Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Very Special Species – The Cambodian Truck/Bus Driver II

Normally, I wouldn’t write about accidents and publish gruesome pictures of them. But this accident ties in directly with the previous post on the subject.

This accident happened in Sihanoukville yesterday. I drove by just after it had happened.  DAP News reports it like this:

The truck came along National road number 4 and was speeding across the intersection at the two Sokha and Tela gas stations. A little further on  the road is full of potholes and motorbikes and cars need to slow down to a crawl. The truck was oblivious to that and hit a motorcycle at high speed, subsequently panicked, veering left and right, running over pedestrians. An oncoming passenger tried to avoid the truck and in the process crossed the road and drove into a low-lying field. The truck meanwhile hit three or four more motorbikes and then crashed into a power line mast. The result: 9 people dead and an unknown number sustained serious injuries. The driver was unharmed and taken into custody.

Cause of accident: a speeding drunk driver.

I say it again, these people don’t know how to handle a truck. Driving along smaller country roads at night is so dangerous I can only advise people against it. When it rains this is almost like a suicide mission. The roads have no markings, the drivers don’t know the width of their trucks, and the chance that they sideswipe you is very high. One can only hope that there is no drunk driver behind the wheel.

Pictures lifted from DAP – News website.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


Here is one good example of the way Cambodians think. I have a 4-MB Internet connection serving about 10 users on average. Recently, when I went to pay my monthly subscription of $85 the customer service rep showed me a special offer pitched at the time providing a 6-MB connection at $65 a month.  The deposit for that deal was only $30. When I signed the initial subscription agreement I paid a $85 deposit. So switching seemed like a no-brainer, right?

The otherwise friendly and helpful lady came up with the following tally:

Usage for the past month                           $85
I got a credit for downtime                         $12
Fee for the new month                               $65

Total                                                         $138 payable right now.

Normally, I can pay my bill until the 22nd of the following month.  So I figured out the number a little differently.

I pay $19 on the 22nd of following month ($85 less $12, less $55 credit for difference in deposit) and the regular $65 for the changed subscription the month after that.

Now this is what any normal thinking person would expect, now is it? But not at Metfone in Sihanoukville. First, I can’t get back part of my deposit, second I have to pay for the usage of the past month immediately (without the usual grace period) when I change my agreement, and I also have to pay the new fee right away. Before, I did not need to do that. When I pointed that out she said this is company policy and the only way she would handle that.  After kicking this around with her a couple of times, it was obvious she wouldn’t budge from her position. Although she had already decided on her own to give me that credit for downtime without authorization from her boss. So she obviously did have some leeway.

When I asked what I needed to do to get my $55 overpaid deposit back she offered me the most ridiculous solution I have seen in a long time. I should cancel my subscription. I would then get my full deposit of $85 back after about 2 weeks. We draw up a new agreement, I pay a new installation fee of $30, plus the new deposit of $30. When I pointed out that I already did have a working connection in place, she just said that’s the only way we could do it. Any amount of reasoning could not make her change her position. Of course, in the meantime she had maneuvered herself in a corner from which she couldn’t come out without losing considerable face, in front of a foreigner at that.

I just left her sitting there, promising when next in Phnom Penh I would just go to the head office. That made her even less friendly. Now guess what? Next weekend I needed to go to PP anyway and, lo and behold, all it took for them was to change my subscription in the computer from the old to the new rate with the increased bandwidth; and that was it. No payment, no hassle. Who would have thought that?

But nothing is without a catch in Cambodia. I expected the new speed to be available after a couple of days or so. Not so. After 10 days we still didn’t have our faster speed available. So I called to complain. Well, I had to go to the office in Sihanoukville to sign a work order so they would change it in their server.  The service at this company is really rotten; but they are by far the cheapest. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Dentists Without Borders

These past two weeks we were host to a group of Danish dentists and dental students in their final year. This group had chosen Cambodia for this year’s campaign to help developing nations  with poor health and dental care. I had written about the poor and practically non-existent public health care system in Cambodia before. So they couldn’t have made a better choice. As things go and all things considered, the 2 weeks were a mere drop in the bucket and they were limited to one village. It is one great symbol of how philanthropy works though, coming from people without the material means of millionaires or even billionaires, for whom it is easy to donate a couple of million here and there.

The villagers made good use of the free service and came in throngs, especially during the first week. This again goes to show how deplorable the government’s handling of public affairs, in this case health care, really is. When will governments in developing countries ever learn that building up a military is definitely not one of the top priorities? Health care, education, and infrastructure, including electricity, roads, etc. should be their main concern. But again, this government seems to believe that the development of the country is in better hands with civil society organizations or the private sector.

All the more admirable are the efforts of such foreign volunteers as this Danish group who use part of their vacation time to come and help destitute people. As altruistic as they are, they also pay their own way, e. g. airline tickets, hotel accommodation, and meals. You need firm convictions to go to such lengths to help other people. In Cambodia they cooperate with the One-2-One NGO Go to their website to learn more about them. This NGO selects the village and makes all preparations for the dentists once they arrive. They will also provide the help needed to make the performance of the dental services as smooth as possible. They use the village and a school there, in this case Ream, coordinate it with the principal and the teachers who will inform the students and their parents. From then on it is word of mouth, which is very effective in the countryside, especially once the locals learn it is free of charge. The villagers are taught how to use a toothbrush properly, learn to do it at least twice a day, and learn about which food to avoid and which is good not only for their teeth but general health as well.

We must all take our hats off to those nice, friendly, and unselfish people. The leader of the group, Mr. John Christensen, is a 76-year-old former professor of dentistry at the University of Copenhagen. Our compliments to all of them.

This charity covers a number of underdeveloped countries. If you would like to donate to their cause you can do this on their website.  

(By the way, did you know that the Danish people are the most satisfied, not to say happiest, people in the world according to an index that is compiled an annual basis. There are downsides to life in Denmark too, for sure, but all in all quality of life must be pretty good there.)

Initial check-up

Initial check-up

One-2-One Assistant

Converted school room into treatment room

Sterilized instruments

Waiting patients



Getting ready


Assistent from One-2-One NGO


One of the school buildings

Instrucstions which food is bad for your teeth

Treats for Cavity 

...and the good stuff