Took the younger kids to an internet cafe for the first time: a long, hot, dusty walk down Wat Bo road. We arrived only to find a western guy using the card reader we needed for nearly an hour as we waited, as he sorted through his photos of friends and bikini-clad girls in Thailand. My boy-students stared at the screen, wide-eyed as my girl-students blushed or were completely oblivious: they'd never seen anything like it before.
It rained most of Thursday morning so the adolescent class was more introverted than we'd have liked it to be. Took them out for breakfast at the Old Market, which got Rom, one of the sleeping booksellers out of his bed: he'd slept in his bookcart with a 9-year-old brother the night before. Yep, in his wooden bookcart. We woke him up, and I felt bad about it, he looked terribly lost and tired.
"What time did you get to sleep last night?" I asked as he rubbed his eyes, trying to wake them up. "Four A.M. when all the tourists went home," he said. No wonder he hadn't been able to make out 8 o'clock meeting.
One kid insists we must go to the Tonle Sap lake each time I see him.
"But don't you have a car?" he demanded when I said it wouldn't be possible until we raised some money for the day-long trip.
"No," I said laughing. "Just because I'm white [PC-speak dictates saying "western" but non-white westerners are treated in a very different way and I barely understand the hows and whys of it] doesn't mean I'm that rich. I like my bicycle just fine, thanks." Riding a bicycle shows I doesn't have enough cash for a motorbike, which puts me at the very lowest end of the transportation scale. It also keeps me fit and wary and breathing plenty of diesel fumes at the same time.
"Rich" is so relative. Does human nature dictate that no one seems to have as much of whatever it is they want, especially when they see that someone else has more of that thing than they personally do? This hunger is insatiable the longer it's fed. It makes people more miserable than ever before, no matter where they come from, no matter where they are now.
Monks on their morning alms-seeking promenade Luang Prabang, Laos
Walked into an internet cafe several days ago to find a 20-something monk tapping away at the keyboard. Nothing really unusual about that, but he typed confidently - in english, and faster than most non-nerdy western men.
Soon a Khmer/English couple walked in. The englishman reprimanded internet cafe staff for rearranging his laptop hookup in the elevated "let me tell you just how incompetent you are" tone that suggested he'd been in this country for a while. After a few minutes, the monk took a break from typing and started chatting to the Khmer girl in English, out of deference to her anglophone boyfriend. I wasn't paying attention at first but the following exchange caught my ear:
Monk: "Why you talk to me like you are scared?"
Girl: Deferential silence, refuses to look at monk
Monk, louder this time, grinning: "Why you scared of me?"
Girl, looking desperately at her boyfriend for help: "I don't know."
Boyfriend butts in: "Why are you talking to my girlfriend like this?"
Monk, switching from one power-trip to another, asks how long the barang boyfriend has been in Cambodia, then asks: "What do you, as westerner, think of buddhist monks?"
Boyfriend, pointedly, with the weariness of a foreigner in need of a break from all things Khmer - excepting his girlfriend of course: "I think there are many corrupt monks out there who take advantage of people."
The couple left shortly afterwards.
As the monk was leaving he walked over and asked how long I'd been in Cambodia. When I answered that I live here at the moment, he asked if I had a phone, then for my phone number. I smiled and said no, my husband didn't like me giving out my number to men, even monks. He invited me to Wat Bo Lanka sometime to learn more about buddhism. I nodded and smiled, both of us knowing I wouldn't: I'd met few examples of someone less qualified to talk to anyone about buddhism in general.
Website, Blog & Gallery: Ebriel.com
I'm an american artist with an Asian focus, based in Sydney and Bangkok.
I paint sharp-witted women, and print blue photos of disappearing places.
You can keep up and connect with me on Twitter, and Facebook, and Flickr.