Wednesday, 28 October 2009

TEMPLE CHILDREN

One of the disadvantages of Siem Reap is the level of tourist hassle - probably inevitable in a town where everyone depends on it for a living. Everywhere you go you're assailed by people calling 'Moto! Moto! Tuk-tuk! You want massage sir/madam? I sell you something - good price!'
Every temple complex has its satellite village of stalls selling food and souvenirs. Many of the vendors are children. As soon as they see the tuk-tuk draw up they descend like a flock of brightly coloured birds clutching scarfs, cold drinks, hats, and T-shirts calling and shrieking 'You want scarf madame? Two dollars!' 'You want bangle? Ten bangles one dollar!'
Some of them have a more oblique approach. ''My name Nom, what your name?''
''Kathy.''
''Kassie? You buy cold drinks only from me - you remember my name Nom.''
It's an order not a request, and - smiling broadly - she's still on the selling pitch. 'You buy scarf? I give you three scarfs five dollars. Best price from me.'
I've learnt the Cambodian for 'No, thank you', but whichever language you say it in they follow you, still calling until you reach the policeman at the gateway who inspects your pass. But you can still hear their voices. 'Kassie, I remember you. You buy only from me when you come back!'' And when you do return an entire flock of children runs towards you, all laughing and shouting 'Kassie, Kassie, you buy only from me!!!'
Nom, like her friends Maria and Tao, is about eleven and doesn't go to school (schooling has to be paid for in Cambodia). She's acquiring a very different education - the art of getting tourists to part with their cash. She can sell you anything in four languages. Inside the temples there are other children - girls of six or seven lugging infant siblings with huge, bush-baby eyes and solemn faces. They beg for money or sweets and biscuits. Some of them are orphans from the many orphanages around Siem Reap.

Older children, who sneak in through the ruined walls, sit in the shrines and will begin to talk to you if you linger, and tell you the history of the temple. They will also take you to see carvings you might have overlooked and tell you something about their lives. They don't ask for money, but it's understood that if you let them do this, you have to give them a couple of dollars for the service. This, rather sad little girl had a raccoon.

You can't help wondering what the future holds for these young people; it surely has to be better than this.
(All the children in these photographs were adequately recompensed for the photo-sessions!)

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