Aside from ripping the people of Cambodia off by giving control over Angkor Archaeological Park to a private company, the corrupt government of Cambodia lead by the extremely dangerous dictator Hun Sen also rips people off by excessive deforestation and illegal logging. Angkor Archaeological Park attracts millions of foreigners to Cambodia, resulting in near billion dollars in direct revenue, yet most of it gets lost in a black hole controlled by the corrupt senior officials. Angkor is a historical and cultural heritage of all Cambodians, yet ordinary people do not see a penny out of the money it generates. Through Sokimex, private company with close ties to the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), Angkor was privatized, taking the heritage away from the people and into the hands of the elite.
Likewise, Cambodian rainforest which is the largest remaining lowland evergreen forest in mainland Southeast Asia is a natural resource of all Cambodians, yet through illegal logging the corrupt government of Cambodia ensures that ordinary people don’t reap any benefits from their rich natural resources.
The deforestation in Cambodia continues at unprecedented rate that has no match anywhere in the world. This deforestation continues while foreign governments, which sent upwards of one billion of taxpayer’s dollars to Cambodia in donations each year, do absolutely nothing to intervene.
Illegal logging is part of a large scale asset-stripping operation pulled on the people of Cambodia by their own, corrupt government. While Cambodian forests continue to get ransacked, small group of people keeps the profits leaving ordinary people with no improvement in quality of their lives, even though the forest also belongs to them. However from my own standpoint, from a standpoint of a Canadian taxpayer whose taxes are in part used to support this corrupt government instead of imposing sanctions on it for ongoing destruction of fragile Cambodian environment – I’m pissed.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates, Cambodia lost 29% of its tropical forest between 2000 and 2005. International experts tend to agree that illegal logging took even faster pace after 2005, when Global Witness – the London, UK based activist organization which monitored Cambodian forest for 12 years was expelled from the country. Global Witness accused Cambodian government of excessive deforestation when permits and licenses to cut trees were given to friends and relatives of high Cambodian officials. As a result, they were driven out of the country.
Cambodian government, the most corrupt government in the world only cares about themselves and their own bank accounts. They are willing and ready to exploit any and all of the resources the country has without using any fraction of it to help ordinary people. And what do the foreign governments do about it? Give them more money, money of their own taxpayers so Cambodian elite can strengthen their grip on the economy and further slow the alleviation of poverty and protection of the environment.
As I’m writing this, dozens of Cambodian trees were mowed down to satisfy the greed of the Cambodian elite. Illegal logging and excessive deforestation are here to stay and will not stop unless this government is stripped of power. Sadly, they will not let go without a bloodshed.
Mentally worn out after endless harassment by Angkor Wat touts who were continuously in my face, I stumbled across an Apsara Group dressed up in traditional Khmer costumes whose purpose was the same as the purpose of any other tout at Angkor Wat – to make money off of foreigners. This Apsara Group was vastly different though. They actually put some effort into looking really cool and did not spend their time in people’s faces, with an exception of their manager, or whoever he was, who just could not leave me alone and had to get in my face insisting that I leave everything alone and line myself up with the group for a picture. As most other Cambodians, he was extremely pushy and invasive of one’s personal space but the group looked too cool to say NO.
I knew that because I was in Cambodia, nobody would even fart in the water for a foreigner, unless they are getting money for it so the premise of getting my picture taken with this group just because they want the tourists to have good memories and only have nice things to say about Cambodia is sheer utopia, so I got myself ready to shell out.
None of the group members in costumes spoke any English but they were clearly instructed by their manager to say “Senk Juu” to every foreigner to make the impact more striking. The manager told me the donation was voluntary so I ended up giving them $3. It seemed as though this was the most they have gotten from any single individual in ages. They were truly grateful and could not believe I gave them so much, yet I thought that because there is six of them in the group, anything less than that, when shared would be rather insufficient.
Anyway, this is what it looked like when their manager lined me up with the Apsara group and took the pictures with my camera:
This was it – here I was at the doorstep to Angkor Wat ready to start exploring the temple that’s been at the top of my “Must Visit Before I Die” list for ages. The morning was in its early stages yet the sun was already pretty intense. As I took my last turn around the moat that surrounds the temple complex, I noticed a bunch of locals having a big laundry washing day in its waters. None of the hundreds of locals passing by in both directions seemed to pay any attention to it and neither did the policemen that ride their motorcycles throughout Angkor making the laundry washing look like doing it in the moat is a normal, every day thing.
I found it rather weird that you would take all your clothes to the moat where everyone can see you and pour loads of washing powder in it to openly poison the environment – especially when it comes to such significant piece of history as Angkor Wat yet since I was the only one who seemed to have found it awful, I just moved on and continued riding towards the entrance gate which was only a few hundred meters ahead of me. The excitement was unmeasurable at this point. I was only minutes away from entering and exploring Angkor Wat, however before one gets to that point, the dark side of Angkor Wat is revealed to them – extremely aggressive touts, hustlers, peddlers and other con artists.
There was a super high density of locals right opposite Angkor Wat’s entrance gate that’s proceeded by a sandstone causeway over the near 200 meters wide moat. Countless Tuk Tuks and unceasing ruckus left little for guessing. This is Angkor Wat – the most famous and the best preserved temple of the Angkor Archaeological Park which also happens to be the closest temple to Siem Reap from where all organized tours originate so mobile touts concentrated around here in anticipation of fat profits.
As I was riding by I had just about every local screaming at me to make me stop but it wasn’t until a woman came running across the street to block me from going any further that I stopped. She came after me with such haste it looked as though it was a matter of life or death. At first glance I thought that maybe I have done something wrong, perhaps by entering a road that’s off limit and she ran to stop me so I don’t get into any trouble but the real motifs came to light right away. She used the moment of surprise to get my attention so she can make money on me. Now that she had me stopped it was up to her to make the most out of the opportunity. Afterall, there are hundreds of other touts and she was the only one who got me stop and listen to her.
She could see this was my first time here and I didn’t know my way around very well so she fooled me into believing that I couldn’t go any further. I didn’t mind that one bit because I was gonna stop and go to Angkor Wat anyway, but this was yet another lesson that taught me that one should never trust a Cambodian who’s on a mission to get your money (are there any who are not?).
The woman said that I could park opposite Angkor Wat for free, but I had to buy cold water from her. She insisted that the temple was big and there was no water to buy inside. As soon as she said that I could park there for free, I knew I was dealing with a simple scam artist who is ready to throw any lie that will work my way just as long as it ends up in her making money off of me. With this being finally clear in my mind, I turned away from the woman and drove through the parking lot, alongside countless Tuk Tuk drivers who saw me riding a bicycle yet kept asking me if I needed a Tuk Tuk ride anyway. I rode until I found a chain fence and locked my bicycle against it.
Within two seconds I had dozens of kids with postcards, bracelets, water, bootleg guide books and other junk surround me and bash at me from every side, unceasingly demanding that I buy something from them. Within additional seconds they were joined by dozens of adults who insisted that I buy a hat from them because it’s hot, the sun is scorching and there is no where to buy a hat inside Angkor Wat. Everything that can be sold was offered to me, but I use word “offer” sparingly., Those people were extremely pushy, surrounded me, got in my face and never took “No” for an answer.
It was clear that they are used to harassing tourists and used to being told “No” so they had a response at the ready no matter how I responded to their pressure. I showed them I had water of my own and didn’t need any more weight on me. I also showed them I had a hat of my own and was happy with it. I was well equipped for a whole day on a bicycle riding in this extreme heat yet it mattered not to them. They were continuously bashing and bashing at me and pulling more and more of their handy tricks to get me buy something from them.
After I had about five dozen touts on me, they were joined by new way of hustlers – tour guides. To avoid scam, legitimate tour guides must wear pale yellow-ish shirts with a badge on it to identify them as licensed tour guides. Because it is possible to earn $20 or more (in case of non English or French guides) as a tour guide, it is an extremely popular money maker so supply far exceeds demand. As a result, tour guide who got their license and are not booked for the day yet hang around the most popular temples at the right time of the day to try to score a gig right on the spot. Dozens of them got on my bum to get me buy their services, most of them by instantly starting to “guide” me without my permission in anticipation that they will stick with me until I feel obliged to keep and pay them.
I remained adamant that each of them is wasting their time using the most solid reply they have nothing on:
“I’m out of my money. All I have is one dollar and I’m saving that for a bottle of water in the afternoon. You are welcome to guide me for as long as you understand that you are not getting paid for it. And no matter how hard you try to argue me into hiring you, I simply have no money to give you. End of story.”
There is no such thing as a “helpful local” in Cambodia. They all make it look like their sole purpose is to help you yet the only people they are looking to help is themselves. A tourist who doesn’t realize this sets themselves up for a big surprise. I continued on keeping my pace disregarding all attempts to get money from me so now that they could tell there was no way I was gonna buy anything from them, they used passive aggressive lines to make me feel obliged for the future. They did it by saying something like this:
“OK so then you’re gonna buy on your way back, OK? I’ll be waiting for you. Don’t forget you promised to buy from me!”
It is notably shocking that everything any of these touts lets out of their mouth is a lie. Ancient temples of Angkor are widely regarded among Cambodians as sacred places with powerful deities patrolling them. Angkor Wat where all these touts jumped me is particularly powerful in that regard since it has been a point of pilgrimage ever since it was built, being the only temple in Angkor Archaeological Park that has served that purpose without being fully abandoned.
Everyone in Cambodia will tell you that you should never lie in proximity to Angkor Wat (or any other temple for that matter, but Angkor Wat in particular). If you do so, you are bringing very bad karma upon yourself. However, if you do so knowingly, karma effect gets hundred times more powerful. If these Cambodians are fully aware of the fact that they mustn’t lie in presence of a temple, how come they all do it openly and without a wink?
Once you have walked inside Angkor Wat, you cross the passages inside the exterior wall and walk along the sandstone causeway, there will be small libraries on both sides followed by small ponds also on both sides – right before the steps that will lead you to the first level of the central temple. On the left hand side, where the most popular spot to observe sunrise at Angkor Wat is (also the best spot to take pictures of Angkor Wat) hidden from the sun under the line of trees, there is a long line of stalls selling everything you may need.
Each time any of the touts outside of the temple tells you that you must buy water/hat/scarf/food/whatever from them because there is none of it available inside, you will know they are straight up lying. And this starts with kids as young as three years old. These people grow up being professionals liars. After decades of doing nothing but lying each and every day of their lives – what have they grown to be?
Here I was at last – facing the entrance gate to Angkor Wat after a brief bike ride around the vast moat that surrounds it. Ready to start exploring the largest religious complex in the world, I noticed that the area around the Angkor temples is densely inhabited by Angkor People – locals living in wooden houses on stilts. Whole Angkor Archaeological Park is full of randomly scattered villages people of which take good advantage of increasing popularity of Angkor and unceasingly follow every tourist until they succeed in talking them into spending some money. Sadly, at present time, exploring Angkor Wat also means being hassled by locals on every step of your way.
I am not entirely sure what Angkor People would do if they didn’t live in the neighbourhood of famous ancient temples. Tourists are a source of easy money and Angkor People are well aware of it by taking full advantage of the fact, but what if they weren’t that lucky and haven’t had their predecessors built these phenomenal complexes that result in millions of dollars in revenue? I can imagine that at some point in the past, they were focused on growing cattle, growing rice and perhaps hand-crafting useful items that could be offered for sale at markets in Siem Reap.
But this is no longer the case. Nowadays the villagers get up early in the morning and station themselves at the gates to the nearest temple or other point of interest that attracts lots of tourists and spend their whole days following each and every one of them around basing their livelihood on their success rate to get as much out of each tourist as possible. Children as young as 3 years old are dispatched by their parents after the tourists because it’s easier for them to talk a tourist into buying worthless junk than it is for their parents. Afterall, who could say no to a child that just learned how to speak and is already reciting well tailored sentences in English that are aimed to melt your heart and… most importantly, open your wallet?
If you end up spending several days exploring the temples of Angkor, you will notice that children who should be at school spend their whole days bothering tourists, vastly undisturbed by the fact that they are not getting any education. The ability to talk as many foreigners as possible into spending the money is all they have going for the future. They can’t read or write in their mother’s tongue, but they can already speak English and possibly one or more other foreign languages. Infants who are too small to follow tourists around are trained to recognize foreigners and repeatedly scream “Hello” at them. You will get that on every step. Kids under two years old will instantly leap on their feet and start yelling “Hello” and waving at you as soon as they catch a glimpse of you. And this is the way they are brought up – believing that their purpose in life is to get after every foreigner in vicinity and don’t stop bothering them until they have lured some money out of them. And if the wallet gets pulled out, then try to get as much as possible – never settle with little amounts.
From the beginning I could not comprehend the fact that when you go to Angkor you see all those kids trying to get money from you when they should be at school, but as I started paying closer attention to the issue, I noticed that parents themselves don’t want to send the kids to school because if they spend the best part of the day there, then who’s gonna bother tourist for easy money? It’s much easier for kids to score dough than it is for adults so why waste kid’s time for schools? The older they get, the more difficult it will be for them to talk foreigners out of their money so school gets simply taken off the list of important things for their kids.
But it gets even worse. According to the Corruption Perceptions Index, Cambodia is one of the world’s most corrupt countries, second only to the likes of Somalia where there is no government to begin with so it’s hard to talk about corruption or well known, long established mothers of all things corrupt – Burma (Myanmar) and Haiti. The government of Cambodia is too corrupt to care about anything other than their own pockets. The fact that their people lack education is of little concern or, more likely, a preferred outcome because obviously uneducated, poor population will continue attracting foreign donations much of which will end up in the pockets of corrupt officials. They need the world to see the poor people with no access to education and health care because that’s what drives sympathy and compassion and those are the main driving force behind millions dollars that come to Cambodia from international philanthropists. And once this money is in Cambodia, people in power get to choose what is done with it. Only a small fraction makes it to where it’s needed and this is precisely the purpose.
Again, if living conditions for ordinary people improved, donations would shrink or… stop completely. In other words, if they used the money they have to fix their country and improve the economy, then there would be no more need for international organizations to continuously sending more aid. This fact is amplified even more by the fact that Angkor attracts millions of people to Cambodia every year and that generates massive revenue. It starts with a $20 – $25 visa fee, continues with a pile of expenses to cover for everyone’s stay and gets highlighted with Angkor Entrance Fee which ranges from $20 to $60 per person.
Here’s the catch – Apsara Authority, Cambodian organization responsible for protection, conservation and research at Angkor World Heritage Site sees mere 10% of all the funds accumulated by charging entrance fees to Angkor Archaeological Park. This is yet another scam played up by corrupt Cambodian government (along with the scam by Sokha Hotels chain, the Sokimex gasoline conglomerate division with close ties to CPP – Cambodia’s leading People’s Party which runs ticket concessions and gets to keep 17% of revenue generated by Angkor temples).
If majority of the monies Angkor generates was used to preserve and protect it, then foreign organizations that currently sponsor preservation, restoration and protection efforts at Angkor would no longer be necessary. Whereas right now, because Cambodian body responsible for preservation and protection of Angkor (Apsara Authority) doesn’t have enough money, they heavily rely on help from the abroad. But let’s ask again – why does Apsara Authority not have enough money in the first place? How is it possible that they can’t make ends meet if Angkor generates millions upon millions of dollars in direct foreign revenue (plus indirect revenue from Tuk Tuk fees, tour operation fees, sales of keepsakes, etc.)?
Just as foreign donations to Cambodia disappear in the black hole of the corrupt Cambodian system, so do the money generated by Angkor temples. For as long as majority of Cambodian people remain poor, uneducated and health care deprived, the donations will not stop coming. And for as long as Apsara Authority continues not getting enough money to look after the works needed to preserve Angkor themselves, foreign sponsors will continue investing their money to Angkor to ensure this magnificent site doesn’t fall into ruin.
The life story of Ha, the Vietnamese Prostitute who is not really a prostitute started as a fairly happy one, but turned into a very, very sad and frightening sequence of events. I met her on the first night she attempted to sell her body to men for money because she had no other option. So even though she had attempted a route of prostitution, she’s never ended up being one thanks to me getting mixed in an equation. Still, her true life story is very sad and I hope she as well as her daughter get to enjoy the life they deserves soon. The revelation of this life story started on the morning after our first night together, but it took several days and nights spent together to paste all the pieces together and get a clear picture of the nightmare these two girls live on a daily basis.
Being an attractive girl, Ha grew up with a lot of attention from boys. There was nothing wrong with it and every girl would have wished to be like her. Life was generally good, even though she grew up in Vietnam which came with its own ups and downs of the communist regime. At some point in her late teens, Ha went to Thailand where she met with that American guy. The fact that she was from Vietnam made her open to anyone from the Western world as that was the opportunity for her to escape rather limited possibilities of self application her home country was offering.
Said American man was excited to learn that Ha was from Vietnam because he saw vast business opportunities opening in this South East Asian country with introduction of inexpensive scooters to the Asian markets. At that time, the predominant means of transportation in Vietnam were bicycles. You may recall pictures of thousands of bicycles filling the streets of Saigon which were so popular in magazines like National Geographics. This was all about to change and motorcycles were to become the new pink in Vietnam, replacing obsolete bicycles as an improved, more exciting transportation option.
Ha was promised the American man would marry her if she helped him to start the motorcycle business in Vietnam. One thing lead to another and before you knew it, the two were in Vietnam, the man starting up a business that was bound to succeed and Ha ended up pregnant. When that happened and when the business started to rock and roll, the man who promised her heavens suddenly changed. He started ignoring Ha and kept cheating on her and doing it openly. Due to Vietnam’s weak justice system, the man kept sexually abusing underage girls but got away with everything as he was able to buy favors of any Vietnamese official that was in the way. In a corruption ridden country, he who has more money wins.
Having been left pregnant in Vietnam, where single mothers are socially unacceptable, Ha tried to pledge with the man who knocked her up to provide for her during pregnancy and fulfill his promise to marry her. He rejected the unborn baby and ordered Ha to stay away from him or else. She had nowhere else to go, no man would take a woman who’s pregnant with another man’s child, so she tried to appeal to him, but his true colors kept showing more and more each day. As his business grew, he used the money to run Ha and her family to the ground. Ha’s mother was forced into bankruptcy and had her house taken away from her while Ha was being threatened that if she doesn’t get out of his way or has an abortion, she will come to a sad end.
As the man kept sexually abusing new girls every day, many of which were way too young for sex, there were more and more of them that ended up pregnant. Several were found dead in dubious traffic accidents the police refused to investigate. Fearing that Ha could encounter similar fate, she stopped asking the man for financial support and marriage. Later on she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.
The man who previously tried to force her into abortion, changed his attitude when he saw the little girl. She was the cutest baby in the entire world and he has decided that he wanted her for himself. Financially deprived Ha who saw her family hit rock bottom after the man who got her pregnant destroyed their lives saw something bad happening if little girl was to end up in the hands of a man who had previously sexually abused prepubescent girls on several occasions. But through his connections and corrupt jurisdiction, he was able to get the baby temporarily. After a month, Ha got the girl back and found baby’s vagina swollen and discolored. Being only four months old, baby was put on medication and it took more than a month for the irritation and bruising to go away.
The man refused all accusations that he had anything to do with it and threatened Ha that he would make her suffer or worse if she doesn’t stop snooping around. At the same time he demanded that she gives him her daughter for he liked the baby and wanted her for himself while keeping Ha out of her life. Ha tried to pledge with him but threats continued and violence kept growing until such point that Ha had to run away from the town where she lived and hide with her relatives at the opposite end of Vietnam.
That didn’t go over well with the man who wanted the baby and Ha out of his way. His men found her at the relatives but she was able to get away last minute and escaped to places where none of her relatives lived so there was nothing to connect her with the place. Being constantly on the run with little baby in the tow, Ha was unable to get a job and make enough money to provide for the little girl. Life of fear and deprivation became her true life story. She could not stay anywhere for an extended period of time and could not live as a free person. It went on like that for a couple of years but the man never stopped pursuing his revenge. He wanted her to pay for the nerve of not giving him her daughter as he demanded, and escaping his pursuit.
When little girl was 4 year old, Ha had no more places in Vietnam where she could hide so she escaped to Cambodia. She ended up in Siem Reap where one of her distant uncles lives. The uncle is Vietnamese born, but married a Cambodian woman and lived in Cambodia since. They have a small house on the outskirts of this popular tourist destination and this is where Ha and her daughter sought temporary refuge. She was in a foreign country, she couldn’t speak the language, only a little bit and she had her daughter who needed food to grow up. In order to make money in this environment, she attempted to do the only thing she could – prostitution. If it wasn’t for her daughter, she wouldn’t have done that, but she was able and willing to take anything just as long as she can buy some food for the little girl. That is when I met her.
This was why Ha has never acted like a real hooker. This was why she never got cold with me like hookers do with their customers after they’re done. But this is also why she had to ask me if I could give her some money to buy food for her daughter even though we never engaged in a hooker/john relationship. The details of her life story were shocking. This was not simply presented to me the way I am presenting it here. This was revealed bit by bit as I kept digging and digging, asking question after question until pieces of the puzzle started to come together and revealed the bigger picture. Ha was one strong woman, but she didn’t deserve to live like that. Nobody deserves to live in constant fear and run and hide all the time because your own country will not provide you with any protection from a man who has more money than you, so he can buy the justice to side with him. I knew I needed to help her, but how?
We woke up to a beautiful morning. It was absolutely gorgeous outside which, under normal circumstances would have been the day I would use to initiate my 7 day adventure through Angkor Archaeological Park. This was the weather I was waiting for. Previous week was rather rainy and since entrance fee to the temples of Angkor is rather steep, I wanted to wait until the weather improves so I get the most out of my money. And here it was, the perfect day to go get my weekly pass to Angkor Wat and start exploring, but I couldn’t do that. I had a very special guest in my room and couldn’t just kick her out of there right away so I can dress up, mount the bike and ride off to Angkor. That didn’t bother me one bit, though. I knew there will be many gorgeous days like this one and Angkor will not run away. Yet even though making friends with a prostitute was not anything I would have actively pursued, spending time together with Ha during the day, far away from flashing lights and loud music of the Temple Club gave me a chance to really know her and uncover her rather fascinating, albeit shocking life story. This was my own personal interview with a prostitute.
It started as a lazy morning but we were wide awake once I got the curtains open. Hot rays of intense Cambodian sun entered the room and tickled our senses with welcoming invite to leave the comfort of an air conditioned room and go enjoy the unbearable heat of the Siem Reap outdoors. We got dressed, brushed our teeth and were about to leave to get breakfast when Ha asked me if I would give her at least some money for food for her daughter. This was a bit disappointing to hear. All I could think of was: “So this was all about money in the end anyway!” Even though disappointed to have been asked that, I sensed that she felt as horrible about asking me as I felt about being asked. There was something undeniably sincere about Ha so I did not make a big deal out of it and handed her a $5 bill from my wallet. Afterall, she’s never attempted to steal from me and take off while I was sleeping. She’s never pulled anything funny against me and remained a loyal and respectful guest to my room. But most of all, her eyes did not lie. I had no doubt that she’s not looking for cash to buy drugs. She was not a prostitute to begin with and she was definitely not a junkie. I felt certain that the money will go to the right cause so I showed support without second guessing.
All ready to go, we left the room and headed straight for the scorching outdoors. Though we were still in the morning hours, the temperature was already near 40 Degrees Celsius making it scary to imagine what it was going to be like in the afternoon. I was covered in sweat within seconds but I tried not to get bothered by that slight inconvenience. We were walking slowly down the south end of Sivatha Road looking for a nice local restaurant where we could park it and order some munchies. The chat was on going. It truly was an interview with a prostitute only as my questions were being answered, horrific details of Ha’s life story kept giving me the creeps.
We sat in a small local restaurant, asked the owner to point their fan straight at us to wash away the sweat from our faces, ordered spicy chicken with rice and digged right in. The food was delicious and now that we had our stomachs smiling and rehydrated with several bottles of mineral water, unwilling to go back in the sun, we talked and talked. I could not believe what I was hearing. I could not believe there are people in the world who have to go through ordeals comparable to that of Ha and her daughter. I was horrified over the life of fear she has to live and how corrupt system of her home country would not provide her with any protection so she must run and hide. The story gave me sads and I can imagine it was but a tip of the iceberg. Details about Ha and her sad life are in the next post.
Even though I wasn’t too fond of the Temple Club, the night after I had checked out their Free Apsara Dance upstairs, I went to get a little glimpse of what it’s like in their main area downstairs. I took my laptop with me to get some pictures posted on this blog and since visible sign advices everyone walking down Pub Street that the club offers free WiFi to its patrons, I was curious as to the reliability and speed of the wireless connection.
The music they play at the Temple Club is atrocious. I was already there so I just switched my “ignore” button on, started up my laptop, ordered a beer and got right down to working totally oblivious to everyone and everything around me, including that crappy mainstream music. Things were going smoothly, I got lots of work done, visitors to Siem Reap that filled the club enjoyed their time without bothering me so it all seemed like one fine night. I was just about done and ready to wrap things up when I lifted my eyes that were fixed upon the laptop screen for over 2 hours and noticed this really cute, petite Asian girl standing behind my shoulder with a grin, checking out what I had on my screen. It was pretty loud there so whatever I would have said would not be heard, but since I was done with actual work, I scooted over to make room for her to sit on a bench next to me so she can see the pictures from my trip so far.
Skimpy dress the girl was wearing along with obvious make up job left very little for guessing. Besides, Temple Club is notorious for abundance of prostitutes looking for an easy buck from fly by tourists who represent the majority of Temple Club’s clientele. I must have attracted her attention by completely ignoring everyone and being locked onto my laptop not even as much as lifting my brows up to see what was going on around me. I have never in my life been with a prostitute before but I was curious about what they were like. I wanted to meet with one and talk to her about why she does that, how she finds it and if she’d do something else if she could. So many questions, so much curiosity and here it seemed like my opportunity has arrived. However, I had all of my red flags on high alert though, being fully aware of the fact that HIV prevalence rate among prostitutes in Cambodia is extremely high. It’s also high among general population with 1 in 75 people being infected, however it is estimated that at least 50% of Cambodian prostitutes are bearers of an HIV virus or already suffering from AIDS.
I knew damn well that I have never paid for sex before – not even while I was in (reasonably) safe countries so risking it in a country with such high prevalence of HIV would be plain stupid. I realized that if I were to try what it’s like with a prostitute, I should have done it before, not now that I’m in Cambodia. And this is the type of message I tried to pass on to the girl who just sat beside me to take a look at pictures on my laptop. I asked her if she would like anything to drink but seeing that there was a major language barrier, I just mimicked the act of chugging a beer down my throat to make her understand. She showed me that she still had her Coca Cola she was happy with so I put my wallet away.
We attempted a little communication and even though it was a bit challenging, she did have some understanding of English language so we could actually speak. I explained to her that I understand she was a prostitute and that I had no issue with that, but I firmly expressed that I was not going to get sexually involved with her because of fear of HIV and my own belief that there are better ways to hook up with members of opposite sex. I actually loaded Microsoft Word (TM) and wrote the following to make myself clear and easy to understand:
Money = NO
Sex = NO
Drink = YES
Talk = YES
I was hoping my message would be clear and this was exactly the way it was understood. She was happy with the drink she still had so there was no need for me to buy her another one but I made sure she knew that I would be happy to pick up the tab for our next round. But most of all there had to be an understanding that all I’m paying for are drinks and not any form of “services” she may be offering. The girl was OK with that and explained that business was slow tonight so she’s just gonna take the rest of the night off. We ended up staying until the close and had a very interesting conversation. I have learned that her real name was Ha even though she has originally introduced herself as Minnie (probably her hooker name she chose because of her petite build). I have also learned that she was Vietnamese and that Ha was a Vietnamese name, not Cambodian. I have heard that there are many Vietnamese prostitutes in Siem Reap so this information didn’t raise any additional questions.
We talked a lot and enjoyed each other’s company. But as we kept talking, I kept growing more and more suspicious of her. She sounded like a normal person. This was not the type of talk I would have expected from a prostitute. The fact that she gave up on “working” in favor of an intelligent conversation was already a hint enough but as the night progressed, the entire prostitute/john relationship was completely wiped off and instead there was a Canadian tourist and a Vietnamese girl with quite a touching story to her.
Ha told me she was 23 and had a 4 year old daughter. The reason why she was at the Temple Club was to try to make money to buy her little girl some food. Fabricated sob stories of this sort are an everyday thing utilized by scamming Cambodians because they work well with tourists. But with a bit of wits you can tell they’re lying and all they want is your money so they are ready to say whatever it takes to get some from you. It was entirely different with Ha. The sincerity of her eyes and voice were undeniable. There was something very wrong about her selling herself out and I could tell right away that she has not tried this type of “work” many times, if at all.
I asked where her daughter was now and she told me she was with her cousin who is looking after her. She also said they lived in a shed without shower, in the dog house kind of attachment to her uncle’s house because that was all she could afford. The night was coming to a close, so I offered her to come home with me. I had two beds in my room and whether both beds were occupied or not, it was gonna cost me the same. I offered her an option to sleep on an actual bed, instead of on wooden planks and use actual shower, instead of bathing in the rain puddles in rice fields. I have once again stressed that I won’t be interested in “hooker” services, but I did have a bed available and we have just become good friends, so I wanted to offer my friend some help that didn’t cost me anything.
As we walked towards my guesthouse, we continued to talk undisturbed by loud music. Ha was very grateful for being offered a sleep in a decent bed and a shower but felt obliged to deserve it. She didn’t want any money from me, but she wanted to “pay” for my hospitality with the only think (she thought) she had to offer – her body. I have assured her that this is not necessary and insisted that she takes as much time in the shower as she needs and so she is not afraid to make my room her home. I trusted her beyond recall and she’s never let my trust down. She was not a prostitute. She had no business being one. She didn’t deserve that. Something was terribly wrong about this who ordeal. I have just met an innocent person on the first night of her life trying to sell her body for money. I was after a story and I got a life changing experience instead.
Ha slept on one of the beds, I slept on another. I left the air conditioning on so she gets the pleasure of not having to sleep in scorching heat at least for the night. This night turned out nothing like I would have ever imagined. I was tired and fell asleep quickly. We woke up to a beautiful sunny day which was just what I was waiting for to start my Angkor Wat exploring adventure. After a week of mostly rainy weather, a cloudless, sunny day was a breath of fresh air. And I woke up sharing the room with a beautiful, young lady from Vietnam. Say good morning, Ha!
Painful laptop theft has opened my eyes and made me realize a number of things I didn’t take into account when I was buying my first laptop for travel. Samsung Q320 was a beautiful machine and it worked like a charm. I loved absolutely everything about it and it would have been my day to day companion for a very long time had it not been stolen. Fact of a matter is, when I was buying it, I took into an account everything but the fact that I will be traveling through the third world countries with it and once you spend an extended period of time in a country where 80% of people who see you are looking for an opportunity to steal from you, it only becomes a question of time before someone succeeds. You cannot be 100% alert and suspicious all the time. And what’s worse, people in third world countries will use the fact that this is where they live so they will portray themselves as extremely disadvantaged to make you want to help them and when you do that, you set yourself up cause that’s when you’re most vulnerable.
Samsung Q320 was the best laptop available on Canadian market at the time of purchase. It was also the best value for money and an insane powerhouse which would allow me to do any kind of work wherever in the world I would be. That’s why I bought it – I went for power, for a machine with which I could do absolutely anything while still keeping the size at around 13″. However, even though Q320 was an amazing value for money, the price tag was at $1,299 CAD. That is a lot of money to lose and that’s what I didn’t add to the equation. Laptops are slick, easy to grab items with narrow profiles which make them easy to hide. There is no wonder that there is one laptop stolen every 53 seconds in the USA alone. What it is on a worldwide scale I’m afraid to imagine. Laptops are plain and simple easy to steal and high demand makes them easy to sell. What better motivation could seasoned or opportunistic thieves need?
You can count on the fact that 90% of people in the third world countries who will see you using a laptop will have all kind of thoughts running through their heads. This one slick, easy to steal product could make them more money even if heavily undersold than they can make in 6 months of daily employment. Cell phones are as attractive, but their worth is lesser than that of a laptop which makes laptops so much more desirable. A thief would have to make 5 or more successful cell phone pulls to make the money equal to one successful laptop pull. If I were a thief, I’d specialize in laptops too.
This is one of the most important things to consider when buying a new laptop. If you are going to travel overseas with it, especially if you are intending to visit third world countries, take into account the possibility that your laptop could get stolen. This possibility is real, very real. Once again, you can’t be 100% alert 100% of the time and with so many people waiting around for an opportunity to steal something, one of them is going to succeed sooner or later. Look at me, I had my laptop stolen by a hitchhiker I offered a ride to because she would have been stuck without one. I offered help to a person in need and she used it to steal from me. Previously I would not even as much as not strap my laptop bag over my head and across the shoulder, but all it takes is that one moment you let your guards down and bam – laptop is gone.
From this point on, I knew that I’m only gonna buy an inexpensive netbook for travel overseas. Netbooks are lighter and smaller and should mine get stolen, direct financial loss will go into hundreds of dollars rather than thousands. Yes, I will be limited as to the use and capabilities, but unless there would be a secured financial prospect that requires more processing power, memory and larger screen, I will stick with a netbook for up to $400. On top of $1,299 + tax I lost with my stolen laptop, I also lost $300 I spent on extended warranty. This pushed the loss to more than $1,600. This is not the loss I can ever afford again. However for as long as I’m traveling through third world countries, the possibility of having my property stolen remains high. If you stay in a third world country long enough, it will not be a question of whether you will get something stolen from you, it will be a question of when.
In my home country of Canada, 90% of worries that you could be a victim of theft are unfounded. However once as a foreigner you enter a third world country, 90% of beliefs that no one will steal from you are unfounded. Don’t be a fool. I had to learn my lesson the hard way and am still suffering from painful consequences. Don’t buy a laptop worth thousands of dollars to take with you on the road overseas. Go with as cheap as possible one. If it gets the job done, it’s fine. In order to keep your blog updated, download and upload images, do basic image editing and maintain your MP3 player, all you need is the cheapest netbook you can find. That’s the best laptop to buy to travel overseas with, that’s what you need to keep in mind when buying new portable computer.
I paid more than $300 for an extended warranty on a laptop I got stolen. That made the financial loss associated with the theft so much more severe and made me question the worth of extended warranties. I have done some research and found out that number of laptops that get stolen is significantly higher than number of laptops that need a pricey repair. What this means is that the chances that your laptop gets stolen (or lost – there is also a great deal of laptops people simply forget at a snack shop of an airport and won’t realize that until after takeoff) are far greater than chances of it breaking down. Taking all that into account – are extended warranties worth it or not? Let’s take a closer look at it:
Manufacturer’s Warranty vs Extended Warranty
Laptops, as well as other electronic devices come with manufacturer’s warranty included in price. In most cases, manufacturer’s warranty covers the product for one year and oftentimes applies worldwide. My Samsung Q320 laptop came with one year worldwide warranty and if you buy an equally reputable brand product, you will likely get the same with it. If something was unstable about the product you buy, it would show within a year of use. If on the other hand the product was solid built, chances are it will serve you well for many years without issues. That thing alone makes extended warranty NOT worth it. If there is an issue, it will show during manufacturer’s warranty. If there is no issue, chances are fair the product will work like it should way beyond the coverage of your extended warranty.
Extended Warranty Claims
If you look up statistics on the internet, you will find out that only about 3% of extended warranty cases end up paying for themselves. 97% of extended warranties purchased are a waste of money. The thing is that many people realize that they are facing a possibility of having the money wasted, but since extended warranty is a peace of mind, they are willing to consider that as an option. Sales people know that very well and have a handful of arguments at the ready to throw at you when you are buying a product. There is no wonder why extended warranty upsales make up for most of sales people’s wages. They are aware of statistics themselves and know that for the most part, vast part of extended warranties they sell will expire without any claims made, which literally means it’s hundreds of dollars straight in their pocket with nothing being given in return.
Cost of Extended Warranties
The cost of an extended warranty is not low at all. It’s typically 1/4 to 1/3 of the price of the item. So if you are buying a $1,000 worth of a laptop, you are looking at good $300 for an extended warranty. That’s a big chunk of money if you look at it. But it gets better – consider this:
If you do spend $300 for 3 years of extended warranty for your laptop, you will have your laptop “protected” until such time that it will be an obsolete piece of junk you won’t be able to use because modern application will not run on it. It’s a simple fact that technology progress is immense. You won’t even reach the end of your extended warranty and you will already start looking around for a new laptop that will contain all latest components cause your old one doesn’t have it. Had you not used the $300 for an extended warranty with purchase of this one, but used this money towards the fund for purchase of a new laptop, you’d be much better off right now. Because even if your laptop quits on you after three years, with an extended warranty you could get it fixed but end up with the same obsolete piece. Whereas if you put this money to work for you in the meantime, gain on its worth and use it towards the purchase of new laptop, you would end up with latest technology piece that will far and wide outdo your old one. Fast aging of electronic devices makes extended warranties not worth it. We’re not in the 1920’s when products were expensive, but were made to last. We are living in the age of disposable electronics. What you buy is not built to last, so don’t fix it, replace it.
Replacing a product after a period of use with newer, better, more feature rich and more up to date version is better than having an old one repaired on many accounts. Let it serve you for as long as it will and when its time comes, upgrade to a newer version. Gateway and Dell – makers of portable computers have both admitted that they have seen minimal increase in costs for warranty claims after they started offering extended warranties, but the increase in revenue grew substantially. That means that prior to offering extended warranties their cost of taking care of regular warranties may have been in the $16 Million mark, but as they started offering extended warranties, the cost of taking care of claims rose to $17 Million mark, but their revenue grew by $33 Million which came from sales of extended warranties.
Extended Warranty Scams
Savvy buyers know that many specialty coverages are a scam. Good example is rust protection for your new car. Car sales men like to offer special coating for your newly purchased car and since you are spending $20,000 on it, you should definitely consider investing additional $1,000 to have your body covered with special anti rust coating, right? It would normally make sense, unless you look deeper into it. And if you do, you find out that car body already comes with 10 years of anti rust manufacturer’s warranty. In other words, car dealership will try to sell you protection for your car that will do the same job factory applied protection does.
This scam is by no means limited to car dealerships. It is not uncommon to have extended warranties for laptops that cover certain parts of it for certain periods of time. But if you were to take a closer look at what is covered by an extended warranty, you would see such thing as “3 years replacement coverage for RAM chips” but oddly enough, most RAM chips come covered for a minimum of 3 years by the manufacturer.
Scams of that sort are very common. Retail outlets will try to sell you something your purchased item already comes with by default. This is yet another reason that makes purchasing extended warranties NOT worth it!
Who Does The Extended Warranty Work?
If you buy an extended warranty with a retailer, it will be the retailer or their sub-contractors who will perform the warranty work. During the course of my research, I have spoken with a number of people who had purchased extended warranties. Vast majority has never made any use of it. Few could have used it, but after 3 years they were not able to locate the receipts which nulled their eligibility for a warranty claim. Then there were a couple who did need to get something repaired and they each had bad experience. It was not uncommon to be told that something is not covered by an extended warranty, however even if a legitimate claim was made, the repair will be performed by their own people who often lack quality expertise and the job will be poorly done. There is nothing more frustrating than wasting time waiting to get your unit repaired, only to find out that after you got it back eventually, the issue still persists.
Conclusion: Extended Warranty – Worth It or Not?
Two things to consider:
Unless you are buying an item made by a company notorious for lousy, prone to breaking products (most Apple products, for example), then an extended warranty is most likely NOT worth it
If you know yourself as someone who looks after their stuff and doesn’t abuse it, then extended warranty is most likely NOT worth it. If on the other hand you often leave your laptop on the floor covered with an endless pile of garbage so you may end up stepping on it cause you couldn’t see it, and if you have a history of leaving your laptop on an anthill to let all forms of insects get into it, or if you use your laptop as tray for food and drink you consume while you are driving, then perhaps in such cases you should consider extended warranty. In your case it may be worth it.
In conclusion, and as a general rule – extended warranties are NOT worth it. They are extremely overpriced and in most cases end up being nothing more than money straight down the drain. If you do want to have peace of mind no matter the cost, then at least negotiate with the retailer and make sure you do not spend more than 20% of the item’s price on an extended warranty. Even so, if you are willing to admit that the item has a 20% chance of breaking down on you, then perhaps you should do your research better and opt for a brand that’s not notorious for having 20% of their product break down on consumers. If you go with a solid brand, chances that your purchase will serve you well are far greater than chances it will break.
Consider the odds. If you are buying portable electronics, chances of it getting stolen are far greater than chances of it breaking down. If you are going to spend the money, spend it on theft insurance or tracing software so you can increase the chances of recovery.
Products seldom break during the duration of extended warranty. Majority breaks while still under manufacturer’s warranty or die entirely long after your extended warranty has expired.
Given the cost of extended warranties, you are often better off using the money to start the “product repair fund” so you can take care of future issues and if none arise, use the fund towards the purchase of an upgraded version of the product.
If you make an extended warranty claim, you may not see your product for a month. If it’s something you need, such as a laptop for work, you will be screwed. You did not buy a laptop to be a month without it. Loss of productivity you will have incurred far outweighs the peace of mind offered by an extended warranty.
Finally, take a look at all the electronics you have bought throughout your life. How many of those have failed? Imagine you’d have bought an extended warranty for each of them – where would you be now? Would you have saved money or wasted it?
Buying an extended warranty is like going to a casino. The party that takes money from you, does so by making you believe that you are likely to get a lot in return. At the end of the day, whether you spent the money in a casino or for an extended warranty, it’s the receiver of your money who wins, not you. It’s a gamble. That’s why they do it. It’s because they know the odds are heavily against you. On occasion, someone wins, but vast majority lose. Though the reason why stores like Best Buy or Future Shop where I bought my laptop are able to offer near no mark up prices for products is because they rip people off on extended warranties. So I guess I better shut up now because without extended warranties, they would have to bump prices of the products they sell up to stay afloat. The more people buy extended warranties, the more it ensures low, near wholesale prices for products. Yeah, extended warranties are not worth it, but they ensure extremely low prices for gadgets I need. Keep buying, people 😉
I didn’t know where to start with my bicycle purchase so regardless of how much I have already hated Tuk Tuk drivers, I have jumped on one and asked him to take me to a bicycle shop. I primarily needed to know where the good shop is and wanted to see what they have and what the prices are like.
I was taken by the same Tuk Tuk driver who drove me to Two Dragons Guesthouse from the airport when it was raining cats and dogs. The bicycle shop he took me to was not far from the guesthouse at all. It was just up the Wat Bo street and then turn right on National Road 6. This whole area seemed vastly local, full of shops with signs in unreadable Khmer language and full of Khmer people shopping there.
We went probably only about a kilometre (likely less) down National Road #6 and stopped at the bicycle shop on the side of the road. The entire road is lined on both sides with shops of all sorts. The bicycle one we stopped at had dozens of bicycles piled up one next to another outside of the shop for easy access form the road.
I got off the Tuk Tuk and the driver offered me he would help translating since as he had claimed, none of the staff spoke any English. The offer was a kind one and I welcomed it with a smile, but unfortunately, the greed and intent to take advantage of me were the real reasons why I was offered this “help”.
I started looking at the bicycles and mostly saw second hand, bad quality bikes I thought went extinct at the end of 70’s. But not in Cambodia. These looked like overused rejects from perhaps China or maybe somewhere else. Most bikes looked in very poor shape but as I took a closer look at locals riding along the National Road 6, I noticed that this is in fact what they ride here.
My Tuk Tuk driver translated for me that these are “only” $40 each. I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t. Further at the back of the store, they had a few, also overused second hand bikes, but these were with gears and resembled mountain bikes, hence did not have the 70’s feel and were presumably newer. When I asked about prices for those, I was translated that they were going for about $185 each, depending on the model.
At this time I surely knew he was messing with me. First of all – I imagined what kind of mountain bike I could buy in Canadian Tire for $50. It would be a no name, not much bike, but it would still be a usable mountain bike with frontal suspension, derailleur made by Shimano and would come with 1 year warranty. And here I am, in a country which is far less expensive than Canada and they are allegedly asking $185 for a visibly inferior beater that was no longer usable for its previous owner and was replaced, discarded and somehow made its way to Cambodia. This beater would come with no warranty whatsoever, had no recognizable components on it and would require constant flow of money on maintenance to keep it going. I kept doing my math, but in no way did I see myself spending this type of inadequate money for this type of piece of crap bicycle.
I firmly assumed that the Tuk Tuk driver was abusing the fact that this is the second time I was riding with him and wrongly assumed that since this is only my second day in Cambodia, I won’t know any better and will pay vastly overquoted price. He was obviously “translating” actual quotes and bumped them up sky high to keep the difference for himself. He did not take into an account that while this is my second day in Cambodia, I am not new to budget travelling and have spent a lot of time in other third world countries. I instantly knew the “free translation service” he offered was not a service but an attempt to make money at me.
There was truly no way why a beater like that was to cost $185 and whatever was the real reason behind such high quotes, I did not see myself spending this type of money for that type of bicycle no matter what. I closed it with “I will think about it” and told the Tuk Tuk driver I would walk back to Two Dragons. I explained my reasons by saying that I wanted to go to a nearby open air market and have more look around other shops in the area.
I have come to solid conclusion that asking Tuk Tuk drivers for help translating is not the best of ideas. Unless it’s someone you know well and trust, you may be subjected to overpaying. How to deal with these situations, when you want to buy something from a store where they don’t speak English is a whole new issue I had to face.