Paying my rent turns out to be harder than I thought


My checkbook

When I got my first rent bill here in Phnom Penh, I promptly wrote a check.

And therein lay the problem.  The building manager took a hard look, frowned and gave it back to me.

What had I done wrong?  It turns out that I had made out the check with written words. I hadn’t printed them. The bank, she said, would not accept the thing, presumably because neither she nor the institution can make out cursive letters very well, if at all.

Paying my rent any way other than with wads of dollars is not an option.  I couldn’t do it with a credit card, though Visa and MasterCard do predominate here in many retail outlets.  Nor could I use paypal.  And a direct debit from my Cambodia bank account?  Out of the question.

Never have I seen anyone “write” a check in a store or restaurant, but some accept credit cards. (My own restaurant meals rarely cost more than $5 and often as little as $2, so any payment other than cash would be silly.)  This is a cash-based economy.  Dollars and Cambodia’s riels are used in tandem.  Pay with one currency, get change in any combination of both currencies.

(While money changers seem to thrive here and so take their cut, I don’t quite understand why businesses need their services.  I suppose they collect too much of one currency or another, and change of less than $2.50 may well be with Cambodian notes.)

A continual source of irritation is that vendors don’t seem to add a few cents change when they quote in dollars while receiving riels.  If I am quoted $1.20 for a purchase, I might hand over a $1 note and a 1,000 riel note (there being no coins), the latter worth 25 cents. What I’ll get back is. . . nothing.

Of course, the sums are trivial and thus only annoying.  But if that five-cent shortfall happens 20 times, and it will, I will lose the cost of a whole big bunch of bananas.  Horrors!


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