In the land of beggars the limbless man is king.
Don’t come to
In Angkor Thom you may find yourself pedaling around an elephant-taxi only to have your bike’s front tire advancing head-on at several monkeys in the road. It’s one of those ‘moments’, only a split second or two, that may show up in the mind’s movie reel as you exhale for the final time. Same with Battambang’s Bamboo Train, where an ultra-light frame made of—you guessed it--bamboo is powered by a small gasoline engine along a click-clacking French-era single track line. When a ‘train’ comes from the opposite direction the less loaded one is disassembled to let the other pass. It’s akin to a roller coaster without all those silly safety precautions. Like seatbelts.
You walk into Angkor Wat or one of the surrounding temples and they can’t be avoided. Young kids in ragged clothing selling postcards and magnets and bracelets that nobody wants. From three year-olds to seven to twelve, all ages are of the working class in
They might as well be selling Dengue Fever or malaria or STDs. Nobody wants it. Nobody wants to be asked if they want it. Nobody wants to be solicited for five minutes by the same persistent five-year-old who’s been wearing the same pair of shorts for the last thirty-seven days. Nobody wants the pleas followed up by the phrase, “Please buy, mister. Really want to go to school.”
You hear this from ten different children in a half hour and it’s no longer effective. True or not, it’s just a fact of life. Fair or not, upon the hundredth hearing it no longer makes its way into the lobe.
But you see it. Dirt on his forehead, elbows sticking out, a collarbone jutting from the skin seemingly eager to look at the temples itself. Toenails cracked, split the entire length of the nail. You can feel his desperation.
You’re at a restaurant enjoying dinner in
A young boy walks right up to you. You’re sitting down at a restaurant enjoying dinner and this boy, not a shred of respect, approaches hawking books. Then bracelets. He’s using the school line. You want some peace, some alone time from the impoverished, an evening without the sign on your back that lets the locals know you excrete
“Fine,” the boy says, dejectedly adamant. “You buy me fried rice.”
Okay. Sit down.
He looks at you, shrugs, remains standing. Five minutes pass. The waiter comes by to shoo the kid off, but you say, “No. No, I told him I would buy him fried rice.”
The boy stands, silent, perplexed. Two plates are brought out.
“Can I sit down?” the boy asks.
You’re white, weigh over a hundred kilos and stoop down to eat. He’s small, dirty and can just reach his food. When you’re almost a third of the way done he’s licking his plate clean. He stays seated, watching as you finish dinner, salivating as you sip on your shake.
Other kids arrive. A half dozen. They want you to buy postcards and magnets.
These children, they catch on quickly, their requested demands soon metamorphose into, “Buy me fried rice like you did for him.” They all look just as hungry, they’d all lick their plates clean before you took your fifth swallow. They’re all sad to look at. Their smiles are all beautiful.
Poor and hungry, they still smile. They still have a glow to their eyes like you’ve never seen before in the overabundant
You came here for this as much as the temples. The people, the poverty, you wanted to find out how it would make you feel. You wanted to find out if you’d feel.
You keep walking. He keeps clutching. Simultaneously a tuk-tuk driver is pestering for a fare.
You maintain that you’re not interested in a ride. You say this seven times because the tuk-tuk driver keeps asking. They all do. They all require seven ‘no thank yous’ before moving on to harass someone else. The beggar releases his grasp on your arm only when you steer him into a motorcycle parked on the side of the road.
Come on, you're thinking. He still had a hand to work with. That's how numb you've become.
The next block, it brings a woman scooting herself and the child on her lap down the road. Inching along the pavement, the motorcycles lurch and totter around her. She has legs but they’re apparantly inoperable.
Just where the hell is she going? It’s going to take her the next three weeks to traverse the street.
Just where the hell are you?
|The ladies of Angkor Wat.|
|Inside Angkor Wat.|
|From Phnom Sampeau, outside Battambang, Cambodia.|
|I guess it's time to turn back.|
|Phnom Banan, outside Battambang, Cambodia.|
|Skulls from the Killing Caves outside Battambang, Cambodia.|