Thursday, October 16, 2008

Greetings from Big Snake Province!

Hello all from my new home of Kampong Thom. (previously called Kampong Thom"(big) Pooh(snake) as at some point in history, a really large snake was found here someplace. is a prepared blog for ya with some pix... enjoy!

October 16, 2008

Hello everyone…or more specifically to the three or so people who are actually still reading my dementia. I’ve been in my permanent site of Kampong Thom for about a week and so far it’s been pretty good. I’ve made some friends locally as well as in Phnom Penh (which will be good for those times when I get to get away for a while)

For the last week I’ve been damn busy observing classes at the high school and teacher training college an generally running all over Kampong Thom town looking for things I need to keep me sane at home ( like a fan, an extension cord, a beach chair for reading etc.). Through it all there has been one constant: I’m getting ripped off on prices.

Now this isn’t as nefarious as it might seem at first. Most Khmer aren’t consciously trying to sell you a product for more than it’s worth, i.e. cheat you. They are simply using a localized economic model. Quite literally, there are two price structures in Kampuchea, which correspond to the two basic target markets for merchants: Khmer consumers and “Everyone else”. The average Khmer doesn’t make $4 a day, so obviously they cannot afford to pay much for goods and services. Generally foreigners here come in two flavors: those working for NGOs who typically have a healthy spending allowance (relative to locals) and tourists who for the most part have a good amount of money or they wouldn’t be able to visit Cambodia in the first place. In addition to having more money, these foreigners are used to items costing a great deal more in terms of their home currency (for example one really can’t eat a good breakfast for 75 cents in the UK but a meal for 3000 riel is common in Cambodia). Because of these two factors a two-tiered price structure has emerged. So yesterday when I was shopping for undershirts and shorts, I bought a pair of knock off nike tennis shorts, new, for $3. I felt pretty good about my purchase until I arrived home and my host sister (one year older than me and married to my host bro in law) asked me how much I paid. When I told her, she looked aghast and told me that those shorts should never cost more than 7000 riel, or about $1.75.

This pissed me off a bit at first, but then I stopped thinking of it as personal and started thinking about the economics and it all made sense. Quite literally, the price is determined by what the market will bear. In this case however, there are two distinct markets. For me, $3 seemed like a good price for new shorts and I was afraid to bargain lower. A Khmer would say I got a really bad deal. So it’s all a matter of perspective. Still, I’m a bit stuck between the two markets here. As a volunteer, I make about $4 a day, which puts me in the Khmer consumer group in terms of budget. Sadly, I’ll always have the appearance of a chalk white foreigner so the assumption will be that I have funds consistent with that consumer group (and I also come from a world that $3 shorts are a good deal). This may change as more shop owners and sellers at the market become familiar with me, but it is unlikely that I’ll ever get the true Khmer price from many sellers.

Just a little slice of life in Kampuchea-land!!

Here are some pix:

Pic 1- my training family. Three brothers, oldest sister and mother

Pic 2- a view of a floating village I visited. They had barbershops, electronics sellers, even a floating gas station.

Pic 3- Same day I visited the floating village we stopped at the Wat (temple) to pay respect to the monks. The wat is on sort of an island and must be accessed by boat. In the picture with me are Socheata to my right (my language teacher) and another PCV.

Pic 4- Photographic evidence reinforcing a previous blog point.

Pic 5- Riding in the back of a truck, on my way to another water village, Kampong Luong with Socheata on my birthday. Sometimes you have to get a ride with whomever is going that way. Spent my b-day getting pelted by passing boaters with balloons filled with colored water.

Pic 6- your basic Kampuchean water borne snack stand.

Pic 7- When Socheatas attack!! (on the way to the water village)

Pic 8- View of Kampong Chhnang from the top of the hotel where our swearing in was held. First time in a tie in over two and a half years.

Pic 9- Vanny and Socheata, two language instructors looking stunning in their Khmer formal wear after swearing in ceremony.

Pic 10- One of my favorite photos of Kampuchea life. My younger two host bros playing pool. Incidentally, all three of my host brothers are way better at pool than anyone else I’ve ever played against anywhere. They would rattle off successive complex combinations while talking to me all the time. Check out the sign above the pool table. “Please Welcome to this here.”


Chad said...

Wow! This is great! Keep the comments and pics coming. This really opens your eyes to what it is like around the world. I was a little surprised to read that you make $4 a day. That seems to put you at a distinct disavantage to your comments regarding "economics" and white people. Hopefully, the town will get to know you and you will sooner, rather than later, get the local price on things. I still think it was impressive to get a nice pair of shorts for $3.00. You can't acomplish that here, even at Walmart. Anyway, aside from playing pool, what type of fun do they have there? Have you been able to engage in their "fun" activities? Pic 9 - when you say "stunning", how old are these girls?

Good times!

vichet said...

I would like to go there one day, pls tell me ur location of Big Snake Province by my email