Wages and work in Cambodia

Factory WorkersThis quote from the Phnom Penh post is exactly what I hear from so many Cambodian workers. 12 to 15 hours a day for $50 to $100 a month. With 1 day a month off. I don’t know how they do it.
“A woman who has been employed as a domestic worker in Phnom Penh’s Toul Kork for the past three years, identifying herself only as Pheap, told the Post that her work hours are not kept track of and her day is only complete when all tasks are finished.”

“I never knew my rights as a domestic worker, because I cannot read and I am not aware of the laws associated with my job,” Pheap said. “I have to get up at 4am or 5am every day, and I work until midnight. I receive $80 per month, but sometimes I get a bonus from my boss when we have a major holiday such as New Year or Pchum Ben.”

There is a call for an 8 hour work day and $150 minimum wage per month with 2 days a week off. That would be radical here. Ironically if you have a government job, teacher, police, military and the like you don’t have to show up for very many hours a day and get lots of extended holidays. Very little pay, but you can take on other jobs. Which is why there is so much corruption here. The police are allowed to take the money for tickets and set the price, teachers charge for tests, grading the tests and cheat sheets. It is all part of the system. And somehow the economy is growing. Prostitution is high because it is one way to make some real money. Of course where there is real money there will be those that exploit others to make them work cheap and collect the profits for themselves. So the government employees control much of the brothel business. Unlike the stereotype we see in the tourist bar areas, most “massage” and “sex services” are for Khmer men and other Asians. Just take a trip to the airport on the toll road from Phnom Penh. It’s packed with Khmer men taking advantage of the cheap hostess bars and sex services and not a European face to be seen.

But I fear that very few Cambodians are benefiting from any of the businesses here. Siem Reap where the Angkor Wat is collecting hefty fees that could be put back into restoration is going to a mega corporation Sokamex which already has oil and gas and high end tourism income galour. It’s not hard to observe that there are a few Cambodians at the top driving their Hummers with body guards at the ready and most people barely making it. There is also lot of foreign money and investment in tourism and business that extracts labor, raw materials and tourist money leaves the country rather than being put back into it.
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As you see when you get out of the tourist areas most people are still subsisting on farming and fishing or both.

Thanksgiving in Prey Veng

Thanksgiving in Prey Veng.

Thanksgiving in Prey Veng.

What does $12.50 buy at the Prey Veng farmers market?
Long beans, cucumbers, carrots, limes, basil, hot peppers, ginger, lettuce, mangos, shallots, onions, green mangos, tomatoes, potatoes, tamarind, egg plant, palm sugar, white sugar and fresh ground coconut. All for Thanksgiving tomorrow. We have invited Khmer friends and colleagues, Peace Corp volunteers and MCC SALT volunteers.

No Turkey our here. A few scrawny chickens. So our friend Kim Warren who is visiting brought out some frozen chicken breast for us all.

Are things that good in the USA?

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Prey Veng Meat Seller

Every day it seems Cambodians talk about migrating to the USA

Every day now it seems a Cambodian talks to me about migrating to the U.S. “America” as they call the US, is seen as the economic dreamland of opportunity. No wonder. In Cambodia teachers make $30 to $100 US dollars a month. You could make that in a day in the U.S. They see tourists living luxurious lives here in Cambodia eating and drinking and swimming in pristine hotel pools they cannot afford. The conclusion that all Americans are rich is easy to come to. What is less apparent is that in general only the well educated with NGO jobs and people with money, have the luxury to travel to Asia.
They don’t realize what it cost to live in the US either. In the Seattle a draft beer is $6.50 and up at a restaurant. Here you can buy 2 draft beers for $1 U.S. A decent hotel room in Seattle is $135 – $185 and up. Here in Phnom Penh $20 gets a comfortable clean hotel with air conditioning and in outlining areas $11 a night and lower. So Americans live it up here spending money with seeming abandon compared to my local neighbors here who only go to a hotel or restaurant on rare occasions and are careful when they do. The difference between a meal that costs $2 and $4 is 100% and can be as much as a person makes in two days here.
But what about people living in America. I know in our family we could only afford to go out to a restaurant once a month or so. A one bedroom apartment typically rents for $1200- $1400 a month in Seattle as of right now. Utilities $60 to $100 a month. Food is very expensive. The USDA estimates a moderate food budget of $874 and a low cost food budget of $706.70 per month for a 4 person family. Add on to that the cost of transportation (a car costs about $500 a month to own with gas, insurance, repairs and payments), phone and internet $100 per month. In the US a car is almost a necessity and a phone and internet important to finding jobs and keeping them.
According to the Associated Press the number of Americans living below the poverty line is 49 million people. 4 times the whole number of people in Cambodia. http://politicalblindspot.com/us-poor/ They claim that 80% of Americans face economic stress sometimes in their lives by loosing their job, medical bills and the like. Is it really better to go to the US I wonder?
As I explain this to Cambodians they come back with a question I can’t answer. “Why then do Cambodians who have made it to the America do everything they can to bring their relatives over to live there?”
I would love to hear from some Cambodians who have immigrated to the US in the last few years on this question. I certainly know many Filipino’s who work long hours in the US and send money home every month to the Philippines. Many of them work in Elder care around Seattle. The US has a lottery that grants over 50,000 visa’s a year for immigration to countries with low immigration to the US and Cambodia proportionally gets quite a few of those spots. It is well advertised by companies that claim they can either up your odds for a fee or get you in by other unscrupulous methods. There is still a dream of “living in America.” I hear it constantly. But I wonder if that dream is panning out for the people who make it there?

Released but not happy to go

Got the ok that my Dengue is on the mend. Platelets are up in the low normal range, blood cells low normal. So I am clear with a warning to take care of my liver for the next month and avoid contact sports. 5 full days in the hospital, medicine, food, blood draws and blood work ever day, doctor visit daily, nurses checking on me every hour, linens, IV for 4 full days and more. Total cost $2600.
I actually hated to leave the room as it is much nicer than the hotel room we booked.

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But glad to be on the mend!

Health care in Bangkok

I had to remember the many times I have gone to Emergency with my friend Jim who had a heart transplant when he was 39. The last time at the University of Washington, a great American research hospital rated highly in the nation, we waited 9 hours desperate to see a doctor for him and never did get seen before we both just went home. The intake nurse didn’t speak enough English to pick up that Jim was a transplant which meant he had to wait with the other “emergencies” for hours on end.
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As I write I am in the middle to end (hopefully) stages of Dengue fever. Having heard for the last 30 years that our US Health care system is the best in the world and thus justifying it’s expense I am compelled to describe my experience here in Bangkok for the curious. I had always heard some people come to Bangkok just for medical. But now I was going to have to be inside the hospital as a patient myself and see how it really works from the inside and on a real live patient… Me.

I had an appointment for a check up at 8:30. So checked in at 8:20. The lobby and the whole facility are beautiful modern design but the best part is there is no staff shortage. You feel like there are always 2 or 3 nurses waiting to assist you. (I’ve been in the hospital in the U.S. where one nurse was on a whole ward.) In the U.S. the nurses often wear “scrubs” which make me feel like I’m going to the car mechanic. Maybe if I am in the ICU I don’t care but there is a limit. Here the nurses are dressed immaculately in starched form fitting uniforms, not provocative but sharp and professional.

At 8:30 they called my name and my wife’s and like going station to station they efficiently took all our vitals, one of us going to the X ray while the other had the EKG done. All coordinated like a ballet with a number of other patients doing the same thing. Size, weight, blood pressure, EKG, chest X ray, blood draw, urinalysis, and stool check. Then at about 9:15 we were done and they gave us coupons for breakfast while we waited for our results and to see a general physician to go over the test results. Would this be a few days wait in the states? Did I mention all the lobbies have FREE coffee, tea, espresso, purified water and such. About 10:45 a nurse came and got us, said all our tests were done and escorted us to a fine older gentlemen doctor from Australia or the U.K.
I explained to him my concerns about Dengue and he started looking at all the blood tests they did. There was a long list he went through but in the end he said that my white blood cell count and platelets indicated to him I needed to see a specialist. By 11:10 I was meeting with the specialist. At 11:25 the specialist said “we need to put you in the hospital and monitor you for internal bleeding, platelet count and IV and stomach medicine.” He called a nurse who check with the hospital intake and apologized that we would have to wait since they didn’t have a room yet. In the mean time she brought out a clear chart explaining exactly how much the room would cost, with meals, nursing care, hospital service fees and everything included. $275 a day. (Contrast that to $7000 average per day in Northern California.) I will update this figure when I check out, for all the meds, IV’s and such. We waited until 11:55 when they brought a wheel chair out and took me to a room. “So sorry for the wait Mr Bade.” (I’m thinking… that was really fast…)
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The private room is like an expensive hotel room with a view of a lovely garden and fountain. It is clean, well designed, with a beautiful flat screen TV, soft or bright lighting, a couch, fridge, sink, private ba th and shower, soft chairs to sit in and a dining table. The care has been constant. I get my vitals checked every hour to hour and a half, the doctor has visited 3 times today, A nurse will come with in 1 to 2 minutes every time I call. The food is great and I can order from a menu and it doesn’t taste like last weeks cafeteria food. It gives one and appetite.

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I don’t speak any Thai yet with BNH here in Bangkok my English is understood just fine by every nurse and doctor. I write this not to put down care in the U.S. but to share with you there are other countries providing great healthcare at a fraction of the cost we are getting in the U.S. and not sacrificing quality. Why can’t we do better? Why are Americans afraid of health care reform?