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Delightful Cambodian Girlfriend (1/7) – My Arrival In Pnom Penh



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Delightful Cambodian Girlfriend (1/7) – My Arrival in Phnom Penh

There she iiiis… – ALREADY!

Now what is this? There stands my girl right behind the passport control waiting for me. Behind passport control, but still before baggage claim and the customs gate. I've never seen locals allowed inside the arrival building; their droves wait outside, at least beyond baggage claim and customs.

We smile, we wave, but still we are 20 meters apart. Before facing passport control, I have to stand in line at the separate visa counter. The price list says: One month tourist visa 20 USD, one month business visa 25 USD, and then, quote: Cambodian nationals enter "gratis", free of charge. A rare generosity of the Khmer government.

— Visa Guy —

Look, Norah – she has new trousers! We beam. Finally it's my turn at the visa counter, but oh no, I don't have 20 USD handy. Actually, I only hold Baht and Swiss Franks, stupid me. – The friendly visa manager shows his goodwill: "We take Baht too, 20 USD is just 1200 Baht." – What? I am not up to date on exchange rates, but it should be around 800 or 850 Baht. "Sorry", I say politely, "I think 20 USD are about 900 Baht." – "No", says the officer, "I just checked for you, it's 1200 indeed." – I ask a few tourists if they would change my Baht or Franks into USD; but everybody looks the other way. So I fork out 1200 Baht, around 30 USD, for my 20 USD visa. Corrupt Khmer officials never fail to disgust me.

Now I stand in line at the passport control. Just five meters from Norah. Hey, look – she's got new shoes too! Soon… She charges her anticipating, vibrating smile with another 10.000 Watt.

— Passport Guy —

But we can't hug so soon. Passport control is especially slow in Phnom Penh airport. They still have this cute sign. In September 2003 it had been a quick laser-printout. As of April 2004 it reappeared in professional print with yellow letters on glossy blue cardboard: "We apologize for any delays that are caused by the use of our new computer system."

Norah's and my combined beams can't go unnoticed. When I finally manage to show my passport and get photographed with a Logitech webcam, the officer behind the high counter inquires: "She your girlfriend?" – "Yes." – "Oh", he smiles dreamily, "she beautiful, you very lucky". – "Yes", I smile dreamily. – The fact that she made it right to the passport desk doesn't worry him. – "Awkhun cheran", I make politely as I finally receive the stamp and another smiling nod from the passport guy. I sprint into Norah's arms.

She holds me, trembling, as if we hadn't met for a decade, or as if my return had not been clear at all. I bet all of the officials watch us with various comments. (It is one of the rare "un-Asian" public behaviours she allows herself.) – "Oh darling, my darling", she whispers into my ear, almost under tears, "sorry I am late". – "But you aren't late, we've met right on time", I go. – "No, I want to see your airplane come down already, but I miss it, because so busy today." – My Khmer Lady!!

— Security Guy —

I grab my luggage, we hike towards the exit. In the top department of my suitcase there is a fresh shirt, Norah's favorite shirt on me; I wanted to put the fresh shirt on for her in the restroom at the baggage claim, before we meet. Now she has seen me already. Forget the shirt.

"Ah, you have a new trousers and new shoes, they look good", I remark. – Pride enters her face, but she answers: "Nooooh, darling, that's nothing special." – "The passport guy said you are beautiful, and that I am very lucky to have you." – She smiles helplessly, compliments always make her nervous. – There is the exit, we step out into the afternoon Phnom Penh sauna, into a cloud of 100 frenzied Khmers awaiting more loved ones. Norah has a taxi waiting for us at the car park.

"Oh, jum-tik", she exclaims (wait a moment) and jumps back to the security guy at the arrivals door. They talk for a moment, money seems to change hands. Then I am greeted very politely by a taxi driver in a clean blue shirt and well-ironed trousers; who knows what she told him about me. On busy Pochentong Boulevard, past the water park, our white Toyota Camry crawls towards town. I don't even know which hotel she booked for us, but I trust her taste.

"Norah, what did you talk to the security guy when we left the airport", I ask her? – "Oh, he", she goes. "Before, I talk-talk-talk to him to let me go inside". – "And you can! I never saw people inside the arrival building. But you can! How did you do this?" – "Yes, first he says I cannot go inside to see you early. But I talk-talk-talk. Then he says ok, but I must pay 4000 riels." – That’'s one USD. "So you paid 4000 riels to go inside?" – "No, 4000 TOO MUCH! I told him 2000 enough already." – That's half a dollar.

She continues: "So now I go back to him, say thank you and pay 2000 riels. I think next time can get same price to go inside. 2000 riels, expensive already!"

To meet in the arrivals area, she had to pay 0,5 USD to a corrupt security guy. I paid 30 USD for a 20 USD visa to a corrupt visa guy. Corrupt Khmer officials never fail to disgust me.

Welcome to Srei Norah, welcome to Cambodia!


Delightful Cambodian Girlfriend –
– 1 My Arrival in Phnom Penh
– 2 First Night, First Morning
– 3 Dahlaeng With Darling
– 4 Snookyville By Night
– 5 The Apartment
– 6 Phnom Penh By Night
– 7 My Departure From Phnom Penh

Stickman's thoughts:

Is there anywhere in Asia Pothole hasn't been?