“The police are everywhere!” I overheard someone exclaim the other day, as if his life depended on avoiding the Sihanoukville police traffic checkpoints. My friend and I just shook our heads. We’ve been here about the same length of time and have both heard the same stories about the Sihanoukville police checkpoints over and over again. I’d like to share my most recent “run in” with the Sihanoukville traffic police with you. Be warned, though; if you thrive on juicy gossip about corrupt Sihanoukville police taking bribes, you’re in for some disappointment.
I had to drop Sophie off at CT Clinic for a minor medical manner. Rather than sit around with Kelly waiting, I took him up the road to where I knew some road construction equipment was sitting idle. I thought he would enjoy seeing it close up and even climbing up on a “big big” tractor. As fate would have it, the traffic police were waiting for “victims” just past the place where we stopped.
Naturally they assumed I was stopping short of the checkpoint in order to avoid paying a fine (I wasn’t wearing a helmet – it had been misplaced). One policeman waved at me and called me over. I held up my hand and called back, “Jam teek” (just a minute, sort of). After playing with Kelly on the tractor for a little while, we walked over to the police and paid a dollar fine before continuing back to the clinic.
The helmet still was nowhere to be found that evening, but I had to go out, so I took a chance and didn’t take the back streets into town. Sure enough, the police had moved to the other side of town. I was pulled over, but when the same officer from the morning recognised me, he told the others to let me go without a fine. The only word I fully understood was “Hai” (already), but that was enough for me to understand he was telling them I’d already paid a fine that day.
I do know some Sihanoukville police. A couple of them are family friends and come over for dinner now and then. I didn’t know these police, though, so was given no special privileges. I think the reason they were so easy on me was because I didn’t run from them the first time or complain about the fine. In fact, I’m almost sure that’s the reason.
The reason why I’m so sure is because of an earlier incident when I and another foreigner were pulled over for not wearing helmets. This man and his wife or girlfriend became immediately indignant and tried to get me on their side when they angrily said, “They only pull over foreigners!” Annoyed, I replied, “Look around you. We’re the only two barang here!” The other 3 motorbikes waiting to pay their fines had Khmer riders and a car carrying a Cambodian family was pulled over a couple of minutes later.
They went on to start talking rapidly and belligerently to the police officer, who probably only understood a few words they were saying. When the police blocked them in their attempt to ride off, they got off the motorbike and the man said, “Okay! I’ll put on the fucking helmet.” He then started to open the seat, but since the police hadn’t understood what he’d said and were alarmed by his aggressive tone, they stopped him, fearing that perhaps he had a gun. Even then they didn’t react as I’m sure an American traffic cop would. They just took the key, made the man and woman stand back a little and opened the seat.
Having a helmet but not wearing one was no excuse for not paying the fine (remember, it’s all of $1), but the man and woman continued to resist. Finally, the policeman told me to just go on my way. He had enough to deal with. I got away without a fine. I have no idea what happened to the couple.
Next time you hear a story about the Sihanoukville traffic police, consider its source. Also think about how the police in your country would respond to your anger and contempt.