Flashback: Fined-ing out local customs

Every now and then I’ll do a ‘Flashback:’ post. These will be the stories that didn’t make it into the blog at the time for whatever reason. I’ll post these when I’m delayed in publishing the more recent events. So enjoy this for now; more on Indonesia in the coming days.

This story took place in Siem Reap, which I, fortunately, got to experience as an observer. Anyone who spends long enough in South East Asia undoubtedly has a similar tale to tell and such activities are well discussed/documented on the internet.

I was out and about on Pub Street with 4 Germans that I met that day. We got chatting and got along well so bought a few beers together and enjoyed each others company in one of Siem Reap’s rooftop bars with live music.

The band was doing pretty well, though the crowd remained timid. Blognam (for the purposes of this blog his name has been changed to Blognam), seasoned drummer and singer, asked if he could jam with the band. A few songs later they called Blognam up to the stage. Bolognam had quickly worked out the band’s style and preferred genre (Rock and Roll). He suggested a song to them (which I wish I could remember now). They guys enthusiastically said they knew it. Blognam asked them for their preferred key, confidently saying he can sing the song in any.

With Blognam at lead singer, the crowd became rowdy, rising from their seats and making their way to the dance floor. The band grew in confidence and started putting their heart and soul into the song. The night picked up as the crowd fed off the energy from Blognam, and the band in turn fed off the crowd’s energy. Skilfully, Blognam stepped to the side, sat on a percussion, tapped away and nodded to each member of the band letting them complete a 3-minute solo each.

As my new found German friends and I got pumped, we decided it was time to move to a slightly busier scene. We gave Blognam a nod. He apologised to the band, said he can’t join them for another song but he’ll be back to jam with them again. We headed down Pub Street towards the infamous (undeservedly so) “Angor What?” bar.

I had bumped into somebody I had met earlier that day at the temples and with the bar being so busy I had quickly lost my group. After half an hour or so I went to check out the much bigger, louder, and busier club across the road from Angkor What. On the way, I bumped into one of the Germans. He was speaking quickly in a state of panic. He said he needed help. Over the next minute with some probing, I got the full story.

The four of them had bought a joint from one of the Tuk Tuk drivers. Getting hold of drugs in Siem Reap is a task befitting even the most innocent and clueless of souls. It’s hardly possible to walk down the street past sunset without Tuk Tuk drivers asking if you need a Tuk Tuk, upon responding no, you receive a very quick sentence along the lines of “My friend you want some weed, MDMA, acid? What do you want?”.

When they bought the joint, the Tuk Tuk driver had given them clear instructions. They could smoke the joint wherever they wanted to indoors, but under no circumstances should they bring it out on to Pub Street. The German girl wanted to go to a club across the road. She asked one of the other German guys whether it’d be okay. He said “Yeah, just go. I’m sure It’ll be fine”. She had taken nominee than two steps out of the bar when the policeman caught her with a lit joint in her mouth.

Upon being busted she said she didn’t know it was illegal, it was an accident and that she didn’t know. Of course, none of that mattered. Her friends had quickly arrived and repeated the same sentiment to the police officer, explaining that they didn’t know it was illegal and that they were sorry.

The police driver explained to them their choices. Either she goes to prison for at least 5 years, or, she pays an ‘on the spot fine’ of $100.

So, the German guy explained, we need $100. We’ve all gone to an ATM to take out some cash. I apologised that I didn’t have anything meaningful to contribute. Each of the three other Germans went to ATMs and took out a portion of the money each. With the ‘fine’ money in hand, they regrouped near the police officer. A Tuk Tuk driver speaking on behalf of the policeman explained that they should give the fine to him and the police officer will take it from him. Then she’d be free to go. I wondered whether he won’t just take the money and run. We had no guarantee that they won’t take the money and put her in prison anyway. I quickly decided that there wasn’t any other choice and in all likelihood sending somebody to prison is more hassle then its worth for them. The Germans gave the money to the Tuk Tuk driver. The police officer walked behind the Tuk Tuk driver and the money had disappeared. He gave a nod to the Tuk Tuk driver who said the girl is free to go.

My young German friends had a cocktail of emotions, hormones, and undoubtedly some weed surging through their bodies. So they wanted to call it an early night and had to bed. I went back to a bar to see if I can find anyone I knew.

This type of thing, of course, is normal for South East Asia. That was the night I witnessed corruption first hand, though fortunately didn’t have to experience it first hand.

Moral of the story…don’t do drugs, don’t do drugs abroad, and possibly the only time you should do this: listen to the Tuk Tuk driver.


The first part of the story – Blognam singing with the Rock band – had nothing to do with the interesting part of the story – drugs and corruption. I wrote it in because, well, no story of drugs is complete without Rock n Roll. For completeness let’s assume the German couple had sex that night too.

Further Reading

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