A devil lurks in the details of ‘hidden’ Airbnb charges

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With this seemingly outdated map, Airbnb boasts of 2,000,000-plus listings worldwide. (Source: Airbnb)

7 easy steps that might save you money when using Airbnb

When I wanted to book an apartment via Airbnb for a forthcoming month-long visit to Bangkok recently, both the so-called host and I were mystified by a discrepancy between the price that was displayed in the listing and the higher price that he showed as the rate.

Including the company’s service fee, the listed total was significantly lower than the discounted price that he nicely offered me.  Both of us tried to learn why from at least two inquiries that he made and email inquiries that I sent to Airbnb.  Currency seems to be a major part of the solution to the mystery.

Only by clicking on the company’s “help” tab did I discover how important it would have been to Continue reading

Alcohol consumption is harmful way of life in Cambodia

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Photo recently posted on Facebook is obviously whimsical, but it harbors a darker meaning.

Whether those who imbibe are rich or poor, excessive consumption of alcohol appears to be a widespread practice in the Kingdom of Wonder.  The World Health Organization attributed 2,000 deaths and injuries to the drink last year.

Although the government of Cambodia has been drafting legislation since 2008 to discourage some drinking, enactment has yet to be achieved.

Incredibly, Continue reading

Police corruption in Cambodia comes home to a friend

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Always hard at work, our underpaid constabulary.

A Khmer-American friend of mine acknowledges that he made a mistake when trusting a Cambodian acquaintance.  That trust has cost him well more than $1 million, a loss he can ill-afford.  Not many ordinary Khmer-American businessmen could.

From what I gather, my friend — call him Hak — doled out monthly payments to the guy.  The man — I’ll call him Vwibol — apparently was to lend that money to other Cambodians at admittedly exorbitant, but commonly charged, rates.  (The details that Hak provides tend to be kind of vague, so I am not even positive about the nature of his monthly investments.)

Every month, Vwibol would return some thousands of dollars to Hak. But the money stopped coming in September.  Vwibol says Continue reading

Almost everything they say about Japan turns to be true

img_1780When we went to Japan last month on a whim motivated by an uncommonly cheap air fare ($300 round trip from Cambodia), I imagined the experience would be pretty much as reputed.

The country would be clean, the crowds orderly, the trains always on time, the cities exhilarating, the history temples and shrines impressive, English rarely spoken, prices high and gardens gorgeous to the extreme.  (Many more photos on Facebook.)

I was not disappointed.

“Clean” doesn’t begin to describe the contrasts between most of the rest of the world and everywhere we visited over three weeks — in order, Tokyo, Yokohama, Hakone (to view Mt. Fuji), Hiroshima, Miyajima, Himeji, Kobe, Kyoto, Kanazawa, Shirakawa-go, Takayama and Matsumoto.  “Immaculate” is more to the point.

There wasn’t a shred of litter on the streets or in the subway or train stations, though maybe I have figured out how that could be the case in view of the rarity of trash receptacles on sidewalks and elsewhere.

One explanation may be that Continue reading

Modesty runs rampant in my health club’s locker room

MichelangeloDavidCensored_zps0bf756d0A stocky Asian  strode through the relatively empty locker room of my gym one afternoon not long ago.  He was nude.  Because of his nonchalance, I knew that he could not be from Cambodia.

At my former gym in the States, he would not have drawn a second glance. Few members were present at my current gym that time of day, and those changing clothes also paid no discernible attention.

But the locker room attendant certainly noticed.  A look of horror, or possibly disgust, crossed his countenance.

I asked him if the sight disturbed him. The memory of what he had just witnessed caused him to scowl deeply, making me wonder whether perhaps he was joking.

When I told him how it was at my old gym in New York, Continue reading

Efficient waste management, recycling elude Cambodia

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These men and teenagers are not merely dumping trash into the truck. They are sorting it as well.

The problems that Phnom Penh faces with trash disposal are evident on virtually every corner.

Although there seem to be laws on the books mandating proper handling of recyclables and other commercial and residential waste, there appears to be virtually no enforcement.

Cintri — the company that enjoys a sweetheart contract in its monopoly for the collection of garbage in Phnom Penh — is pictured here with one of its green trucks.  You can see that the enterprise is no more exempt from overlooked child labor than are building contractors. You also can see in the photo below with one of the company’s yellow trucks that waste is separated by gloveless hands as the vehicles creep along the city’s blocks.

One of the best online sources of information that I have been able unearth on the local issue is called Urban Voice.  The blog post there may be two years old, but it is consistent with what I have observed as I dodge bicycles, motorcycles and cars while walking on sidewalks that are blocked by parked vehicles and are strewn with trash.  Consider this excerpt:

Some Phnom Penh residents are still unaware of the importance of packing and storing their waste properly. Typically, people pack all kinds of waste together in one plastic bag, making it difficult to separate for recycling and composting. In addition, a lot people keep their waste in front of their house at any time regardless of the waste collection schedule. If the schedule is missed, the waste is just left there unconditionally. Even worse, some people do not keep their waste in front of their house but instead choose to leave it on the street and other public spaces. This is normally seen during the night when large piles of garbage are put out on the street. And if that is not enough, there are waste scavengers who dig through garbage bags searching for recyclable items that can be sold.

The unnamed writer goes on to report the following:

In Phnom Penh city, it is not surprising to see flying plastic bags and other rubbish in public areas. Not everyone here in Phnom Penh actually throws trash in the rubbish bin. Despite the fact that rubbish bins are placed in most public places, people will just throw their rubbish anywhere they want. Some even throw trash from their cars or motorbikes while driving. Others leave it at the park or even right next to the rubbish bin but not in the bin. As a result, not all the waste is collected and cleared. This makes the charming city of Cambodia less beautiful and less healthy.

Because unseparated waste is burned at dump sites, the blog post continues, hazardous materials dangerously pollute the air, and organic matter that could otherwise be composted for farming goes up in flames.

A report by the Ministry of Environment earlier this year demonstrated how intractable the problem is.  It found a 10 per cent increase in the amount of waste generated between 2013 and 2014.

“While 60 to 80 per cent of trash in urban areas is collected, only 40 per cent is collected outside of towns,” according to a Phnom Penh Post article on the study.

Despite increasing amounts of waste being generated, an Okayama University report last March observes, the government focuses only on collection and dumping.  There is no treatment facility.

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The report’s authors, Seng Bandith and Takeshi Fujiwara, refer to entrepreneurial souls who also profit, miserably, from trash collection.  They state that 300 scavengers may be recovering 607 tons of valuable materials each month, based on 2014 numbers.  (Whether that is a reliable number strikes me as debatable; it may be more or less, I think.)

recycle-9For the scavengers in the capital city and at dump sites, the work in most cases hardly provides enough money to eat.  In Phnom Penh, they are everywhere, sometimes even rummaging through bags of refuse wearing headlamps late at night and having their very young children in tow.

“Consequently,” the Urban Voice writer relates, “the garbage is scattered everywhere and it is very hard to collect.”

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Waste clogs an open sewerage canal not far from a market.

Both that blog post and the report from Okayama University offer solutions to the trash problem, but it is hard to see any change in the foreseeable future.

Although the government announced last year that it would establish a $5 million fund to allow Cambodia’s 26 provinces and municipalities to take responsibility for waste management in their cities, it is questionable that it did so or that such a project had any effect, I think.

Last year, the Phnom Penh Post quoted reports as saying that the government could be forced to shell out more than $120 million to build new landfills over the next decade unless it invests in preventing Phnom Penh’s current site from reaching capacity.  You can imagine where the government apparently filed those reports.

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 Japan stands in stark contrast to Cambodia.  The refuse above illustrates how serious the country is about separating and recycling, requiring all entities to sort plastics, burnables and metals at a minimum.

Also last year, according to the Post, the Ministry of Environment announced a five-year project to include “separating, recycling and transforming waste into gas and natural fertili[z]er for agricultural and industrial purposes in order to improve the living standard of people and reduce environment contamination.”  Any progress along those lines is not clear to me, notwithstanding optimistic promises and a local newspaper’s somnolent campaign to ameliorate the situation.

Change would involve utilizing substantial financial resources, which theoretically the government could prioritize.  More important, it would require a will to take action.  I have no reason to believe the will exists and that change, therefore, can happen in the near future.

E-mail: malcolmncarter@gmail.com

Not the worst, but friends’ travel ordeal nears extreme

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Up, up and away doesn’t quite describe my friends’ vacation saga.

Pat and Sandy much enjoyed their recent cruise, and then began their problems.  They didn’t suffer a hijacking or a deadly crash, but suffer they did on their way home to Australia from the Baltic states and the final leg of their cruise.

On their cruise to Amsterdam from Norway, the weather was bad and the sea so rough that the ship had to divert to Rotterdam.  So far, not so bad.  So far.
 
Wth minimal editing on my part, Pat gives the following account in a jet-lagged e-mail written in the middle of the night of one disastrous event after another, thankfully none involving violence:
 
Luckily, the ship supplied buses to the terminal in Amsterdam, but we lost nearly a whole day in Amsterdam.

Continue reading