Why Supporting Local Businesses In Cambodia Is NOT a Good Thing

Supporting local economy by buying from small local businesses is definitely a good thing and is both rewarding and empowering. I always follow this golden rule to the last letter and strongly encourage all travelers to support local businesses any way they can but as with everything, there are exceptions to the rule. Unfortunately, unless Cambodia puts an end to open discrimination their society is riddled with, I will maintain that supporting local Cambodian businesses is equivalent to promoting racism.

Unless you pop in a business that’s part of a nationwide chain, you are unlikely to see any prices posted visibly next to the items they apply to. There is a very good reason for that. Prices are not clearly displayed to allow for racial profiling which results in business owners applying different prices to different ethnic groups.

This type of racial profiling is not practised in any of the neighboring countries but then again, most businesses in the neighboring countries try to establish themselves by offering quality product and/or service whereas most Cambodian businesses specialize in ripping the customer off at any cost the first time they come to buy something.

Not all Cambodian businesses are like that, though. Visitors to Cambodia have an option to do business with non discriminatory companies and support good business practices, instead of scam and racism. Examples of good businesses to shop with in Siem Reap are Lucky Mall, Angkor Market or Angkor Trade Centre. In these businesses, prices are clearly marked and visibly posted and apply equally to everyone, regardless of the color of their skin.

Photo: Lucky Mall in Siem Reap - Sustainable Business Worth Supporting
Photo: Lucky Mall in Siem Reap - Sustainable Business Worth Supporting

Aside from wider selection of items, these businesses also offer better pricing on most items however when it comes to fresh produce, you will always end up paying more when buying it from any of the non discriminatory businesses. Going to a local market and haggling for a price with a vendor there will land you a significantly better price. For example an average price for a water melon (an excellent source of energy and hydration in this heat) in Lucky Mall is $1.05 – $1.50 whereas the price for the same in Center Market or Old Market would only be 2,000 to 3,000 Riel (equivalent to roughly $.50 to $.75) or somewhere in that neighborhood. However in my mind, I will gladly pay a premium for the privilege of being treated equally than to be subjected to racial discrimination even if it saves me some money.

Unfortunately, you will also get local Cambodians shopping at these malls and Cambodians believe lines don’t apply to them. If you go shopping during a busier time of day, you may have a few people at every open cash register, so you just step in line and wait your turn. Other foreigners will step in line behind you or behind whoever the last person in the line where they want to wait their turn is, but when a Cambodian comes, they will simply step in the personal space before you and start rudely piling their stuff on the counter, completely ignoring everyone who have been politely waiting in that line for their turn. Cambodians are naturally rude and disrespectful so this type of behavior is normal.

By supporting local businesses in Cambodia, you will be directly supporting racism and discrimination. Small local businesses are an essential part of local economies, but if Cambodians care about their local economies, the change must start with them. I would never pass by the business that displays their prices visibly and gives me room to look at their merchandise without pressuring me into buying something from them. The formula is simple – you either leave me alone so I can carefully evaluate what I want to buy, or I’m not buying anything from you at all. I continuously need stuff to sustain my travels yet no business that tried to pressure me ever succeeded in making me to buy from them. I always go where I feel comfortable and am granted with space to breathe and time to decide.

Cambodians like to whine that business is slow, yet they don’t try to address the reason behind it. Nobody likes to be discriminated against and treated like crap. Many foreigners who come to Cambodia end up spending less money that they would if they were not constantly under pressure from aggressive touts. They go to local markets, but end up just passing from one stall to another, avoiding eye contact with the shop people just so they don’t have to put up with that constant pressure. As a result, they end up buying nothing because no business would leave them alone to decide what they could buy in peace.

Refusing to do business with businesses that don’t treat customers with respect is the best service you as a foreigner can offer to the local communities. When businesses realize that they are ripping themselves off by being rude, travellers will stay longer and will spend more money. It’s time for sustainable solutions, not short term, shady business practices. Help make the world a better place and do not support local Cambodian businesses that base their business model on racism and mistreatment. Criticism from faux-supporters who support this deadlock situation is superficial and unsustainable. Make the right choices that will promote the real change. It will help to make Cambodia a better and safer country, which right now it is not.

HP and Dell Laptops

Shortly after I started to look for the best laptop to buy, a note came from Dell that they are releasing new small screen laptops that will be powered by the latest components and preferential pricing was offered for initial orders (Dell Vostro 1220). This pricing was available only through Dell website as these units were not available in stores yet so a chance was given to web savvy computer users to take advantage of this attractive offer before general public could lay their hands on them for a regular price. I went through the process and ordered one right way. These Dell laptops seemed exactly like what I was looking for. The screen was only 12.1″ across and guts had latest and fastest components making it a super computer for the time. They would still not have Windows 7 installed on them, but there was an option to get free upgrade when it becomes available.

Trouble was that 2 days after I’ve purchased one on line, I called Dell customer service to make sure the unit was shipped to me as I was leaving in less than two weeks, but was told that these units will not be shipping until mid September. Needless to say, I had to cancel my order because I would no longer be at home when the laptop arrives and I would need something with me to make sure I can continue making money and posting about my adventures. Dell support is notoriously awful so I did not sweat over not being able to get a Dell laptop much.

It was becoming very frustrating, though. I really didn’t want to opt for an emergency solution and purchase a large screen laptop but since there was nothing in under 14″ I would be comfortable with, I started looking at the next step up in size. Then I’ve given a closer look to one of the HP 13.3″ laptops. There were two versions of this one and while less expensive one was the more popular one, it did not offer good value for money for components were really underpowered, the more expensive option had fast components, lots of storage space and a great battery which would power the laptop for up to 9 hours. I went to give this one a closer look at one of London Drugs locations.

Luckily for me, they had one in stock and it was still in the box, never on display. I’ve asked if they could bring it so I can take a look as I was seriously interested and they’ve obliged. I was under time pressure and this laptop seemed to bear components I was comfortable with and came at a price I liked so I bought it on the spot. However as soon as I started using it, things were popping up that made me not like it. First of all, this laptop just as all HP laptops was extremely bloated with bloatware. I spent half the day just removing the HP bloatware yet dozens of useless utils still kept popping up, mostly forcing you to upgrade to a full version for a fee. It was horrible.

But what I didn’t like the most was the placement of the battery. Yes, according to the specs, the battery was supposed to provide an extended operating time without the mains, but it was protruding from flat bottom making it impossible to have it on your laps and making it awkward when on the desk. Plain and simple – stupid. However, since there was nothing else available and I was leaving the country in a little over a week, I was sticking with it. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of it.

Once I had most of the bloatware removed and all latest updates installed, I went to make a full back up of the system so I can restore it should some catastrophe occur and erase my hard drive. You always need to have a back up and since this laptop didn’t come with installation CDs, unless I made a back up, I would not be able to get the machine back up and running. It would become a chunk of electronic garbage that’s of no use. If anything at all corrupted the hard drive, I’d be screwed. Knowing that they are not providing system discs, HP equipped the laptop with their own, proprietary back-up software that urged you, the user to initiate the back up right away because you had no discs to do anything should there be a hard drive failure. So I started with full system back up with that HP soft.

It looked like I would need 4 DVDs in order to have entire system disc backed up so I loaded up the first one and had it burned, then inserted a second one to start burning, but it would get stuck at 9%. It would just hang at 9% for hours upon hours and once 10 hours had passed and nothing new happened, I knew it froze and is not going to unfreeze. I had to hard reboot the laptop, having lost whole day trying to make a back up, discarded the busted disc and started the whole process over again. It went fine, first disc got burned, the request to insert disc 2 came which I did, burning of disc 2 started and behold – it froze at the same spot again. Stuck at 9% for hours upon hours until I had no option but to hard reboot the laptop again.

This HP backup software was useless and it wasted two days of my time. I phoned HP customer support to see if they had a solution for that as it’s obviously a glitch with the software given that it freezes at that one specific spot all the time, but the tech support was completely useless. HP obviously outsources their support to India or somewhere cheap and those people are completely useless. As he started to ask questions such as whether I can make sure that there is disc inside the CD ROM tray I knew I was just wasting more of my time and HP is not a company to go with.

I hung up on the tech support guy after a few irrelevant, stupid questions and went straight back to London Drugs to have this laptop returned as per their 30 day return policy. I was extremely unhappy about it because it wasted a lot of my time and I only had so many days to get myself set up on a new laptop. HP is completely useless. I didn’t like anything about that laptop even before their software started crapping out on me and their support proved that it’s worthless. It simply didn’t feel right as I was using it but I kept giving it second chances just because I was under time pressure. It didn’t work out.