Crossing Cambodia

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Concerning crossing PP with a moto

Again a good blog from Khmer 440. For the occasional visitor this should their first lesson in traversing Cambodia's capitol. The text:

Just an English Teacher: Finding a Reliable ‘Moto-Dop’ and Getting Your Resume Out There

By Tvon:
Today’s the day!
Assuming you have prepared, copied and crammed that huge pile of job-search-documents into your worn-out back-pack you are now ready to start pounding the pavement, pressing the flesh and meeting your potential new employers. You’ve promised to buy yourself a real English teacher brief case when you get your first pay packet.
Your one remaining task this morning is to find yourself a reliable ‘moto-dop.’

Now, I must admit that I have not exactly mastered the Khmer language and I’m afraid I can’t tell you what a ‘moto-dop’ is. Although I have spent a number of years winging it, through uncountable hours of English classes, in Asia’s word factories and I must further confess that I’m completely at a loss as to how the word ‘reliable’ fits into any sentence where we find the term ‘moto-dop.’
There is no public transport system within the city of Phnom Penh, so the best way of getting around town is to find yourself one of those guys wearing a baseball cap and driving a motorcycle.
They’ll probably be waving to you, or pointing - for some unknown reason - to the sky and the more eloquent will be repeatedly yelling unintelligible utterances at you. They like to call you ‘friend’ or ‘brother.’
You’ll easily spot these guys. They all drive motorcycles that are customised with large flat rectangular-shaped passenger seats that look like they were designed to carry piled-up cases of beer. Or fat barang arses.

‘Moto-dops’ are everywhere. Especially, pulling over and stopping right in front of you, just when you’re stepping onto the street-side, trying to get across to the other side.
But probably the easiest way to find your most reliable day’s transport companion is to allow the first ten to twenty centimetres of your shadow to appear just outside your guest house’s front entrance.
Like a group of Hip-Hopsters in a Cambodian Boys’ Band video they’ll start slinking towards you. They’re all yelling their greetings and listing the tourist highlights – “Killing Fields, Shooting Range, Toul Sleng, Psar Thmei go market” and so on. But the guy you want is the one who has the linguistic skills to actually enquire, “Hey you! Where you go?”
This is the guy you can talk to. Go straight to him. His name is most likely Jack, Blacky or Rambo. The experienced and reliable ‘moto-dops’ don’t use their Khmer names and they are capable of responding agreeably to any question you have with reassuring affirmatives.
”I want to apply for a job at some English Schools.” you tell him. Handing him the yellow pages you’ve copied, he takes the pages from you and studies them with a furrow of intense concentration across his brow.
“Yes. I take you.” and promptly suggests, “Killing Fields?”
How come you didn’t notice he was holding those yellow-pages up-side-down?
Never-mind. He’s already given you his business card with a mobile phone number and an email address. You have a good feeling about this guy.
So you show him the city map that you’ve taken from the Bygone Beatnik centre-fold.
He stares blankly as he rotates this page, holding it like you have just handed him 6 kilos of afterbirth from freshly born platypus twins. But he’s still nodding and agreeing with every word you have to say about schools’ locations and all the street numbers you list. Your confidence in this guy is sky-rocketing – ‘He’s probably taken every possible teaching applicant to these places every day for years.’ you feel. (It’ll take at least three more days before you learn that he just moved from Kampong Speu to Phnom Penh two weeks ago.)
In an impressive series of rapid-fire gestures he wipes off your seat and slaps it, enthusiastically inviting you to get seated and started. Already he’s given the bike two thrashing – but unsuccessful - kick-starts. You are impressed!
However, your confidence starts to diminish as his third kick-start attempt sputters to silence and he’s suggesting, “Then we go Shooting Range. OK? M-16. Shoot rocket through buffalo! Very good.”
Now he’s walking his moto up the street – hands on handle-bars - and you have no choice but to follow as you push from the back. He’s already got your back-pack crammed into his front storage space. But it’s just a quick one and a half blocks where you stop at a roadside stall selling bottles of lime-green liquid that the lady starts pouring it into his gas tank. Rambo hands over a thousand riel. She pockets it. Then he holds out his hand telling you, “Need petrol, two-dollar.” which you hand over and the cash quickly finds its way to his shirt pocket.
It occurs to you as you are now sputtering away on his grumbling moto that you never did discuss his fees. Never mind. You’re now mobile and on your way to your first job interview. You don’t know where you’re going – you’re new in town. Rambo’s new in town too but he knows where he’s going. Unfortunately he has no idea of where you’re going. He’s moving in and out of the chaotic traffic with confidence, so he must be on his way to the closest school.
You’re watching everything. Silently you leave the driving to Rambo. Silently he leaves you to your uncertainty. But after the first half hour you’re feeling a bit uneasy. You should have found at least one of the places that you’d clearly explained to him.
Your street-side focus intensifies. You’re pretty sure there’s got to be a school around here somewhere. And sure enough, you’re right. There it is!
But Rambo is oblivious to anything concerning your intentions and he speeds right past your first chance. He’s just zoomed right by the glaring sign - The UNIVERSAL GLOBAL LANGUAGE INSTITUTE of ENGLISH STUDIES..
UGLIES! You’d heard about this place from somebody at your guest house. “They’re always hiring.” (Four bucks an hour to start – but it goes up to five after your first week.)
”That’s it. Stop here! Wait! Stop! Hey! That was UGLIES, man.” you shout as you’re frantically slapping Rambo’s back which he has astutely deciphered as your signal for him to speed-up.
And so he does. Straight through the glaring red light at the intersection where, just on the other side of the street, a small group of uniformed boys in blue with long black billy-sticks are waiting. They’re blocking the way and waving Rambo up onto the sidewalk.
You feel overwhelmed with relief. Finally, you’re meeting someone that can direct you back to UGLIES. And if necessary; to the next school. These good policemen will explain this to Rambo.
But Rambo’s now going through his own pockets hoping beyond the miraculous that moto-ownership-registration, insurance papers and a driver’s licence will magically materialize.
But his pockets are empty, except for the two dollars that you gave him for the green gas and that was just handed over to buy him the freedom to abandon you and his moto and slouch away down the street. Rambo slowly fades away down the street.
So now it’s just you and the boys in blue and you’re sure you’ll be able to work it out with these guys.
With clearly articulated body language and elegant international sign language from the police, you quickly realise that these guys must need ten dollars for something pretty important - and since they’re here to help you – well, it’s a small price to pay. So you eagerly hand over a fresh ten-dollar bill.
Their next sign language indicated at this point uses the extension of the index and the middle finger of one hand while the other fingers are held down. Two.
You’re learning how this all works and your optimism increases as you willingly hand over another (your last) ten-dollar bill.
Now, you’re convinced that you can solve your problem, but they seem to have returned to their traffic monitoring duties. Turning their backs to you and focused on the street, you have just become an ignored non-entity.
At least you can take your back-pack from Rambo’s abandoned moto. So you walk slowly back in the direction of UGLIES. For sure you’ll get one interview in today. And, like your friend said, ‘they’re always hiring.’
With a weakened sense of enthusiasm you slowly amble away. But just as quickly, your enthusiasm re-boots when you hear the unmistakeable sound of Rambo’s moto sputtering behind you!
Great! This was the one guy that spoke the most English and he’s come to help. So, you’re going on and on about teaching jobs and UGLIES and ESL and CLEYTA certificates and, and, and … But your imagined saviour –not understanding what the hell you’re on about - is indifferent to your plight.
This time his one index finger is pointing at the head-lamp of Rambo’s moto which is turned on.
(If you’re a barang, and you’ve been here for any length of time driving a motorcycle, you should be perfectly aware that in Cambodia it’s against the law to drive with your lights on during the daytime.)
”Drive moto. Day time. Five dollar.” and the cop demands as he holds out his hand, and pockets the fiver. The last of your day’s job-search funds.
Unwilling to yield to defeat, you march with even more determination to get the job you’ve already earned at UGLIES. Fifty more metres and you’re there. But it seems awfully quiet to you as you climb the stairs to the front doors which are pad-locked shut. UGLIES is deserted.
A multi-lingual sign on the door reads:
GONE OUT OF BUSINESS – AND WE’VE LEFT TOWN TOO. So long and thanks for the Prahok.
Somehow, you’re beyond any emotional reaction to this news. You just leave and stroll carelessly away, in the same direction leaving UGLIES and your employment dreams behind you.
At the next intersection you look down the street to your left and there, not 100 metres away, is the sign for your Guest House where you and Rambo determinedly shoved off from only four hours ago.
Maybe the guest house video is playing Killing Fields.
In Chapter 3 we’ll discuss submitting resumes, interviews and the true story of Tvon’s first teaching job!

This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 26th, 2006 at 6:05 am
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