What to do if you set off an ATM alarm

On Sunday night in Siem Reap, finding an ATM to spit money at you is a difficult task indeed.

Starting early in the afternoon, I had the tuk-tuk driver take me to three different ATMs. I tried my US bankcard and my Chinese bankcard, neither of which wanted to dispense my hard-earned funds. Go figure. I finally make money to travel, and my ATM cards decide to take a holiday as well.

In the evening, we tried a third. Fourth. Fifth. Sixth. Seventh. Eighth…and so on and so forth, until I’ve reached ten different ATMS across town that won’t work. I was able to use my bankcard in shops, so I knew it wasn’t because it was surreptitiously blocked by my bank. It had become a minor comedy, considering my friend would wait expectantly outside the ATM, only to see me shake my head as I came out of the humid little booth.

Not only did I have this issue, but half the tourist population did as well. Several of us paraded around like sheep from one ATM to another to see if it would, by some minor miracle, actually work for us, just not for them. 

Next to a local restaurant, there was one last ATM was determined to try. I went in, slipped in my Chinese bankcard, typed in my correct code, and … alarms. Loud, neighborhood-blaring, wake-the-death-from-eternal-rest alarms start going off in the ATM booth where I am now frantically jabbing the CANCEL button so I can grab my card and run like I swore I would never run.

Outside the booth, my friend is laughing hysterically. The locals in the restaurant next door are now all staring at me curiously as I emerge into the deserted parking lot, and I feel like Punxsutawney Phil has to feel every year when he’s dragged out of his happy, warm groundhog burrow to the furious snapping of paparazzi cameras. It’s bewildering.

A security guard slowly saunters up to me, rubbing his half-bald scalp. He replaces the cap on his head and asks, “What happened?”

Seriously, if I were a robber, I wouldn’t be hanging around, would I?

I explained the situation, showing him my bankcard. I apologize profusely.

He nods in understanding, looks at me for a moment, then waves his hand as if to swat a mosquito away from his face.

“It happens a lot. Just go. No police, I think.”

I looked at my friend, and we agree to hightail it out of there and into the teeming mass of tourists on the street.

Guess we won’t be eating at that restaurant tonight.

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