Stop - Police! And Other Journeys...

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Andrew and I aren't known for staying put very long, and May proved to be no exception. Shortly after I returned from my thyroid team trip, we took off with a couple friends for a two-week long trip taking us through three different cities, including one I'd never before seen.

The first week was taken up with meetings in the capital. It's always a bit of a shock to realize that our 8 hour trip from Poipet to Phnom Penh (about 250 miles) would take half that time if we were in America! I have to admit - I do not handle traveling here very well. For some reason, the near-death passing, motorcycles playing chicken with semi-trucks, and constant sudden braking and acceleration just doesn't make for a pleasant trip. But I think have adjusted at least a little bit, after all the traveling we've been doing.

Of course, we couldn't get through a week in Phnom Penh without getting pulled over by the police. 

It hasn't been so long since my last encounter with the police. They generally leave us alone in Poipet, but whenever we hit the big city, look out! Fortunately, I wasn't the one driving this time, but unfortunately, I was the reason we got pulled over. The one time I decide I'm too lazy to put on my seat belt is when we drive by a police officer who spots it. 

Then the bargaining begins. The officer asked for 10,000 riel at first - about $2.50. And we knew that was double what it should be. We eventually convinced him it should be 5,000 riel ($1.25) and asked for a receipt. Just like last time, no receipt or official "ticket" would be given unless Andrew surrendered his license to the police and later went to the police station to pick it up. We later found out this is a new procedure for ticketing violations.

When we insisted on being given a receipt at that moment, the police officer then smiled and say, "You buy Coke for me and my friend, and you go!" Don't you love it when the police bargain with you? I laughed and said forcefully, "Oh you are so funny! Good joke!" - trying to avoid the fact that the police officer freely admitted he could be bought off with a few Cokes.

Eventually we paid the 5,000 riel and left without a receipt. It's always an ethical dilemma, knowing that giving officers money without a ticket means the money goes in their pockets. Apparently, that is exactly what the new ticketing regulation is trying to combat.  On the other hand, police officer salaries are definitely substandard, starting around $50 per month - not nearly enough to support a family or provide for a reasonable standard of living, and definitely not enough to compensate for the routine dangers of police work. A new law allows police officers to keep 50% of what they collect in fines as an incentive to record ticket revenue and to pull people over for violations. 

I have to admit - at the time, I thought the officer was making up the story about the new method of receipts. Now, maybe next time - as I'm sure there will be one - I'll be more willing to follow the law and go the station like a good foreign visitor. Or maybe I'll just wear my seat belt.

After Phnom Penh came a mysterious place called Preah Vihear, known more for its temple, fought over by Thai and Cambodian forces, than anything else. And that story will be coming soon...