Whilst I was visiting Cambodia in the beginning of 2011, I had the chance to visit the Angkor Wat Temples. I had rented an old bicycle for 1USD per day. Let’s just say I got what I paid for and by the end of my trip I my buttocks were aching like there was no tomorrow. I bought a 3-day pass to see the Temples, the first day I was accompanied by some friends that I was doing some aid work with and the remaining 2 days I was pretty much on my own. Because the Temples were a tourist attraction, needless to say there were numerous side shops that were selling similar items (all probably organised by a monopoly). I had stopped for lunch at one of the Temples and (of course) I was touted by a girl to buy some items from her nearby shop…
Pale vs. Dark Skin.
This girl seemed nice enough, at first, I did not pay much attention to her because I was touted quite often throughout my trip. However, as I was walking back to my bike I came across her shop and met her sisters that were helping her run the shop. There was nothing spectacular about the shop nor what they sold. But I was a people person, so I stayed and talked! Her english was not all that great, but human beings have a way to communicate whatever the circumstance! One particular thing that struck me was that she was wearing enough layers of clothing to keep me warm during a winter in Adelaide, Australia! (From the picture above, the girl in the middle) She wore a scarf, gloves and 2 layers of shirts! To those who have not been to Cambodia, it isn’t a place you want to wear warm clothing. My mind was puzzled, why? why would she wear so much clothing in such hot conditions? what is the logic? what is the rational?
So I asked, why. Why are you wearing so many layers of clothing. She looked at me and fiddled though a pile of fashion magazines and found the one she was looking for, a pale (photo-shopped) slim face with long black haired female was smiling at me from the cover of the magazine. The kind we see in western magazines and advertisements, the fake, plastic and unreal types. The ones that everyone idealizes to be, but we all know is a waste of money and creates emptiness. She points to her and asks, “you know her?…” My reply was of course that I had no idea who she was or what she represented. But she then described how pale and beautiful her skin was, how milky-pure it was and that she wanted to become like her. To become that plastic unreal girl from the magazine.
I was taken aback at first, but I remembered that I was not there to judge, I was not there to criticise, I was there to understand. I simply looked at her and smiled, and nodded along as she explained. Her ideals and her dreams was to get our of poverty, mine was to understand people a little more.
Money well spent.
Evidently as her livelihood was connected to sales, she tried selling to me from many angles. The sad face, the sad story of many siblings to feed and even grabbing me by the arm. Being a generally cynical person I ignored most of it.
(Perviously) At my hostel accommodation (6USD p/night – Double bed with ensuite toilet – I know awesome.) I had spoken to one of the receptionists and asked her about the socio-economic situation in the area. It seems many people take advantage of the tourist industry in Cambodia, particularly, many learn English and work in the tourist industry. So this leads my thinking and logic back to the girl. I do not often feel bad for people. I wish not to pity others but instead empathize.
With this information in mind, I thought it would be more worthwhile to buy her ‘a tool’ that she can use to make a living elsewhere. So I bought her a dictionary, A Khmer-English dictionary for her sister and herself to use, to hopefully learn english and get into the tourist industry. As idealistic as it was, in some sense, her target audience were already tourists.
Nurture vs. Nature
I have always been an advocate of nurturing. I believe people should learn how to do things and increase their capacity to succeed. Things should not be handed to them. I believe that children should be given the tools to solve their own issues. I am not saying EVERYTHING should be that way, but when possible, teach someone to solve their own problems.
“Give a person fish and he will starve to death, Give a person a fishing rod and teach him how to fish, he will live a long and fruitful life”