A visit to the temples would not be complete without the presence of relentless touts or children who will pester you to no end to buy the typical run-of-the-mill souvenirs. In all honesty, I really dislike to bargain and if possible, I rather not purchase anything to save myself the trouble and pain of haggling. Besides, I am not interested in purchasing another pirated guide book or magnet or postcard … Saying “NO” to these touts/children became such a chore and pain-in-the-ass that it came to a point when we would simply ignore them and walk away hastily.
Children asking for sweets and biscuits from tourists within the temple grounds.
Little Girl: Lady, you want to buy postcards? Only $1 for 10 postcards. Very cheap.
Me: No *walked away*
Little Girl: Please? Only $1. Cheap cheap. You buy for your friends back home.
Me: *Remained silent*
Little Girl: When you come back, you buy from me.
Believe it or not, these children have an excellent memory and you will be impressed by the number of greetings that they can say in many languages (English, French, Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, and the list goes on!). With that, the little girl tout immediately approached me after my visit to one of the temple and reminded me that I was supposed to purchase the set of 10 postcards from her. Of course, I rejected her time and again despite her constant pleads to persuade me to make a purchase. Finally, after realizing that she was fighting a losing battle, she issued a verbal warning in frustration.
Little Girl: You go crazy if you don’t buy. You go crazy! You crazy! You crazy!
Needless to say, I was dumbfounded upon hearing the girl issuing me an ultimatum – Make the purchase or risk turning crazy! Instead of being pissed at her, I was actually amused at the fact that I was just threatened by a little girl who’s young enough to be my daughter! To quote MK, my life’s such a joke! On hindsight, is competition amongst the children touts so keen that they have to resort to threatening others in order to secure a deal? Makes you ponder on the harsh reality of life, doesn’t it?
As much as I felt constantly disturbed & harassed by the presence of these aggressive little touts, there was no denying that most of them are pretty intelligent and street-smart. Being fast learners, most of them have a solid grasp of languages and could greet (or even converse) in more languages than I probably ever do. While kids living in the city often complain about the rigid education system and the increasing level of stress (I was once like that), some of these children in Cambodia would do anything to trade places so that they can attend school and receive a proper education. In fact, some of them see the opportunity to interact with tourists from all around the globe as a chance for them to practise their command of languages. On the other hand, those aspiring entrepreneurs will try all tactics to charm you over with their wit, humor and vast knowledge of countries (Well, at least they know that Singapore is not part of China – An assumption made by many ignorant people).
We were making our way to the entrance of Banteay Kdei temple when another girl tout attempted to convince us to make a purchase from her. Before I could even gather the energy to give her a resounding “NO”, I was unexpectedly offered a bamboo bracelet for free! Suspicious that this was a new gimmick to make use of gratitude to get tourists to make an unnecessary purchase, I politely rejected her kind offer and persuaded her to pass it to another tourist who could appreciate it more than me. But, boy was she persistent. Needless to say, I was touched by her determination and ‘sincerity’ and finally accepted the gift although I was mentally prepared to purchase something from her as an offer of gratitude.
To our surprise, the girl whose name is Khwan, left us alone although the guilt in accepting a free gift from a child who needs the USD1 more than we do made us succumb to guilt and we eventually purchased a trinket from her. In other words, we are “suckers” for “compassion” gimmicks like this lol. Anyhow, both MK and I were taking a much-needed short break (the heat was simply too intense!) at a cozy corner when Khwan approached us for a chat. It turned out, to our delight, that she was very keen in getting to know more about us and also to share with us stories of her life in Cambodia. As the conversation progressed, we soon realized that fortunate children like Khwan get to attend classes in the morning before rushing over to the temples to earn a living. In the midst of our conversation, the animated girl hopped over to the nearby pond and fished for tiny seashells, which she later explained to me was something that Cambodians cook for their meals. Not convinced that she could speak so many languages, I thus put her knowledge to test by asking her to speak a few common greetings in Mandarin and Russian (though I do not understand the latter at all) and true indeed, she impressed me with her ability to greet fluently in Mandarin!
We started the day thinking that it would be a day that we would be doing touristy stuff like visiting the different temples, catching both sunrise & sunset and taking a ton of pictures and never did we ever expect to strike a conversation with a local, let alone a young Cambodian girl. Yet, for that half an hour, I truly felt like we were ‘friends’ who were trying to overcome cultural differences and foster a better understanding of each other. I was enamored and won over by Khwan’s friendly and bubbly demeanor and when it was finally time to bid farewell, a part of me was reluctant to leave as I knew that our short-lived ‘friendship’ would come to an end when we had to part ways.