The Best Government Money Can Buy

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I work in Asia where government influence (“bribes”) is exceedingly common. Granted, it is officially illegal, but as a practical matter it is essential.

I remember traveling into Cambodia via rail. At the border crossing there is an immigration office where you apply for and get a visa to enter. The room was packed with backpackers who had obviously been sitting around for a long time. It looked like an ugly, hot, uncomfortable way to waste a day.

There was no queue to turn in visa applications, and I noticed a number of staffers chatting and looking pretty idle behind the glass window. Not being born yesterday my radar went off. Whenever something doesn’t make sense, it is time to do a situation assessment. The scene didn’t compute: Idle staffers and idle travelers. Then, I noticed the “tip” jar in the room with a sign that said “if service was good, contributions welcome.” Curiously, the slot in the top of the jar was so small only a trivially small denomination coin could fit through. There was a single 100 Baht note sitting on top of a few coins. (100 Bath is Thai currency worth about $3.50.) I puzzled, knowing this, too, didn’t make any sense. That banknote couldn’t fit through the slot.

A fellow traveler–a worldly Chinese–grabbed my arm and gently pulled me back from the counter and stepped in. They then pushed the visa applications through the window with a pair of 100 Baht banknotes while saying: “these are for the tip jar. Thank you for the service.” The clerk accepted the

Colin Berkshire