Readers' Submissions

Delightful Cambodia – In a Billdodger’s Shoes

  • Written by Anonymous
  • February 13th, 2007
  • 5 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

By Hans Meier


A lazy afternoon in the FCC pub costs me 11 USD. Without checking the bill, I pay. I even put one dollar on top, because the waiter had been very attentive.

I walk down the stairs to street level and fight my way half across the road towards the river promenade, when my waiter and one more FCC clerk call me from the pavement: "Sir, sir – come back please." Many strollers and hawkers watch them calling me back like a bill-dodger.

Now is that attentive?

I fight my way back to the FCC side of the street.

My waiter and the second clerk present my bill: "Sorry, sir, we confused the tables. You have to pay 12 USD, not 11." This time I check my bill: Yes, my items add up to 12 USD. So I hand out another dollar. The waiter could have used his 1 USD tip for that, but he had preferred to follow me onto the road and shout after me like after a bill-dodger.

— PHNOM PENH, INTERNET CAFÉ —

In the air-conditioned internet café, a shoeshine boy approaches me. I don't wait for his absurd asking price, I quickly say in Khmer I need a shoeshine for the local standard price of 1000 riels (0.25 USD). With a grim face, he takes my shoes out to the curbside.

One minute later, from my workstation, I see him not only shoe shining, but also repairing a small hole in the sole.

I have very bad experiences with shoe shiners attempting repair work.

In socks, I walk out to the pavement: "I don't want the repair work! I only want shoeshine for 1000 riels", I tell him in very clear Khmer. From lots of practice across Cambodian markets I know I am understood. He mutters something, and I tiptoe back to my e-mails.

Two minutes later, I see him again working on the sole, not on the leather surface. On socks I step out into the dust and heat again and repeat my desire: Shoeshine for 1000 only, no repair work. He mutters something, and again I tiptoe back to my e-mails.

Three minutes later, he walks in and shows me my shoes – with repaired hole in the sole. That usually costs one to three USD. But I tell him again that I only ordered shoeshine and flash a 1000 riels note (0.25 USD). He mutters something. I respond I told him twice not to repair anything, and I will not pay for that, then I press the 1000 riels onto him.

Shouting obscenities at me right in the internet café, he stamps off. The other customers believe I cheated on a dirt-poor orphaned homeless shoeshine boy.

— KEP, BUNGALOWS GUESTHOUSE–

Arriving by taxi from Phnom Penh, I take off my shined, repaired leather shoes on the bungalow veranda in lazy laid-back Kep. I plan to leave the shoes on the veranda unused for a week, until I drive back to the capital. In informal Kep I prefer sandals over loafers, and flip-flops for the beach. And in this gentle, family-run, family-like bungalow guesthouse, nobody will steal the leather shoes off my verandah.

Or so I thought.

One evening, coming home from a sunset dinner at the crab market, something on the veranda has changed. I realize: My plastic flip-flops are not in their usual position, and the leather shoes have gone.

My shoes stolen? In this tiny, village-like, family-run, family-like place?

I settle for a Tiger in the resort's dinner sala and muse: Should I ask the renting family about my shoes? But they are so friendly and seem completely honest. I don't want to imply that anyone here is a thief. Reporting a theft might sure cause embarrassment, I think –

– when another guest approaches me: "Sorry, sir, are these your shoes?"

"Oh, yes, they are!"

"Sorry, sir, my dog likes to eat shoes. He found these shoes on your veranda and brought them to our bungalow. I already asked ten customers if they knew these shoes."

He's an NGO expat from Phnom Penh. Maybe his organisation looks after homeless orphaned canine. I take the shoes and put them next to my chair. He settles at another table.

Only ten minutes later I take a closer look: My shoes have not only been deported, they have also been bitten. Several edges show contours like a half-eaten apple. The shoes are still functional, but looks-wise I cannot further use them anywhere in Asia or Europe.

The dog owner sees me brooding over my shoes. "Everything ok with your shoes", he asks?

"No, look here, the edges are gnawed off."

"Oh, too bad", he says, "Sorry for my stupid dog! But you know what, in two days I check out!"

Important news indeed.

"Please, let me pay for your damage. How much did those shoes cost you?"

I had bought the loafers in Chiang Mai's Kad Suan Kaew for 4000 Baht – after a week-long, painful search. Until this afternoon, they looked slightly worn, but respectable enough for most functions.

Should I ask him for 108 USD, a huge sum in a Cambodian guesthouse? The real problem is not the money: The problem is that I always need so many hours to find any new outfit. And something else: Cambodia with its backward, reactionary style will not have any delightful shoes for me; for shoe-shopping I need more civilized places like Bangkok, Chiang Mai or Old Europe. But how can I walk around back in Phnom Penh – should I enter FCC and Heart of Darkness with my village sandals? In Bangkok, do I have to check into my slick downtown hotel with village sandals? Go for shoe-shopping in Central Chidlom with village sandals?

Peace of mind is more expensive than leather shoes. The Tiger on ice is nice too.

"Never mind", I say.

Stickman's thoughts:

Wow, that's a quandary. I wonder how many people would have handled it like that?