67. Children of Angkor

The Children of Angkor: Everyone who’s visited the temples of Angkor knows that the Cambodian families who make their home and living there are as much a part of the experience as any crumbling religious monument. The children are front and center, employing a heartbreaking charm to sell trinkets and cold drinks to tourists and pilgrims. They swarmed Amy and I as our feet hit the ground of every temple, with the sales pitches they deliver a thousand times a day all sung together in the same monotone vendor-English. It is the saddest symphony you will ever hear.

“Lady! Sir! Good deals for you, only from me.”
“Hey, you want cold drink? Cheap cheap.”
“I have bracelets for you, five for $1. Ok, ten for $1, some for you, some for your friend.”
“If you buy, buy only from me ok? Promise me.”
“Buy something and I’ll leave you alone.”
“I won’t forget you.”
“Don’t forget me.”
“Please help me.”
“Please don’t go.”

They’ve mastered the art of the guilt-sale and the cute-sale, memorizing small volumes of trivia to help. They can count to 10 in seven different languages, they can tell you the name and approximate population of your national and state capitol and they can rattle off an impressive array of rebuttals to your every refusal. If you already have the book they’re selling, there’s always another you don’t yet have. If you already bought some bracelets for yourself, surely you can buy a few more for your friends back home. If you don’t like soda, they have cold water and if you don’t like water, they have cold beer. When you don’t buy anything from them, their disappointment is genuine and devastating. When you do, their joy is equally so.

Even though they’re under daily pressure to help support their families, they’re still children and they still embody the Cambodian charisma and charm that we’ve fast fallen in love with. Like most children, they have a genius for creating fun from nothing and they’re delightfully easy to distract – A funny dance, some farty noises and a crude drawing in the sand turns a somber sales pitch into a three ring circus. I once drew a crowd of small children simply by loudly attempting to pronounce Khmer phrases from my Southeast Asia phrasebook. They were in stitches, literally rolling on the ground and repeating my poor pronunciation, while the oldest girl in the group tried to translate for them. When she told them what I was actually trying to say, they laughed even louder and patted me on the back, as if to say “there, there, please shut up.” When they tired of that, we chatted about American professional wrestling (our country’s number one pop culture export, I’m now convinced) and shared a quiet moment with some palm sugar candy bought from a street vendor. When I finished mine, I turned to Li, a scrappy eight year old in a Hulk Hogan t-shirt, and asked him if he liked it. Without missing a beat he smiles and says, “Yes. You want cold drink?”


  1. mikey says:

    Since it’s been suggested you look like Brad Pitt, does that have you thinking about bringing some of them home with you? I hear they’re quite adoptable.

  2. Bob says:

    “Buy something and I’ll leave you alone.”

    That’s totally my favorite one…. direct and to the point.