15 April 2010

Myron's Adventures at Cambodian Post Offices

In my 19th June 2009 entry "Mail at Your Risk", I have highlighted the things which can possibly happen when using the Cambodian postal service.

Now we have another testimonial. This is what fellow blogger Myron wrote about his experiences at different post offices in Cambodia:

"...the Khmer Post, in stark contrast to the Khmer temples, is an extremely disheartening experience, one much worse than the Philippine Post, I must say. First off, when you reach the post office at Siem Reap you will see neatly laid in front of you the most beautiful array of Cambodian stamps you could ever imagine to ever see. All the Cambodian stamps with Khmer themes and depictions of the various temples and Khmer culture are laid out for you to pick. from The catch is, prices are not face value, which I thought was pretty strange since it was inside the post office itself (In some countries they charge more than face value, but the selling price is either printed or officially set, but that was not the case here). The "post office" was actually more like a stamp dealership. There were beautiful stamps, yes, but they came with extravagant prices. Some recent issues from 2008 could rack up as much s USD23 for an 8v set whose face value was little more than USD4!

"When I asked the lady (if you can call her a "lady" after the way she behaved) postal clerk about buying some stamps at face value so that I could stick them onto covers for my fellow collectors, she kept pointing at the stamps laid out on the counter. I kept asking her for "face value" stamps and I'm pretty sure she knew what I meant since I do not think I am the first person to ask her for such absurd a thing at her post office. After I kept insisting, she finally showed me some stamps, some ugly definitives that she kept hidden behind the counter. I asked her for other stamps, knowing that there had to be some better ones. It was like I was pulling a house out of an elephant's behind! Finally, she produced some better stamps, but they were not in full sets, which I think was her way of discouraging me from paying at face value. But I bought them anyway, and I had to give in to some of their "discounted" stamps (meaning they were not full sets) that they offered at 4 for USD1, which was double their face value.

"And it doesn't end there. When you try to send your letters and your postcards, there is no actual postal rate. It just depends on the whim of the postal clerk and whether or not she feels you have put enough postage. I am sure that there is an "official" rate lying somewhere, but when you ask the clerks what it is, they ask you to show them your stamps and then study them, deciding whether they are enough or not. And no, I'm pretty sure they were were not calculating the total in their heads. On one occasion I sent out a postcard for 2400 Riel while on another occasion I sent one out for 4000 Riel, and this was at the same post office! It's worse when you try to register because they get all frantic and panicky, asking around about what they should do.

"The post office in Phnom Penh was quite similar in terms of chaos, but the clerks were a little more friendly and accommodating. The post office at the Phnom Penh airport was , by far, the most terrible! First off, I was standing in front of the counter for a good ten minutes before the postal clerk literally emerged from the back of the counter - apparently she was taking her nap, and this was at 14h00, clearly not lunch hour (in the Philippines, most post offices close for lunch)! And when she finally decided to get to work, she took my letter, "weighed" it on the scale, and then declared: "four dollar" and then I haggled with her, knowing very well that USD4 or 16000 Riel was way too much. And it wasn't the weight because all that was inside was a blank sheet of paper. She then "converted" it to Riel and I guess she thought I didn't know the exchange rate so she said USD4 was 10000 Riel. I kept saying that it costs only 4200 Riel (because according to the central post office in Phnom Penh, that is the official rate), and she got all upset, insisting that I pay 10000 Riel! I got really so pissed with her ruse to drain money off foreign customers that I just up and left, making sure that she would be as annoyed, irked, and irritated as I was. At the end of it all, I do not know if these postal clerks have some kind of quota that they have to meet in order to pass some kind of absurd performance measure, but if they do, that just goes to show how sad the postal system in Cambodia is."

Salamat Myron for his permission of reposting the relevant paragraphs here. Please click here to read his full blog entry with illustrations of his pretty Cambodian postal covers.

Click here for the 19th Jun 2009 "Mail at Your Risk" entry.

Click here for the 18th Jan 2010 "Stamps Not at Face Value" entry for Rev. Charlie Dittmeier's experience at the post office.

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