02 May 2005

The police of Phnom Penh

I was in a minor accident yesterday. I was riding on the back of a motorbike taxi, and we were turning left from the left-hand side of the road. Traffic here nominally drives on the right, but driving down the outside of the left-hand lane is very common. As we come to the corner, about to turn onto a one-way street, my driver spots a policeman coming the wrong way down the one-way street (also very common), with his head turned around so he can chat with the cops on the sidewalk near the corner. By his slightly fancier uniform and Honda Shadow, I could tell he was a higher-ranking cop. Without looking, he changes course to head directly for us, and continues to discuss life with his co-cops. My driver and I yell and honk frantically, to no avail. Luckily, no one is hurt, and the vehicles only slightly scratched.

Here's what amazed me - I wasn't fined. I know, I know - I wasn't driving, and the cop was much more at fault than my driver. But the usual rule in Phnom Penh used to be that the foreigner pays. Instead, he let us off with a long angry lecture. Maybe things are getting better here.

As a side note, if a traffic policeman tries to wave you over here, it's generally best not to see him. He's not going to come after you, and he won't hold it against you the next time he does manage to stop you. It's very much like a little game the two of you play. Sometimes you win, and sometimes he does, but there's no reason for anyone to get unpleasant about it.