Monday, March 08, 2010

Cambodia: If You Don't Buy From Me, I Cry

I love kids. I love them so much that if you're under 10 years old and I meet you on the subway in NYC or waiting for the bus in Bangkok I will smile and make funny faces and wave and blow kisses. So kids, if you're wondering who that crazy lady was -- it was me.

I am also not above buying your love. This is why I do not even consider visiting my niece and nephew without presents in hands. I find that children under the age of 5 are very easily bought off so for the price of a latte I can purchase at least 3 kisses and an I love you. Deal. Similarly, I have a long standing rule that I'm buying whatever the kids are selling -- from lemonade to Girl Scout cookies to raffles tickets for a cord of wood -- here's my dollar. In fact, in the case of Girl Scout cookies, here's my wallet.

Cambodia has shot my approach to children straight to hell. The kids are everywhere, waving back at me, saying crazy precocious things in better English than I speak, selling me postcards. And there's the rub. A girl can only buy so many postcards before her $70/day budget is completely blown.

I make the perfect target but despite my nature I've been breaking little hearts all over the country. In Phnom Phen the kids are all selling books. Copies of The Killing Fields pour from laundry baskets carried by 8 year olds at the Khmer restaurants and outside of the national palace and I was personally offered every single copy. Ultimately though, Geoff was the real target. Sitting at dinner on our last night in Phenon Phen he was hit up first by a 14 year old Obama fan (how awesome is it to be proud of our president while abroad? SUPER awesome) who he managed to fend off. Then came an 8 year old dressed in a smart button down shirt, red jams and a pair of pink crocs. He had all of the tactics down. "You, buy a book." "Buy this book, everyone loves it." "I have not read it but all of the tourists think it is great." "Why not? You don't like to read?" "Ok, you eating dinner, I let you eat and then I come back." And to me, "If he does not buy a book you buy a book." Impressive move sir.

And as soon as the last of our Angkor beer, amok and loc lac was deposited in our tummies he was back. "Hello, ok, you done. You buy book now." This finally devolved into a Rock, Paper, Scissors challenge and Geoff cannot resist any opportunity to gamble. So we now own a copy of The Killing Fields ($6) with a very nice cover and inside pages that appear to be photocopied on a machine from 1988. I also bought a set of 12 postcards for $2 because I am a sucker and also because one has a picture of kids and a buffalo and the back says "Children with Buffles" -- No one can resist Buffles, not even a cold hearted snake like myself.

The kid salesman mob at the front of the Angkor Wat temples means business. They swarm you as soon as you exit your tuktuk with cries of "Laaaaadeeeee! You want cold drink?" "You want bracelet?" "Five for 1 dollar!!" The first English phrase learned by all Cambodia children is "No, Thank You." The salesmanship is also bordering on stalking. "I remember you, you come back you buy from me." "You come back you want cold drink, you only buy from me, or else." "You not buy from me I cry." No pressure. Thankfully, these are all idle threats, but as soon as some kid comes through with the tears I will probably lose my resolve, give her all of my money, and catch the next flight back to the job that pays for my food/ragamuffin support fund.

Billy Mays is alive and well in the hearts of Cambodia. "You want wooden flute?" "It has carving!" "But wait there's more! Carving of bird!" "And an all bamboo woven case!" "BUT WAIT!" "All this for ONLY $1!!!!" "You buy flute now!"

Sadly (or for my budget, luckily) the children selling things outside of the temples here have failed miserably in understanding the needs of their customers.

Things Being Sold By Children Outside of Angkor Wat
  • A million "silk" scarfs
  • Gold painted Buddha figurines
  • Pieces of bamboo folded into the shape of a grasshopper
  • Photocopies of the Lonely Planet
  • Water

Things I Wanted to Buy Outside of Angkor Wat
  • A shower
  • A battery powered fan
  • A huge chunk of ice
  • Gatoraid
  • A parasol
  • Moister wicking underwear
  • Water

Those water salesman made a killing.

If I weren't committed to 2 more months of carrying all of my belongs on my back this would be a shoppers paradise. Tshirts for $5, scarves for $1, piles of silk pillow cases for $2. (Aside: Thailand is just as good and in our last few days there in May the spending spree is ON. Place your orders for knock off Calvin Klein panties and generic Viagra ($9/15 pills!!!)). Besides the pack of postcards and a tuktuk full of bottled water I'm purchase free. Good for the budget, but obviously I'll be back in Brooklyn come June lying in Prospect park wishing some toddler would waddle by with bottles of water and a $5 t-shirt covered in engrish.


Dean Winter said...

I'm sure you were joking, but police in Bangkok (especially around Ekkamai) target whitefolk of all ages and gender and search their bag for prescription medication without a prescription. They're usually looking for Viagra. Fines are on the spot and not that expensive, from what I'm told, but it's an annoyance. :)

mike said...

Wow, this makes the hawkers on the beaches in Mexico look tame. That said, I wonder if my kids could make a little money on the side. I do have access to a photocopier....

Loving the updates,

PS I love Buffles too. They're my favourite snack food of all time.