Whatcha Gonna Do When They Come For You?

Cops staking out a street pulling over drivers

One of the most memorable parts of Phnom Penh will be the cops. You can get pulled over for the silliest of reasons. For example, it is not legal to have your headlights on during the day. Keep in mind that it is perfectly OK to drive around in the black of night without any lights. Most of the time, you get pulled over for no reason at all. Now of course, something will be found. Perhaps it will be the lack of international driver’s license or lack of motorcycle endorsement. Or they simply they ask for a “fee”. Now it is not much they asked for, but the Weronika and I decided that we would do our little part in tackling corruption. The following ensued when Weronika and I as well as Paddy and Ola got pulled over.

  • Officer: License
  • Krystian and Paddy give the license
  • Officer: No Cambodia License?
  • Krystian: No, American license
  • Officer: Need Cambodia license
  • Krystian (in a mock pleading voice, always smiling): No no no mister. Cambodia man come to US, can drive on Cambodia license. Why American man need Cambodian license?
  • Officer: Need to pay fee
  • Krystian: No mister. Please. No need.
  • Officer: Fee there (points to another officer sitting by a small table). 4000 riel (about 1 US dollar)
  • Krystian (Pointing to his and Paddy’s license in officers hand): No fee. Good license. Everything OK.
  • Officer: Need fee
  • Krystian (Gently taking both licenses from officer’s hand): No fee mister. Please. For good luck. Christmas and happy New Year.
  • Officer (smiling broadly): Yes, for happy New Year, fee.
  • Krystian: No, from Cambodian police to tourist good luck for happy New Year. (Starts to walk away). Ok? Ok? No fee? We go? Ok? We go?

At this point the officer is not objecting, just trying to think what he can do. I motion to Paddy to get on his bike and start walking to mine. We slowly back off, continually pleading with mock voices and shy little smiles and just drive off. This was one of the funniest situations ever, until another similar one was repeated.

Weronika and I were going to a market. As we pulled close, there was the standard group of extorting police officers right next to where we needed to park. I went to park avoiding the police but they followed me the ten paces. So I parked the motorbike and started the same “good luck mister, for happy new year, no fee, please” spiel. The only difference is that in the end we did not ride away but just left the motorbike there and went shopping. Luckily, when we returned, the police had left and the bike was where we left it.

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