Returning from Phnom Penh last week I was overloaded to say the least. Carrying my guitar, a fully stuffed backpackers pack, and a black bag filled with books topped off with a soccer ball, I rode my bike out to the road where I can flag down a taxi to get me about 10k from my site. Riding safely from the PC office to the road in the blistering heat and keeping everything balanced while weaving through heavy midday moto traffic was miraculous. To top it off, I was fighting an ear infection and had a large piece of cotton jammed in one of my ears. I don't think I realized how much we rely on ears for balance until then...
I made it out safely and flagged the fleet of taxis with my hands gesturing the Cambodian signal for three (thumb and pointer pressed together, like the ok symbol). After about ten minutes of this, a van stopped. The loader, vans are normally run by pairs: a driver and a loader, hopped out and was happily ready to start throwing my things in the van. I knew from experience to ask for the price up front, after having been ripped off numerous times, and he gave me a straight answer. 7000 reel. This is the actual price for a person and a bike to go from Phnom Penh to Tram Knaa market. I was a bit suspicious and asked him to verify, "so, me and the bike go to Tram Knaa for 7000r ?" (this and the following dialogues are translated from Khmer) "yes." I was happy that he hadn't tried to rip me off, there's almost always some haggling involved. Pleased, I thought to myself, "I'm going to hand him two dollars, equivalent of 8200r, for being honest."
We stopped at the bakery, as most vans leaving the city do, and the driver began to pull my stuff out from the back of the van. I got out to check on what was going on and he told me, "you have a bike, it's 10000r to go to Tram Knaa." Greedy bastard. I was upset. I told him, "I live in Cambodia. I know the price. I asked the loader earlier how much it would be for me and the bike, and he told me 7000r. Normally, it costs 5000r to go from Phnom Penh to Tram Knaa and 2000r extra for a bike." He said, "it's 10000r" "No, he told me already that it is 7000r for me and the bike. I'll give you two dollars or I'll take another van." "He didn't know the price, it's 10000r." As streams of expletives drifted around my head, I decided that on principle I was not going to give in to this _____ (fill in the blank).
I grabbed my stuff, which had been thrown out on the dirt and walked 10m to another van which was going the same way. I explained my situation to them and asked if they could take me to Tram Knaa for two dollars. They agreed. Then the driver of the van came up to them and demanded money for taking me from P.P. to the bakery. I told the new team that this man had lied to me and then I told them the man had a bad heart (jet ah crot). They didn't give him anything and without incident we arrived at Tram Knaa. As I was getting out I froze. I didn't have my black bag. The bag had all of my students essays from the contest, their certificates (and I can't even begin to explain how much certificates mean to Khmer people, it's like heaven on parchment), all of my notes from the TESOL conference I attended, two new books Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and The Wind Up Bird Chronicle (which I'd just gotten from Rachel), two candy bars from Tanen and his family, my teaching notebooks, a whole slew of magazines I was going to use for materials development, a brand new book I'd just bought for my family club, one of the 17$ soccer balls I'd just bought to do a 50th anniversary project for the Peace Corps, and my journal (containing all of the poetry, songs, and creative gestures I'd written over the last 5 months. It was a heavy blow. On my bike ride home, which in retrospect was notably easier without the bag, I kept going over what had happened in my mind. "It was only .50c more, but it was the principle of the thing, but 50c, but principle, the guy was a jerk, principle, but 50c, wow I'm an idiot, the stuff's irreplaceable, grrrrrrrr, *)^_$, ." I was really mad at myself and used my rage to propel me back to my village.
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