Khmer Vs International Banking: Volunteer Working and Inverse SnobberyApril 18, 2005
The small volunteer stipend that I get for working here deals with those small day to day expenses like rice and [maybe] petrol. However, if I want to do anything other than live like a hermit, existing solely on boiled rice and filtered tap water, I have to tap into my own cash reserves. This usually happens about a week after the event laughably called ‘payday’.
Now I am not complaining about the amount of money I receive, I knew the deal before I signed up for two and a half years of this – although I was given the impression that living in Cambodia was a hell of a lot cheaper than it actually is,…”Oh the locals only get paid US$20 a month, so the US$200 you get a month will be more than sufficient.”
The fact that the non-volunteer ex-pat staff in this particular NGO are on Western salaries is also something that I am not complaining about?
Something else that I am not complaining about is the fact that I had to buy my own motorbike, while the non-volunteer ex-pat staff swans around in 4×4 Toyota Landcruisers; no, no, no, I am not complaining about that?
Nor am I complaining about the fact that working here as a volunteer is costing me around US$10,000 a year of my own cash reserves. [and that is before we even consider lost earnings for these years?]
No, what really twists my tits is when I have a problem; when I ask the non-volunteer ex-pat staff for assistance, or even an opinion, the response is always the same – ”ask a Khmer member of staff,” although usually phrased in a variety of different politically correct ways. Although that having been said, the Khmer staff are the ones who actually run the office and do all the work (and all on Khmer salaries, I might add)
So there I was last week, running out of cash [again] and heading off to the MasterCard office in Canadia Bank (Second floor, 2%, since you ask) when I am told by the gormless bloke who is serving me that my card has been rejected, jointly concerned and sceptical I ask him to try again, the result, nope, card still invalid. So I check the expiration date, still 2 more years to go, no visible sign of damage to the strip, or card in general. So I leave, somewhat annoyed, but what can one do?
Heading around to the volunteer NGO office I ask if I can use the landline to call Customer Services in the UK for my card – No.
Oh, okay, alright?!?!? Guess that is just too much to ask.
Heading back to my office in the impoverished government ministry that I work for I sulk at my desk for a bit while trying to dig up an Email address for my Card Provider – no such luck, can only deal with account queries by phone.
When my Khmer boss comes over and asks if everything is okay – I was keeping to myself and not joining in with the usual office festivities involving Jasmine Tea and Fried Banana Fritters. Explaining the situation to him he tells me to use the landline in his office.
Managing to talk to my bank in the UK I am informed that all is well with my card and that the two transaction at the Mastercard office had in fact gone through ?!?!!!?!
Having reiterated to my bank that I had received no cash and had signed for nothing at the bank they cancelled the debits (benefits of Platinum Card Services) and suggested that I take the matter back up with the guys in the Mastercard office.
Returning to my own desk my Khmer boss comes back over and asks if I need to borrow any cash for the weekend, as he is doing so he pulls out a wallet stuffed with 100 dollar bills?
Declining his generous offer I say that I need to head back to the bank to sort out things with them.
They are still adamant that the transactions were declined and not accepted, they even phoned Mastercard to verify the fact (but they would not phone my Card Provider).
Still needing some ready cash I get them to try again.
This time not a hitch, card goes straight through and I have the cash in my hand two minutes later.
All now seems to be well, however I am waiting for my end of the month statement before I relax completely about it.
Oh, and even more astounding, the particular volunteer organisation that I work with are now in the process of considering whether or not too cut the volunteer stipend as they consider it generous.
Honestly, it is enough to make a gecko laugh.
The views in this column are entirely those of Lord Playboy (of Phnom Penh, Sonteipheap and that muddy patch of ground next to the school;) they are in no way are representative of Khmer440, its editors or staff, of any Ministry of the Royal Government of Cambodia who employs Lord Playboy, of those Khmer merchant bankers, of sloppy ex-pats unable to find real jobs, of anyone who thinks US$200 a liveable amount of money anywhere, non-Americans who use American spellings, or the mad old woman who lives in my car-park and argues with piles of sand. Damn, things will be different when I am running the Country