Paying off the police Part II -

from: Room 2, Lucky Guesthouse. Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Just two days to Christmas, not much time left to make a charitable donation to the Phnom Penh Police department. We had read about Phnom Penh's police pulling people over for paltry offenses, like riding with your headlights on during the day, so they can shake down the citizenry for a few thousand Riel. In this the situation is not a great deal different from our experience in Saigon. The same source went on to say that the trick to dealing with such an eventuality was not to stop. I made up my mind that I would feign blinkered vision and roll on the throttle at the first sign of a uniform waving me down.

My opportunity soon came when this morning three banana-republic movie set extras scurried into the street with arms spread wide to block any escape route and thus presented me with the choice of running from the law, or running right into it. Should I pull over and see what offense they had cooked up for me, or try to break through, risk hitting one of the Fascist looking thugs, and know exactly what the offense would be? Now I know they say the devil you know is better than the devil you don't but this time I thought it prudent to slow and face the Khmer music.

Satisfactorily corralled for making an illegal left turn at the intersection, as opposed to the legal one that cut through the gas station, the other two immediately returned to netting further offenders. In the ten minutes it took for my little drama to play out, at least five other people were detained for the same offense because why replace the sign when the tiny faded one is so lucrative? The fellow assigned to us had a better uniform than his cousins in Saigon but his English was worse. This gave me hope that the ignorant foreigner tactic that failed then might be more successful this time around. Perhaps if I frowned and shook my head with incomprehension for long enough, I'd eventually be shooed on as too much hard work. In short this failed and I was made to pay the fine. What made this different to the Saigon incident was that the officer made no attempt to disguise the fact of where the money was actually going. No request for passport, name or driver's license, He simply counted out his busy colleagues with his fingers and told us to buy them all beer. Ten dollars ought to do it he thought. We told him we were too poor to buy them that much booze, would he please accept five dollars?

"Ah yesss, thanks you my friends" He said shaking his head and pocketing the bills.

Flustered at having been fleeced again I forgot to turn the bike's key and it took the eagerly offered help of our new friend to get the bike started and back onto the roads of this unfamiliar city, now made so much harder to navigate by the gangs of police discouraging us from using major intersections. You see them standing around and know some obscure sign prohibiting some odd action is somewhere near making them wealthy, or at least in beer.

Our man waved to us with a smile as we left, grateful that we seemed to have spontaneously pulled over and offered to make a donation.

~ Nigel



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