Cambodia provides an interesting and unique perspective in regards to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. As the rest of the world shuts down and isolates itself both as nation states and as individuals, it has largely been business as usual for most here in the Kingdom of Wonder. Things have started to slowly turn in terms of precautions and even closures of certain businesses, but the reaction thus far seems to be vastly understated in relation to other parts of the world. I write this not to speculate on the reasons for such a muted reaction, but rather just to offer a glimpse into a society that has thus far reacted quite differently than the rest of the world.
The first thing that should be addressed in a blog of this nature is of course the state of poker in the country and how the virus has affected the game. My friends on Facebook have been circulating screenshots of the Bravo poker app that show that not a single game was running last night in both Las Vegas and Los Angeles; an amazing fact when considering the sheer number of rooms and the popularity of the game in both cities. But here in Phnom Penh both rooms continue to run, while not necessarily business as usual. People entering Nagaworld have been stopped for a temperature check for a few weeks now and anyone exhibiting a high temperature is not allowed entrance. An interesting aside to this is that during the beginning stages of this virus there was a clear bias towards those entering who appeared Chinese. During this time my friends and I went to 2Pangea, the buffet at Naga 2 several times. When entering I was asked for my Passport every single instance as I am a Korean-American and I assume that to the casino staff I looked Chinese enough. But no one even looked at my white foreign friends once as they entered without hardly a hindrance. It is interesting how that focus has now shifted to other countries as Cambodia has restricted entry into the country from several states, but not China strangely enough. The Riverking continues to run their games as well, although with more precaution than before. Like the casino, everyone is stopped for a temperature check before entering and there are hand sanitizers at every corner. Both rooms have slowed to be sure, but continue to run their games and have not given any indication that will change.
The story has been quite different for hostess bars on the riverside as things have turned in the last few days. Three nights ago I was with some friends on street 130 at a bar when the police came around ordering all the bars shut. The white/foreign owners complied almost immediately whereas the Khmer owners protested, pointing out that the decree to shut shown by the police only included KTVs, cinemas and nightclubs but not bars. Since then bars have shut down more and more, with many of the girls deciding to return to their home provinces to wait out the virus. Some bars have decided to continue running as they have shut their lights off outside, but still operate inside with hostesses in the waiting. It is unclear if these establishments face any possible consequences from the authorities if they decide to continue to run their businesses. Indeed all of the KTVs, cinemas and clubs have shut including the two clubs inside the Nagaworld Casino, namely Darling Darling and F-Club. The interesting fact about that is while the two entities inside have shut down, the larger entity housing them have not as other parts of the casino continue to run business as usual.
For businesses continuing to run I would not haste to judgement and say that the motivations for the decision are necessarily greed or money related. Entities such as casinos and poker rooms employ a vast number of people and loss of jobs for so many would not only be devastating to the overall economy but also for the individual lives involved. While it may be easy to judge, I personally know many people who work in this industry and I am certain that most, if not all, would prefer to continue on working as they may be the only ones in their families who are allowed to do so. Personally I still debate within my own mind what the right thing to do is as I do realize that in most other countries lives have come to a halt as both individuals and institutions have voluntarily suspended their activities. I was at a Western Union today and saw many people in line as they attempt to still send their families money, while desperately trying to keep what little they can for themselves. A friend back in the States texted me today and said that Americans would be receiving a stimulus package in the amount of $600 during this crisis. Perhaps the government here should consider a similar measure so that people would not have to make the difficult choice between trying to remain uninfected and having to work.
Recent events and closures here in Cambodia may have something to do with the fact that the figures on the number of infections have been updated. While different outlets are reporting varying numbers, it does seem that from the original number of 12 reported cases, the number at least doubled to 24 in just one day. Currently the number stands at 37 and with all this in mind I finally started to think that it would be a good idea to stock up on some food and supplies. So I took a long Pass App ride to several different venues to get some baby formula, diapers, water and food. The baby store was near empty, like they are on most days and the markets I went to were a bit busier than normal but every item was fully stocked and I did not even have to wait one minute in line at the checker. On my way home I stopped at Carl's Jr to grab a burger and the restaurant seemed normally busy, with all staff wearing masks while the patrons were a mixed bag with some donning the mask and others going without one. While things are slowly starting to turn in terms of precautions and closures, a general panic has still not yet set in and I do not feel the need at this point to fill my apartment from floor to ceiling with water and toilet paper.
As previously mentioned I will be staying home today and for the foreseeable future. I still continue to work and meet friends and players to process deposits and withdraws, but have limited other activities. But if things turn for the worse I may send my family back to the province where they have had limited contact with foreigners, while I remain in Phnom Penh in order to continue working. Here is to hoping such a decision does not have to be made.
Life in the Third World
Just a collection of random and not so random thoughts from my daily life here in Cambodia.