'll fix you up as they can. Any of these places can offer acceptable emergency services, but overall, levels of health and health care in Cambodia are not up to international standards. Evacuation to Bangkok is still the best course of action.

As for the diseases, well, don't be afraid to come here. Though a lot of problems do exist that aren't found in developed nations, much of this can be attributed to poor diet, lack of preventive medicine, and ignorance of basic matters of health and hygiene. As a result, foreign tourists are not likely to be affected by many of the health problems that concern locals. The most likely problem for tourists is a tummy upset or vehicle accident. More serious illnesses are far more apt to affect expats (i.e. dengue, malaria, etc.).

Bangkok health care

Okay, I've suggested heading to Bangkok for health care, but how good is it? I'm of the opinion (and an opinion which I am far from the only one promoting) that health care in Bangkok is one of the best bargains in the world. Off-hand I can think of three private hospitals, two of which I've used a number of times, that offer services of an international standard at a cost which is a fraction of what one would pay in the USA. These hospitals are Bumrungrad Hospital on Sukhumvit Soi 3, Bangkok Nursing Home (no, it's not an old folks home) on Soi Convent (between Silom and Sathorn), and Bangkok General Hospital on New Petchburi Road. I've never used BGH but I've had nothing but positive experiences in using Bumrungrad and BNH.

I remember back in June 1999 when a very nasty case of food poisoning sent me to the emergency room at Bangkok Nursing Home. ER treatment, one night in a private-room, and 24 hours on an IV, that would be at least a grand in the States, a bit more perhaps? The bill, which my insurance covered about 80% of, was the equivalent of roughly, if memory is correct, about $160 US!!!

While there are a number of reasons why people come to Thailand for a holiday, one such reason is health. Yes, Thailand receives health tourists. Why? Because health care as good here as in the west. Need a hip replacement? Come here. Bypass surgery? That's only a few thousand dollars in Bangkok.

I highly recommend that any one planning to live in Cambodia get health insurance with a Thailand provider. I use BUPA/Blue Cross, paying about $400 US a year, (that's right, not a month, a YEAR!!!!) giving me access to first class medical service in Bangkok. Emergency evacuation to Bangkok from Cambodia is included in my policy.

The downside is that these hospitals are private, for profit (Bumrungrad is listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand) hospitals and despite their bargain fees (by western, or at least US, standards), are rather expensive by Thai standards and many Thais, not having insurance, cannot avail themselves of these facilities.


Staying on the health topic - pharmacies. Are counterfeit drugs a problem in Cambodia and what can you do to avoid being stuck with a packet of sugar capsules?

Most pharmacies in Cambodia (at least in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and other provincial capitals) dispense legitimate medication. If there's anything dodgy about the medication it's more likely how the medicine was obtained rather than the medicine itself. Don't think about it.

My advice, and a western doctor agreed it's reasonably sound advice, is that you do not accept any medication without inspecting all the packaging. Check the blister packs for a lot number and expiration date and than match these numbers with the numbers on the box. If a pharmacy tries to hand you a bag of pills with no packaging or disappears to the back to fill your order, refuse the drugs. I have seen counterfeit medication and it was almost ludicrous in its shoddy packaging - no lot numbers, no identifiable manufacturer, nothing.

In Siem Reap, the Psah Chas pharmacy has always been reliable. They are located opposite Psah Chas on the same side of the street as the Ivy Bar and Guesthouse but on the other end of the block, two stores down from CD World. Don't confuse them with the other pharmacy in the middle of the block. In Phnom Penh there are several pharmacies on the block east of the south side of the Central Market that I've never had problems with. A lot of expats use the pharmacy next to the Lucky Market on Sihanouk Blvd. The Pharmacie de la Gare on Monivong near the train station is a reputable business but they are probably the only place in Phnom Penh that tries to maintain some kind of western ethic in the dispensation of drugs and they won't hand over whatever pain-killers or sedatives you want (though just about any other place will). On that note, what drugs are available in Cambodia without a prescription? Basically anything that's ever been manufactured in pill form and maybe then some. Yes, anything.

Another clarification

I was recently talking with a tourist who had read a bit of this website and he raised an interesting point. Why is it that I advocate not haggling too much over the price of a souvenir t-shirt at the Angkor temples yet fiercely advocate being sure of getting the local price on public transport (pick-up trucks and share taxis) and refusing to pay anything more?

As I see it, they are completely different situations.

The idea of fluid pricing for transportation based solely on one's nationality rankles me no end. That I, as a foreigner, should be expected to pay double or triple to ride in the same vehicle experiencing the same discomfort as a local, simply because I am seen as a stupid and/or rich foreigner is absolutely unacceptable without exception. If my better financial circumstances put me above the poor local next to me, then I can use this advantage to either fly, pay for a private taxi, or as I do, pay double for two seats, affording myself some extra comfort that way.

With the locals, there is rarely any bargaining for transportation. There is a fixed price which they all pay. Why should we be subjected to haggling and overcharging simply because we are not Cambodian? I am sorry, there is no justifiable home field advantage here. A seat in a truck is a seat in a truck.

But the purchasing of souvenirs is another matter. There is no home field advantage here, either. The price a t-shirt seller quotes will be the same for you as it is for a Cambodian tourist. A shirt is a shirt. A tourist is a tourist. There is no local discount.

Furthermore, transportation is a necessity. Granted, we don't have to come to Cambodia, but we do come here, we are allowed to enter and we are encouraged to visit as much of the country as possible. Why then, should we be expected to pay extra to get around?

But nobody has to buy a t-shirt, a krama, a flute, or any other souvenir for that matter. It's an entirely optional purchase and the seller has every right to try to get as much money for the product as possible. Unfortunately they don't do a very good job of it and regrettably, it's entirely their own fault. Supply exceeds demand, and Khmers are all too willing to conduct business at pathetically low profit margins leaving hardly any profit for anyone (and then they complain about being poor...!). Can you imagine a shop located in or adjacent to a national park in the United States selling a souvenir t-shirt at a 7% mark-up over cost? Of course not, prices are marked-up 200, 300, even 500%!!! But in Cambodia they do sell them that cheaply because if one vendor doesn't, the next seller will and they don't want to lose the sale. So go a little easy on the bargaining, okay?

Siem Reap - Poipet road news

Yes, this tired topic again. I covered this route on the 20th of May and can report that the highway continues to deteriorate since that wonderful construction of early 2001. While the road is certainly passable, it's becoming an increasingly bumpier ride with every journey, and getting slower in the process. I don't see the road becoming impassable this rainy season or even so bad as to lead to eight-hour journeys (it took three and a half on my most recent trip), but I do predict that in short order there will be a few potholes nearly large enough to swallow a truck.

To read about the road and the journey in exhaustive detail, jump over to my overland page.

Meanwhile, the seemingly utter disregard for maintenance of what is one of the most important road links in the country is disturbing. Granted, there is some construction going on between Poipet and Sisophon and the tarmac is being extended west from Siem Reap, but large sections of the highway have been totally neglected since the initial and commendable effort of raising, widening, packing, and grading in 2001. Would it be so difficult to bring out a few truckloads of dirt and take care of the road a bit? Am I supposed to believe that there is no money for such a project? Or is it another case of sitting on one's hands waiting for some foreign country or the ADB (Asian Development Bank) to cough up the money? Hey, why spend your own money when somebody else will give you a hand-out, right? Don't they get it? Don't they understand the economic benefits of a proper road link?

Well, they do. The government frequently talks about the need for proper roads and the resulting benefits they provide and the country is full of construction projects. But can't they build a road that will hold up for more than eight months? The effort that went into the Sisophon to Siem Reap road in 2001 has this year been extended to the Battambang to Phnom Penh road which will likely be a wonderful highway to drive on this year. But what will it be like in 2003? Crap, probably.

I realize that building a properly paved highway is an extremely expensive undertaking and I'm not expecting the government to immediately pave the entire country. But guys, when you put so much effort into making a proper dirt road, couldn't you try maintaining the thing a little bit better until the money is available to pave the thing? Think about it.

Police services

The Cambodia police are corrupt. That's not news. What public servant wouldn't be on a $20 monthly salary? But can you still rely on them to provide decent service? Surprisingly perhaps, I've had reasonable levels of success with the police here and other expats have also reported acceptable results in getting the necessary justice felt to be their due. The police are most certainly the best that money can buy.

And that's the key. The police often will do their job and do it correctly if you pay them. $20-30 plus expenses seems to be the going rate for most minor issues. It also helps to be friendly with a few officers.

So if it takes money to get them to their jobs to what extent will this money buy their services? Interestingly perhaps, a majority of police will not run scams for you for any amount of money. If you have a personal problem with somebody and you think you can file a bogus report with the police, pay them off, and have your nemesis hauled in, found guilty of some imaginary crime, you are in for a rude and expensive surprise. The police will accept your report, take your money, determine your claim is nonsense, probably sit down with your enemy and have a few drinks together all the while laughing at your stupidity. The only thing you'll get, other than an emptier wallet, is hopefully you will become wiser as to the ways and limitations of corruption in Cambodia.

However, if you've truly been wronged, the police may eventually come through for you. Regrettably, what this means is that justice is often available only to those who can afford it. The poor villager with a legitimate beef may be out of luck if unable to come up with the required tea money to get their case investigated.

In both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, with the exception of incidents involving wealthy and influential Khmers, foreigners, tourist and expat, are not automatically found liable in a dispute with a local (these disputes are usually over traffic accidents). I know of several vehicle accidents involving a local and a foreigner where the local was found at fault. The only problem is collecting damages. While you may not be held liable for the other person's damages, this does not allow you to assume you can collect any money for your loss, as it's the old you can't get blood from stone problem.

Out in the countryside things are a little different. Conventional wisdom here is don't get involved with the police at all, especially in a motor vehicle accident.

Airport departure taxes revisited

I mentioned last month of changes in the domestic departure tax at Cambodia's airports - departure tax from both Siem Reap and Pochentong (Phnom Penh) has been set at $5 (an increase at Siem Reap of a dollar, a decrease at Phnom Penh of $5). There has also been a change in the international departure tax and not a change you probably want to hear about. International departure tax from Siem Reap has been raised from $8 to $15, while the departure tax at Pochentong remains at the scandalously high rate of $20.

I suppose we should assume that this new rate at Siem Reap will be used in it's entirety for the construction of the new terminal there. Well, that's probably what they want us to assume, anyway.


In the electronic mail bag:

Poipet from another perspective, I will comment on the other side:

I wanted to tell you that Poipet is a very traumatic experience for most of us (my first time was in 1999 when I even had to face the pill scam, lost my Cambodian "guide" due to the delay and had to repay another 300 baht for a new truck --back seat, inside--, for the trip which lasted from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. in those days). I admit that travel conditions have improved remarkably (after facing gun-toting hoodlums on bridges and uncrossable mudpits in 1999), but most of us tourist-type people (even those who say 'I'm a traveller, not a tourist.') just want a hassle-free trip to Siem Reap. The Khao San Road agencies do indeed waste a lot of time on unnecessary pit stops but I have to admit that they take good care of their victims and do not rip them off (I already had my Cambodian visa from Paris, but the price they were asking at the border stop was not at all outrageous). Your advice about negotiating transportation at Poipet and then again at Sisophon is kind of scary even though your objective is to be reassuring. But each of us will decide on the best method, because all of the prices are laughably cheap.

What I am hoping to discover as soon as possible on your site are the new ways of getting from Sihanoukville to Thailand now that the Koh Kong bridge has opened. I did not really care for the boat scam (boat + little boat + moto to the border) in January and am hoping that the bridge will completely change the travel options. The latest I read on the Thorn Tree was that buses were not yet plying this route, but I hope that the situation will change soon.

The writer does indeed raise a valid point. I disagree somewhat that the KSR agencies don't rip you off. They do rip you off by denying you choice in obtaining your visa - basically you have to use their agent, unnecessarily paying whatever they want you to pay that day, and they are not the least bit honest in telling you why you have to use their agent. Secondly, the unnecessary delays wear you down, deny you the opportunity to catch a late afternoon free entry into the Angkor Park and you are pretty much forced into the guesthouse of their choosing on arrival in Siem Reap.

However, I also have to be balanced and accept the writer's viewpoint that Poipet can be traumatic for someone lacking experience in the region and the potential for rip-offs when traveling independently are in fact much greater than the amount of money one can get scammed for on the KSR-originating trips.

I had to take a step back for a moment to consider how my advice for dealing with touts and the like at the border can be scary, after all I've done it so many times I could walk through the place in my sleep, though it wouldn't be very restful sleep, a mild nightmare, really. But that's exactly the point. I know what the consequences are for challenging these guys - basically there are no consequences - and I try to explain that to people but I guess if you haven't done it...

In any event, I just rewrote my Overland page a bit, and while I still recommend the independent route, I'm taking a slightly more neutral stance. Read the page, learn how the package trip works, learn how to do it yourself, and then decide for yourself which way to go. There is no best way for everybody. Fair enough.

As for request for information on the southern route (travel to Sihanoukville or Phnom Penh through Trat/Koh Kong), well, as a matter of fact I was just getting to that... I expect to be traveling this route around the 6th of June and will post the full report on a new section of the Overland page later this month.

Next... a tourist arrives in Siem Reap and well, how's this for a first impression? Definitely this is yet another letter that image-conscious Siem Reap/Cambodia authorities might want to take a look at. The writer of this piece has additional stories at this website:  davidkerbybrown.tripod.com

Siem Reap is almost as bad as the border as far as scams go, it seems to be the town's principal industry. Because of its proximity to Angkor, it's full of the one-week package tour kind of visitor who will pay anything, believe anything. I think that years of exposure to this kind of traveler has made the locals think all Western people are A) rich and B) ignorant, easy marks. They're always right on the first count, right now in my pocket I have the average of four years' average income of a Thai farmer, and Cambodia's much poorer than Thailand. In this town, they're usually right on the second count, too, though not in my case, I like to think.

Therefore, nobody will tell you where anything is, preferring you to pay them to drive you there, even if it turns out to be just across the road. I tried asking in an Internet cafe instead, but the guy lied and told me the place I was looking for was closed, hoping I'd go to a different place instead, probably owned by his cousin. The motorcycle drivers are the worst, they pull up next to you and stalk you for blocks. It doesn't help to say you don't know where you're going yet, they're full of suggestions. You can tell them you don't need help, or to go away, they don't care. You can stop and turn around, or turn into side streets, and they still dog you, trying to make conversation by speaking exclusively in lies. If one gives up another swarms in to replace him. Even after I figured out on my own where I wanted to go and actually would have appreciated a ride there, I refused and walked instead, just on general principal. They're just too creepy.

The only reliable source of information here seems to be a good guest house, once you've found one on you own and checked in, or other tourists, mercy me. At least there are lots of those, finally. I will avoid making any conclusions about the character of the Cambodians until I get well away from this town, I have a feeling it's as representative of the country as Vegas is of the U.S. Actually that's a bad example but you get my drift. [Gordon here: This last comment is a reasonably accurate observation, at least in how locals perceive and often treat westerners in Siem Reap.]

After I found a guest house and dropped off my bags, I went to a sidewalk shop, ordered a lychee shake (I could drink these exclusively for the rest of my life) and sat down at a table with a couple of Cambodian guys who turned out to be tourist touts. It was kind of nice chatting with them when it was clear I'd already checked in somewhere and wasn't going to be good for any more money that day, they were really nice. They even offered me some of their food -- a big bowl of "embryo eggs." These are like regular boiled eggs, except there's a whole dead baby chicken inside. I declined. I am prepared to accept derisive howls of outrage from Jon Hyatt or anyone else for this ethnocentric and un-adventurous behaviour. It's either that or eat chicken fetuses. [Gordon here again: Another interesting observation and one that cements an observation I've often made - that Cambodians are often two people in one. One person where money is concerned (conniving, greedy, myopic), and another when money is removed from the picture (warm, generous, funny, easy-going). Cultural differences to say the least, yes?]

I am going to attempt a couple of new strategies for dealing with the motorcycles. I've heard being really rude will work sometimes, but I'd prefer to avoid that, having learned that they're just creepy and annoying on the job, and just regular people after hours. I don't want to be mean. But I would like to have some fun. 

Strategy one: pretend to speak only Japanese. I don't have very high hopes for that one because most of them probably speak Japanese too. [Gordon again: Yes, many do speak Japanese, some extremely well.] Strategy two: as soon as they pull up, ask them where they're going, and no matter what the answer, give them suggestions on places they should go instead. I tried that and it worked beautifully, the guy drove away shaking his head. Strategy three: say I want to go to the gynecologist. (David Brown, Canada)

In closing

Another column coming to you from Bangkok. Due to the better infrastructure in Thailand, I will continue, whenever possible, to do my publishing from Thailand rather than Cambodia. So this will be the last time I waste space talking about it. Just look under my name below if you're ever curious as to where I'm publishing from.

With the rainy season upon us, my travels will be few until late October. Well, not exactly. Later this month I'm heading back to the States for a couple of weeks and then taking a few days in Amsterdam on the way back to Asia. And why not? For next to nothing, Singapore Air let's me break the journey there. Then I'll be stationery for awhile. Meanwhile...

Bangkok, Thailand
May 31, 2002.




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