Virtual meanderings

Angkor III: The life of a Khmer girl

Kids selling postcards and bracelets outside Angkor Wat

Kids selling postcards and bracelets outside Angkor Wat

Courtesy: Lyevkin @ flickr

    Cambodia seems to be the country where everyone smiles back at you (unlike Thailand which invented the “Land of Smiles” slogan). If you take it at face value, it is the happy smile of a person who takes life’s lemons and makes lemonade. But while sincere, it is still a very fragile type of smile. This is perhaps because except for a smile most people here have little else. It is their only weapon, their only leverage, their only instrument to win you over, their only way to maintain their dignity, their only way to save face regardless of the circumstances.

    I did not take the picture above of these gorgeous kids outside Angkor – some person whom I do not know did. But I saw plenty of those little vendors there myself. I, too, fell for their irresistible charm, and parted with some dollars.

    So, the question is, what will these kids become when they grow up? I do not know. But since this post’s title is “The Life of a Khmer Girl”, let’s get on with it:

How old are you?

Are you married?

Where did you learn to speak English?
I take English lessons at a school in Siem Reap – a one-hour lesson each morning before work.

Is it free?
No.  A lesson costs two dollars.

Where did you live before?
I was born in a nearby village. I lived there on the farm for most of my life.

Did you study English when you lived back at the village?
No. No one at my village spoke any English. I could not study English there even if I was able to pay.

Do you have brothers and sisters?
I have eight brothers and sisters. All of them are already married and have their families.

Are they older or younger than you?
I am the youngest.

You sell souvenirs here at Angkor. What do you do with the money that you make from it?
I give all the money to my mother except the money for the English lessons. I do not have to, but I am the only one who can help her with money, my brothers and sisters have to support their own families. They do not have any money left. My mother is getting old now, and it is my gratitude to her  for raising me and my brothers and sisters.

Where do you live now?
I live in my boss’s house in Siem Reap. My boss is a Khmer woman – she owns these souvenir stalls, together with her fiancé from the Netherlands. I and the other workers live and eat in their house for free.

How much do you make from selling these things?
My boss gives me half of the profit from the souvenirs that I am able to sell. But from the coconut juice that I brought you I make no money. Money from coconut and soft drinks go for the maintenance of the house and for food.

… … … …

   Did this conversation really take place?

    Inside Angkor Wat  you can stroll around and no vendor would come to bug you. There are vendors just like outside – but they are forbidden to “hunt” visitors beyond their dedicated area. That area is a small alley with trees that offer protection from the sun to the left side of Angkor the temple. Stalls offer soft drinks, coconuts and souvenirs ranging from refrigerator magnets to traditional women Khmer dresses.

    After spending several hours marveling around, I sat on the grass near the vendor area for the impressions to settle. While she would not be allowed to come over and bug me, I was close enough for that twenty-something girl to start waving at me and offering to bring me something to drink. I soon gave in. She brought me a fresh green coconut, and we started chatting. I asked her questions. She was more than happy to practice her English.

    In one hour I learned about the life of Khmer people more than all the travel guide books combined would tell me. In this post I am giving only a fraction of the conversation. We talked about what it was like to live on the village, grow rice and vegetables and take care of animals – a back-breaking routine, bringing no additional income whatsoever. She liked her present job much better and was hoping to find an even better one once her English improved some more.

   I then went on and bought some beautiful stuff that I probably would not have bought before.

    And now that I told you the story of a Khmer girl, my next post will be about a Khmer boy – what I got to learn from the tuk-tuk driver whose services we used during our time in Siem Reap.


2 responses to “Angkor III: The life of a Khmer girl

  1. Pingback: Angkor IV: The life of a Khmer guy « mastercopycat

  2. Pingback: Getting to China | A must-read « mastercopycat

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