I met this morning with representatives of the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh. We discussed the projects that I’m working on, and I learned about all of the wonderful activities that the Embassy engages in, from sponsoring students and scholars to visit the United States to grants to assist Cambodia with cultural preservation. The Embassy also sponsors “American Corners” at various universities, which house reading materials about America and host programs and speakers. The State Department is an entirely new world for me. It’s not quite how Hollywood depicts it, but it’s still an impressive operation, and it’s clear that our Embassy in Phnom Penh is doing important and meaningful work on behalf of both the United States and Cambodia.
I also had a requisite “security briefing” from the Embassy’s security officers. Cambodia is pretty safe, although petty street crime, such as purse snatching, is common. Whether one is in Phnom Penh or New York City, the safety tips are pretty much the same: avoid dangerous situations, stay alert, and don’t flash jewelry or electronics. One Cambodia-specific safety tip was to ride only in tuk-tuks that have mesh coverings on the side and back, to minimize motorcyclists snatching bags or cell phones while driving by. Alternatively, one can ride backwards to keep a lookout for bag-snatchers.
I had one issue, which was getting to the Embassy. I’m staying at a hotel near the Russian Market section of Phnom Penh. Although it’s close to RULE (the school at which I’m teaching), it is some distance from the center of town, which is where most of the tourist attractions are located, as well as the Embassy. So, I took a 20-minute tuk-tuk ride. Tuk-tuks generally cost $1-3 per ride, with $2 the common fare. Despite attempts at negotiation on my part, the tuk-tuk driver at my hotel would not budget from a $5 fare. Later, I realized why. I was in a suit-and-tie and asked to be dropped off at the Embassy in the middle of rush hour traffic! A triple surcharge imposed by a very savvy tuk-tuk driver! Next time, I’ll ditch the tie and ask to be dropped off at the nearby temple, Wat Phnom, and walk the short distance to the Embassy.