It was our first day in Phnom Penh and we were catching up on a little work in the hostel bar (which is really nowhere near as fun as it sounds!) We finished and went to pack up our belongings; Laptop -check. Water – check. Packet of biscuits… eaten. Mobile phone – shit! Where is the phone?!
We had been sat at the same table for around 4 hours, the phone sitting next to us. First thought- we must have lost it!? After frantically searching the area, revisiting bathrooms and behind the bar (still not as fun as it sounds) decidedly it must have been pinched off the table – disappointing when it had survived nearly 5 months of travel, only to be stolen on our first day in Cambodia- our penultimate country on leg one!
Disappointing as it was, we chalked it up to a learning experience & jumped onto our travel insurance website. What we needed to do was fairly simple; get proof of purchase & report the phone as stolen to the local police. Easy! Well… the first job was fairly easy. Informing the police however as we as were about to find out, was going to be far more complicated, and more expensive than we anticipated…
Up early the next day, we were given a map to the station where, according to the guy at the hostel, there would be English-speaking officers.
After an hour of searching the area marked on our map, getting lost a few times, and accosting a few Tuktuk drivers, we eventually found a police office… even better- the tourist police. After walking into the room (quite literally a room under someone’s house), we told them of our problem.
They told us that they couldn’t help us and that we needed to go to a police station that was nearer to where we were staying. Oh. Good then. Hungry, hot and tired from walking, I dropped Natalie off at the hostel and told her to feed herself – her ‘hang-er’ doing nothing to help the situation.
I walked into station #2 where two police officers lying on sun loungers; shirts off, watching Cambodian dramas – not a care in the world, took a good 4 minutes to acknowledge me. When they eventually did, the more rotund of the two gestured that I should talk to the guy that was sweeping the room. Confused, I walked over to the youth and before even starting was met with “I’m sorry, I don’t speak English”… Fantastic.
Still feeling relatively chipper, I head over to a nearby ANZ bank and got the assistance of a lovely girl about to go on her lunch break. She painstakingly wrote the whole event down in Khmer for me, and I marched the written statement back to see Chandler and Joey in their lazy boys.
Straight away, ‘Joey’ gave me the hand and told me that they would need to talk to me directly or through an interpreter: they would not accept my written testimony…the irony that he was telling me this in perfectly phrased and versed English was not lost on me. When I asked if he could translate for me, the instant switch was laughable: “Sorry, I don’t speak English very well”…
I GET KNOCKED DOWN, BUT I GET UP AGAIN...
Beaten, but not yet defeated, I paid a visit to a pharmacist around the corner and asked if any one spoke English (normally a prerequisite for university education in Asia, so if you ever need anyone to play translator – that be your best bet).
Accompanied to the station by another young woman from the pharmacy, ‘Joey’s’ face was a picture; a perfectly contorted mix of disbelief and frustration – “No!” he jumped off of his lounger and launched towards the girl rambling angrily in Khmer. The general gist of it: The guy I needed to talk to was the original guy with the broom who had now gone for lunch and would not return for a few hours.
Dejected, I thanked the girl and returned to the hostel, deciding that I would enlist the help of the team there for my return attempt. After waiting for said few hours, we were ready to go. They told me I would need to pay $4 for a Tuktuk to take us to the police station. ‘Fine’, I thought – $4 – let’s just get this shit done!
We jumped in the Tuktuk and immediately started in the wrong direction of the police station… when I mentioned this, they told me I had gone to the wrong one for the district we were in. GREAT!
THIRD TIME’S A CHARM...
Finally arrived at the local station (third time lucky?!), my hostel translator jumped out of the Tuktuk to talk with the police officer. My problem was explained & we were told to come back tomorrow…WHAT?! At this point, frustration turned to anger.
Apparently, they could not take a statement as the “guy with the stamp” wasn’t there. How could the absence of a person with a stamp prevent the wheels of justice turning… ?! What if there had been an assault or something more serious…?! Where was this man with his stamp?!
We were told to go away and come back later the same evening – however this wasn’t really a go-er as we had plans to go and eat some *ahem* 100% ordinary pizza with friends… Incidentally, while on our night out, my ‘I’m invincible!’ thoughts nearly led me to the station… thank God I didn’t go through with it!
The next day, I decided to circumvent the hostel and just took along the Tuktuk driver, RattaNa who drove me to the station and talked with the first police officer that was good enough to look in our direction.
He explained that the man with the stamp was still not here, but he could call to see if he was able to come over. I’m in luck – he’s on his way, stamp in tow. The guy that turned up cut a far different figure to the rest of the stations finest; 6ft 4, chest the size of a barrel and a face like thunder that suggested he was not happy about being summoned from wherever the chief of stamps resides.
I was confident that given time, my charming personality would thaw any ice that existed between us.
Beckoned to pull up a pew on one of the various designs of patio chair that were strewn around the place, so commenced 40 minutes of telling my story, over and over again – questions asked by both himself and a woman who randomly walked in half way through. I felt like a child again, telling tales on one of my sisters to my parents.
Finally, we were directed into a room seemingly half interrogation room, half storage cupboard. You know the kind of room- we all have one like it in our house! I was just confused at how official police business might be conducted in such a place…
Once again, I relayed my story while he painstakingly wrote down my statement. I was keen to see his long-overdue stamp-play as clearly public relations or indeed writing were not his strong suit – I think there was more Tip-ex than paper towards the end!
Once he was done and I had signed on the dotted line, we were told to go next door to photocopy the form (paying for the trouble) and return to the station where he took the statement back and FINALLY stamped both copies. Success! Right – let’s get going!
BUT IT WASN’T OVER YET...
Before I could leave with my statement, RattaNa informed me that I would need to ‘buy the officer breakfast’. Hmm. Weird. Firstly, if he was hungry, why did he reject all my subtle slutty attempts to take him out to my favourite noodle place?! Second: It simply wasn’t breakfast time.
This guy was trying to fleece me. I looked at the fancy gold watch he was rocking and wondered how many stolen phones had gone into buying that thing. Long story short, he wanted $10. I gave him $3 and got the hell out of there quick-smart, statement in hand.