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Saturday, July 08, 2006


How much you pay?—shopping in Cambodia

I bought a durian in the market recently. I picked one myself by the method I had been taught in Thailand—it rattled. The guy wouldn't let me have that one. I assumed he was trying to do me a favour and I figured he'd know better than me. I couldn't understand what he was saying of course. I just went with the flow. He picked another one for me that he seemed to be saying was OK. He was more interested in the way the spikes bent. When I brought it home and cut it open it was quite bland. Durian have a reputation for their really strong flavour and smell. Many Westerners can't handle it. If this was my first durian I would have been wondering what all the fuss was about. I still don't know if the guy set me up to take an inferior durian or perhaps he knows less than me about choosing durian.

My experience is that people here are basically honest, so long as you understand they way they tick. Many Cambodians will try to get the best price they can for something they are selling. If you are silly enough to pay the price, they will be glad to take your money. Last time I stayed in Phnom Penh I went to buy a bottle of water. There was a young girl on the stall and I was about to hand her 500 reil when an older woman said 'one thousand reil'.

'You are kidding!' I replied and turned to walk away.

She laughed. '500 reil' she said. She was trying me out. A tourist would have just paid it. When I first arrived in the country the guest house was charging me 2,000 reil for each bottle of water. That is not considered to be dishonest. You can always buy somewhere else.

Here in Kompong Chhnang one morning Ah Mung was not on her stall. I usually buy tofu from her. Her mother has a stall nearby with similar products but she was also absent. I was pointed to another stall where the woman did her best to rip me off. I usually pay 300 reil for a small cake of tofu. It's a standard price anywhere in Psar Leuh. This woman tried to charge me 800 reil. When I pointed out that I usually pay 300 she agreed and then tried to short change me. It's the first time (that I'm aware) this has happened in almost five months in Cambodia.

Many times I have accidently given a vendor a 10,000 reil note instead of 1,000 (It's easy to do.) Invariably they give the extra money back. They will not rip you off in this way. Once a price is agreed they will not try to get extra money out of you even if you are stupid enough to give them the wrong money.

Most people at Psar Leuh charge me the local price. I don't bargain. I just pay what they ask. It is never much. If I think they are having a go at me then I don't go back. I bought four limes a few days ago from a stall that I don't usually shop from and she charged me 400 reil. Later I saw a local man buy four limes from another stall and he was charged 400 reil. As I said, they usually charge me the local price. My vegetables for each day rarely cost more than $2, often less than $1.

And even if they charge me a foreigners' price—I got a pair of trousers cut down into shorts. The woman charged me 1,000 reil. My friend said the standard price is 500 reil—1,000 reil is about 30 Australian cents. I'm not complaining.


I got some prints made from those photos I took of the market vendors a few weeks back. Word got out that I had them. Sunah & Seinee could not wait until I brought them in. They came with a friend to visit me in my room. The following morning I was surrounded by smiling faces as soon as I got off my bike. Such excitement—so many happy faces. I think I was the most popular man in the market that morning. I guess few, if any, of these people own a camera. To be given a photo of themselves is a really big thrill.

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