Bus scare brings lesson in a spirit of generosity

Bus scare brings lesson in a spirit of generosity

17 traffic new year
Traffic on the country’s roads can be chaotic - but was especially busy over Khmer New Year. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post

Khmer New Year falls around mid-April, and every year the people who live in Phnom Penh leave the city to their home provinces or get out of town to celebrate the three-day holiday. This year my girlfriends and I decided to take a trip to Siem Reap, the province where the Angkor Temples are located, about 315 kilometres from Phnom Penh.

We chose to go on the Giant Ibis Transport, an affordable luxury bus in Cambodia, catering to passengers since 2012. With destinations to Siem Reap and Kampot, the Giant Ibis Bus has deluxe leather seats, air conditioner, complimentary snacks and water, and exceptional customer service. A round trip ticket from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap is only $26.

Traffic was horrific getting out of Phnom Penh the day before Khmer New Year, and our bus driver, Sitha, was very patient. National Road 4, which is a one lane road, turned into a three-lane road, as cars, motorbikes and tuk-tuks tried to cut in front of each other. The Giant Ibis Bus had no control of the other vehicles cutting in front of it. Then a pickup truck, filled up with over a dozen people, and stacked with four motorcycles, sideswiped the bus, as it cut in front of us.

Traffic accidents are one of the leading causes of death in Cambodia. Speeding and drunk driving are the main causes, and motorbikes are the most common vehicle involved in traffic accidents. The traffic laws in Cambodia are not regularly enforced, and corruption in the police system exists in Cambodia. In other developing countries, the corruption is better hidden.

Sitha stopped the bus and stepped out to see the damage that had been done to the Giant Ibis. A long scratch mark and dent, caused by a motorcycle on the truck, was across the right side of the bus, close to the door. The bus driver could only hope the police were there to arrest the driver. Instead, a small fee was given to Sitha, by the truck driver, and both went their separate ways. Luckily, nobody was hurt.

We stopped at Kampong Thom for lunch, a province halfway between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. As the passengers were eating, I chatted with the assistant of the bus and Sitha. I asked about the minor accident earlier. Sitha showed me the damaged area and said he would have to pay for it as he is responsible for the bus. “The truck driver only had $30, and that’s all they can afford to give me”, stated Sitha.

I asked if it was OK to donate money and help him pay for the damage. Sitha and his assistant were speechless, but declined the offer. I asked again, but this time if my friends and I can help chip in to pay for it. Again, they declined.

As we got back on the bus I asked to use the microphone to speak to the passengers. Sitha and his assistant agreed. I briefly explained what happened earlier. Without any hesitation, the passengers voluntarily chipped in to help. This is what the goodness of the human spirit is all about; helping those in need. There is nothing equal to human caring and human will. Thank you to all the passengers for their generosity.

I hope everybody had a wonderful and safe Khmer New Year.

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