Those Strangers from the Road: Meeting Cambodians

A Cambodian family visiting the Angkor complex. We were taking photos and the kids were watching. The kids were quite pleased when we offered to take their picture. 
We saw a lot of Cambodian families out and about the Angkor complex. I found this touching as it shows how proud they are of their heritage. Passing on the love for Khmer culture to the next generation ensures its survival too.

Notice the absence of a father figure, though. I hope they're just milling around somewhere or decided to stay home. 

A group of orphans and their art teacher at the Complex

We saw these kids playing hide and seek and tag amidst blocks of stones that were to be laid out for conservation. The man in blue approached us and told us he's their art teacher. He takes them to the Angkor not just to let them play, but to slowly teach them how to render the temples in drawings. Another reason they hang out at the Complex is to raise funds for their orphanage. Where begging is off-putting in other countries, Cambodia has one of the highest number of orphans globally, in part because of their recent brush with a terror regime. If you have money to spare, do help.  

Charming Cambodian ladies we met in Banteay Srei

One thing that puts off tourists in Cambodia: the aggressive vendors. Fortunately, we did not have any bad experience with any of the vendors we met. No one harassed us or made us gravely uncomfortable.  You just need to be firm when telling the vendors you're not interested, or you could ask help from your guide or driver in telling them off. One thing that psyched us up though is them being able to guess we're Filipinos! Cambodia is the first country I've been to where they were able to guess my nationality. In Malaysia, they thought we were from Vietnam, Thailand, etc., anything but Pinoys. (Well, even Filipino immigration officers at the airport would question me about being Filipino.)

The Cambodians are lovely and these ladies are proof. We asked them how they know that we're Filipinos and they told us it's through the accent: Filipinos speak like Americans, but, well, look like Asians (funny? True? Sad?). Some of the vendors could even greet in Tagalog, which probably meant that Cambodia gets a lot of Pinoy tourists. Oh, we also found out that they watch Tagalog teleseryes! In particular, these ladies'  favorites are John Lloyd Cruz and Bea Alonzo (they described, we guessed).

More on the girls: 
  •  The first girl is around 10 years old. She's helping out her aunt who has a stall in Banteay Srei. She was shy and was hesitant to talk to us at first. Eventually, the two bubblier ates got her to stick around. They advised her to not be in such a hurry to get married. In Cambodia, it's still normal for girls, especially those from the barrios, to get married around the age of 16. 
  • The second girl works and goes to school at the same time. She's past the Cambodian marrying age (she's around 21, I think) and wants to be an English teacher someday. She spoke good English and looks quite determined to achieve this dream. 
  • The third girl is older than girl #2, probably around 23. She has kind eyes and a timid manner. She lives with her aunt who also runs the stall she works at. She's their family's breadwinner and has kind of accepted that fate. Anji put it this way, "She's no longer agit about her future. She has kind of accepted her destiny." 
I hope that good things come to these girls. Honestly, I have no clue how they can subvert the fate that's seemingly laid out for them (like any Third World country Cambodia has serious societal problems), but I pray that they'll be able to rise above what their circumstances dictate. May they experience magic and find pockets of hope. I hope that 6 or 7 years from now, they'll find themselves genuinely happy.   
A Cambodian artist in the temple

Another lovely Cambodian boy who has been drawing and producing Angkor-inspired art for years now.  He's my favorite Cambodian stranger because he's very talented (look at those watercolor pieces) and modest. I pray that his talent brings him success. :) 

Security personnel at Angkor Thom, who we thought just offered excellent customer service - he was in uniform, after all.

Granted, Kuya ripped us off by not telling us he'll be asking for money after showing us around Angkor Thom and taking our photos. It was an interesting experience (it just becomes a funny road story). Okay na rin. We got nice photos from him anyway and he did take us to the top of the Thom temple. And look how happy my girlfriends looked, especially Anji. :)

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