Cambodia was so hot and humid
that I could barely drink enough water to keep up with my sweat. It's
like it was raining, but the rain was coming from inside of me instead
of the outside. The humidity of an Ohio summer ain't got nothin' on
Cambodia right before the monsoons.
Nevertheless, Zac and I survived
Cambodia (as in: we DIDN'T rent bikes and get lost and get blown up by
a land mine). We strictly stayed on the well trodden tourist path
here. This kept us from losing limbs, but unfortunately, it also
threw us in the path of an intense beggar gauntlet that we had to go
through on our daily rounds to the sites.
My first impression of Cambodia
was that it was totally different from anything I’d seen before. We
were on the main (only) road for the primary Vietnam-Cambodia border
crossing, but the road was pretty bad. It was about a four hour bus
ride from the border to the capital. At first, the road was flanked
by fallow rice fields as far as the eye could see, then later it
turned to dense banana tree jungle. Cambodia also seemed much poorer,
as the vast majority of houses were built of wood (not concrete) and
tended to resemble shacks. The houses were also all built up on
stilts, presumably because the Mekong delta floods frequently.
Cambodian quirk is that they use American dollars more than their own
currency. It’s so bizarre to be in Cambodia and see prices in dollars
and everybody using dollars. Dirty beggar kids followed us down the
street asking for an ambitious “one hundred dollar” or claimed they
need $20 for school tomorrow. This is the hard part of traveling:
your tourist dollars support the local economy, but they also attract
beggars and con artists.
Although the children represent a
gray area, Zac and I pretty much classify them as con artists. We’ve
researched this issue and gathered the following evidence: Tourists
are much more likely to buy from children because they’re cute and
everyone has innate sympathy for children. So here is what happens: a
person “rents” children from willing parents for a small sum of
money. The children then sell junk to tourists under the assumption
that giving them money will help out their families. While this is
true, in part, the middle man takes most of the profits, while
providing only nominal care for the children he employs. Although
these children speak English pretty well, it is clear that they are
not attending school. So in effect, tourists who buy from children
are supporting child
labor. If children didn’t make lucrative sales representatives,
they’d probably be allowed to stay home and go to school.
The beggars are more intense and
pitiful in Cambodia. This is mainly because a lot of the beggars are
victims of land mines. We have infinite sympathy for the landmine
victims, and tried to support their more sustainable efforts by buying
a music CD and hand painted cards at inflated prices, but alas, buying
from one victim does not give you a free pass with all the others.
Many tourists end up donating money to them, which does more to
assuage our own guilt for being so rich and having all of our limbs,
than actual help. But knowing Cambodia’s tragic recent history, it is
impossible not to be sympathetic.