To my surprise I have discovered that Cambodia is very westernized, with many people speaking excellent English. Other than the occasional country person who still wears a traditional headdress, the clothing of the Khmer (Cambodians) is mostly western. The traffic is civilized. They have a good infrastructure, many modern conveniences, and their construction techniques are much more modern than I have seen elsewhere in Asia.
What Cambodia does have are the ubiquitous touts, scams, and pushy vendors that are so prevalent in other parts of Asia. They descend upon you like a cloud of hornets the moment you arrive at a tourist site. I have heard many people lament over this fact and indeed, it can be frustrating. When you have said no twenty times and they continue to dog your footsteps, insisting that you buy what they are selling, the temptation is to be rude, ignore them entirely, or raise your voice. However, when the vendors are children of seven or eight years old, I find it impossible to ignore them, much less yell at them or be rude. Perhaps I realize that selling something may be the difference between eating dinner that night or starving. Or maybe it’s because they are all so darned cute. Whatever the reason, I had to find a different way to deal with this dilemma.
The children of Cambodia all have the same spiel to get your attention and rope you into buying something:
“Hello. Where you from?” they call out.
“The US. You know the US?” I replied each time.
Every child replied: “Oh, US very good. Washington, DC, capitol.” In some cases, they added the fact that the US has 50 states – except for one little boy who insisted that the US had 52 states.
That’s when the pressure starts. “You buy post card from me – look, ten cards, only two dollars.”
“No, I don’t need any postcards.”
“How about guide book – Lonely Planet – look newest edition.”
“No, I don’t want a guide book. I don’t want to buy anything.”
“Yes, you buy.”
And on and on, ad infinitum, until I either ignore them or become rude. Since I don’t like myself when I become the “ugly American,” I had to figured out a way to turn the tables. Now, each time they ask me where I am from I answer that I am from the US, then immediately ask “Where YOU from?” That takes them by surprise. “I from Cambodia,” they laugh. “Really?” I ask incredulously. “I don’t believe you.” They trip all over themselves trying to convince me that they are Cambodian, for the moment forgetting all about trying to sell me something. When they eventually return to the sales pitch I simply whip out my camera, take their photo, and then show it to them – getting the same amazed reaction that I got from the landscapers I met yesterday. Today, at the very last stop on my three-day tour of the temples, a lovely young girl approached me.
“You buy bracelets, ten for two dollars,” she said, holding out a handful of narrow rattan bangles. We did the whole routine, including the photo, followed by her giggles when she saw herself in the display. As I started to walk back to the tuk tuk she ran after me and held out one thin bracelet:
“Here, bracelet for you,” she offered. I figured it was just another ploy to get me to buy something, so I said no thanks and kept right on walking, but she persisted: “No, free, for you.” I suddenly realized she was giving me a gift in return for taking her photo and telling her how beautiful she is. And I was torn up. Here is this child, working on the street, trying desperately to earn a few dollars to supplement her family income and she is giving me a gift. All I could do was say thank you and bow. So, the rest of this blog entry is devoted to photos of Cambodian people I have met – especially the children. I hope you enjoy seeing them as much as I enjoyed taking them.