Not Uncommon Here


Jeanine was out with Jaya for a Nini & granddaughter day. I was at home doing some work on the computer. Shortly after noon, our internet went out. That is not completely uncommon here. Sometimes it blips for a brief time, sometimes it’s much longer. Last time I tried connecting with our telecom provider, I didn’t have much luck in getting a response. That is also not completely uncommon here.

I decided to give it time instead and head to a coffee shop for wifi to finish my work. On the way, I stopped to fix the headlight on my moto. There are tons of mechanics shops everywhere. They are small and crowded with supplies lining the walls and hanging from the ceiling. Maybe 3 or 4 motos can fit at one time. Riders just simply needs to pull up, say what needs to be done and they work on it. I frequented a particular shop for oil changes. When I pulled up, the regular guy was taking a nap in a cot in the middle of the shop. Another thing not uncommon here. His two younger brothers were manning the shop, they were maybe 13 or 14 years old or so. Unable to speak their language well enough to explain the reason for my visit, I pointed to the headlight and they gave me the thumbs up.

A few plastic chairs sat next to the work area, close enough to smell the fumes of oil and gasoline. From there I watched as they took apart the front encasing to reach the bulb. It was hot, but it is always hot. At least I was in the shade and I would be out of there in no time. The boys started chatting it up, pointing at the wires and different parts. After pulling at wires and unscrewing even more parts, they had to wake up their brother to help. He took it apart even more searching for what I assumed was a big problem. Thirty minutes had gone by and the heat seemed hotter. The sweat beads started forming on my forehead.

Finally, the younger of the two boys came over to me, “dop pram” while pointing at the bulb. $15 dollars or 15,000 Riel? I hope he meant Riel, which would be $4 US dollars. I gave the thumbs up and they continued working, but the new bulb doesn’t work. They unscrewed more parts. Meanwhile, other customers had come to fix mirrors or flat tires, add air to tires, and various small things. One of the three would drop what they were doing on my moto to help the other customers. An hour later the sweat beads were now small puddles dripping down my brow.

More customers and more troubleshooting of the problem with my headlight. Finally, I see a beam coming from the front. Eureka, they fixed it. They put everything back together and I was going to be on my way, finally out of the heat, or at least riding in the warm wind.

Then they continued more chatting in Khmer with more frantic tone. The light stopped working after they re-assembled. Again, they began to unscrew everything. They didn’t mention anything to me or update me with what they were doing. Yet one more thing not uncommon here.

Time went by as did other motorists. I longed to be feeling the wind against my skin. A few more customers had come and gone. The younger brothers both tended to them while the oldest diligently worked on my moto. Then finally I saw the headlight come on again. It was dim and faint. He started the moto and revved the engine. A blast of hot air from the exhaust hit my face. Surprisingly, even the smoldering smoke felt better the stale, stagnant air. As he revved the 125cc engine over and over, the headlight brightened with each twist of the throttle. Good enough. They started re-assembling again. The younger boys were left to that task. When done, I handed them a few screws that were still laying under the bike and pointed to where they needed go. While they finished that, the elder quoted the price to me. Pointing at the switches for the headlight, high/low and on/off, he said “muoy” holding up one finger. The headlight encasing, “dop pi”, twelve dollars. Adding the bulb, the total was eighteen bucks for the repair. Not too bad. I didn’t complain about two hours in the heat.

The breeze was nice when I finally got to ride away. The sweat on my shirt started to cool in the wind. It was too late now to go to finish some work and I figured my internet at home would be back up and running by now anyway. Plus, Jeanine would be getting back soon.

She beat me home, which was still offline. She was cooling herself in front of the fan. It was a hot day. Every day is a hot day. I agreed to reach out to our telecom provider to figure out the internet issue.

There is a reality we live with each day. Our dependency on stable internet is crucial for us. Like anyone else, we do have mobile phones. Normally we have good service and signal, so we can make calls, send text message, browse the web, whatever. However, in our home, there is no signal. So when our internet drops, we go dark too. Sometimes if we climb to top floor of our home and stand in the corner of Jeanine’s art room (spare bedroom), we can get a cellular signal. The other option is to go to the end of the street where if the situation is right, the sun position in the sky is right, the leaves on the trees are set right where they need to be, a signal can be captured. It helps if I stand on my toes.

I opted for the end of the street. The hot air suffocated me as I dialed tech support.

“All our agents are busy, please hold”. I waited. Again, “all our agents are busy. To wait, press 1 or press 2 to have an agent call you back.” I pressed one and waited.

Finally, “we’re sorry, all our agents are busy”. Click.


I tried again with the same result. Ok, time to try social media. Most companies here do business through social media, Facebook, Whatsapp, Telegram. Our provider used Facebook Messenger. Unfortunately, I had to do this plenty of times before, so I just picked up from the previous conversation thread from only a few weeks prior. The familiar automated bot responded. The first time I was impressed with the use of modern technology. The impression diminished quickly, however, after finding the bot was a loop that didn’t go anywhere unless you responded in specific ways. It presented me with options, presented troubleshooting videos, then promised to connect with an agent.

“You are in position 10 of the queue”. Ok, I can wait a bit. I was in the shade, which provided very little comfort. Ten minutes later, no change. Fifteen minutes, still number 10. Fine, I’ll go back inside. It was time to get cleaned up anyway. I had a date planned with Jeanine that night for our 12 year anniversary.

I peeked at the thread a few hours later, “You are in position 8 of the queue”. Ugh.

No change when we got home later. Just before bed, I climbed to the top floor and checked the thread. The history showed the previous messages, “You are in position 7, You are in position 6.” All the way down to position 0. Then “You are now connected with Mr. Sopheak. How may we help you?”

Then “Thank you for choosing us for your internet service. Have a nice day”. Following was a survey to rate the service.

I am not sure if we ever really connected or if we just didn’t get the message due to no signal in the living room. Either way, I would have to start over tomorrow.


We were expecting a delivery today from The States. It is often business as usual on weekends here, so deliveries still occurred. We found a company that coordinates delivery from purchases made in the US from places like Amazon. Our granddaughter’s birthday present was much anticipated and we were anxious to receive it.

There was still no internet, so we hung out in Jeanine’s room. When she got a signal, her WhatsApp messages came in.

“Sorry bong, the item is too big to ship” was one of the messages sent at 3am.

What? What did they mean, it was supposed to have already shipped and be brought to us that day. We responded, the message delivered, but not read. We tried calling and no answer. Now what? We really needed the delivery today before 3 pm because we would not be home after that time. Leaving a package at the doorstep like in other countries is not an option here. We had to physically receive it.

Another message came in from a person interested in buying the washing machine. We had spent the previous few months helping a friend sell some items while they are out of the country. The buyer wanted to come that day. We told him to come before 3pm.

Meanwhile, I started the bot conversation on Messenger again. I was stuck at position 10 of the queue. So we had some time, I decided to clean myself up. Although the house was warm, I would be in direct flow of oscillating fans. The risk of getting disgustingly sweaty again before we had to leave that afternoon was low.

By 1pm, the delivery guy responded. “Sorry bong, wrong person. You will get the delivery today.” Some good news, we celebrated by turning on the aircon. It was hot out and Jeanine’s room took the full beating of the mid-day sun. We asked if we could get a delivery by 3pm to which they agreed but they would have to use a third party delivery. Fine, no problem.

I had finished working on a computer for a friend and decided to bring it over while we were waiting. I wanted to avoid getting hot and sweaty, but I figured it was only a block away so a quick walk wouldn’t hurt. But I didn’t take into account that I was carrying a heavy computer and would walk in the middle of a concrete street with no shade to soften the relentless sun.

It didn’t matter much anyway because by the time I got back home the gentlemen buying the washing machine had arrived. He had come with his wife, a tiny Cambodian woman that I didn’t think would be able to even nudge a washing machine a single foot. Ultimately, I needed to help him. Maneuvering it through obstacles and hoisting it up into his van was strenuous in the heat. My shirt was drenched with sweat.

I climbed all the stairs again to try for a signal and check my phone. Standing in front of the fan panting for air, I saw I was bumped up to position 8 in queue with tech support. At least that is something. I put it down to go get ready. Sponging off in our bedroom downstairs, I tried to cool down.

I heard the phone ringing from upstairs, racing up the stairs and answered. It was the delivery driver. She didn’t speak a single word of English and I had no idea what she was saying. This too was not uncommon here. Usually, they are calling when they are in the area and need final directions. Unable to be certain what she needed, I raced down the stairs to find Jeanine and ask her to get the neighbor’s help to translate. Meanwhile, I put my damp shirt back on and hopped on the bicycle to go look for the delivery driver. The sun seemed hotter as I peddled quickly down the road. She was nowhere to be found. My shirt clung to me.

Returning home, Jeanine had found a signal while standing is a spot on the street. A single step in any direction would lose it. The neighbor had spoken to the driver only to find out she had just left and was 30 minutes away, which would be about 15 minutes too late.

I raced back up the flights of stairs to check our position in the queue. Still number 8. I cleaned myself up yet again and tried to dry the sweat that seemed to be never-ending. Jeanine spoke with her son-in-law, a fluent Khmer speaker, and gave the driver’s phone number to him. They were ablet to coordinate delivery to a neighbor of ours. Problem solved.

Later, at bedtime, I was still in queue position 8. Sigh.

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