For the people?

By Nicole Meadows

A van stuffed with tourists emptied itself at the road. They headed into the temples, fanked by Cambodian police.

Why the police escort?

Our guide told us the police were here because the visitors were from Thailand, where there is current unrest.

Nearby, local merchants lounging in the shade, gathered their plastic-wrapped books or folded table runners, catalyzed by the scent of  tourists who might buy.

 These temple-area merchants are persistent and aggressive, nearly throwing goods onto visitors in a “you-touched-it-last” transaction, selling anything from postcards to bottles of water to food.

Elizabeth, my travel partner for the day, asked our guide if they are allowed to just come in and sell things on the temple grounds.

“Yes,” he said. “And they pay the police.”

Naturally, this began further questioning. The police system in Cambodia, according to our guide, is the friend of the rich and the enemy of the poor.

“There is no fairness and no justice in Cambodia,” continued our guide.

He said that if there is an auto accident, the two people involved will talk quickly and come to a settlement between them, then leave as soon as they can before the police come. If the police come, he said, they will demand money from both people, and will lock their cars up until they pay.

“Do you think people become police officers to make money?” I asked. “And not to protect the people?”

“No,” he said, and shook his head. “Not to protect the people.”

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