Notes from Cambodia…

Walking through the city last night, I passed a small crowd of Khmer in a park.  They were playing aggressive rap music and dancing what looked like an Asian version of the hokey-pokey.

 

I got a strange phone call.  Someone called yesterday and said he wanted to meet me.  It sounded really shady.  He kept asking me where I was.  He was talking kind of quietly, and referred to my old job that I’d left.

I pretended I couldn’t hear him and hung up.

I stopped around at the school that I figured might have been calling to offer me a job.  (But why would they want to meet me?)  After a tortured conversation, the receptionist checked and told me that the man who called me was “in the provinces.”  We agreed he could email me.

That was yesterday.  Today, I got the phone call again.  He wanted to meet me.  He sounded bolder.  I kept asking who he was; I think he might have given me the name of my old landlord, several moves ago.  Finally, he came out with it:

My visa (he said) was no good.  Did I know the law in Cambodia?  He would report me to the Embassy.  He said something about the police, too.

It didn’t gel.  I demanded to know who he was a few times, said, “Don’t call me again,” and hung up.  My reasoning was this:

Probably, this was the owner of the travel outfit through whom I’d gotten my visa extended last time.  He had that phone number, so he could tell me when I could pick up my passport.  He also would have been able to write down the date of expiry of the new visa.

So, not knowing I had just gotten my visa renewed through another agency (and gotten a considerably better one at less cost), he called to blackmail me.  Because if I didn’t play ball with him, he would turn me in to the embassy.

That was also a giveaway:  the American Embassy isn’t there to enforce Cambodian immigration control.  I’m sure they’d cooperate if the Cambodian authorities contacted them.  But not some guy on the other end of a cell phone.

Still…  I had some time, so I trucked over to the US Embassy.  It was like going into a courthouse in the States, where your stuff was X-rayed and held, and you had to walk through metal detectors.  Then the waiting room was like a tiny version of the DMV, where you talked through bullet-proof windows.

The Khmer clerk I talked to didn’t know what to do with my question:  Was my visa valid?  He had me wait, and soon I was talking to an American.  He looked ex-military.

In the past month or so I have talked to very few Americans.  Few Westerners, even.  I explained what had happened, and that I thought it was a shakedown, but that I wanted to verify.  He hadn’t heard of a scam like that before.  He said my visa was good.  And we chatted briefly.

It was kind of cool to talk to someone from the States.

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Published in: on December 17, 2009 at 6:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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