I was wandering through Angkor Wat, trying to figure out my direction, when, all of a sudden some monks appeared from a dark alley walking toward me. With the sunlight falling over their golden dresses, their facial lines became so eyes-catching that, for me, everything froze in the air, as I forgot that I am staring with a big smile at them. I thought they were the angels that God sent to me.

There is only one way leading to the top of the central tower in Angkor Wat. Many people were queuing up to visit this spectacular art work, named as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The weather was too good to be wasted, so I decided to slow down my path and move around with my little purpose.

I noticed one guy trying to climb up the tower by the stairs on the side instead of the route we were supposed to, as his friend kept encouraging him. Soon after, two guards came and stopped his enthusiasm, as I expected. But, for these guys, this wasn’t enough. So they went to the other side and tried to climb again. The monk I’ve just met appeared from nowhere and said “you should respect the rules as well as our God, otherwise you should leave!” These powerful short words finally made these guys understand and respect the sanctity of the place they were visiting.

Cambodia, as described by the Human Rights Director, David Roberts, is a “vaguely communist free-market state with a relatively authoritarian coalition ruling over a superficial democracy.”

While per capital wage remains low and people need to get some extra income somehow, Cambodia has now one of the fastest growing economies in Asia.

So before arriving here, I was told not to trust the local vendors because as a tourist I will get ripped off. So I bargained carefully, spoke carefully, and I was trying to fit in like a local instead of a tourist…

I remembered my tuk tuk driver, his name is Cheer, he has black curly hair and a fit shape of brown tanned skin. He doesn’t talk much and always seems to be worrying about something.

At the beginning I thought he is just another business man, but after a few days of spending time together, I found he is a really caring person. I could tell from the way he drove cautiously, or from when he prepared the water in icy containers to keep the flaming sun away. He was always on time to pick me up even if he had worked for over 10 hours that day. He never asked for the money that belonged to him.

One day, as he was driving me around the countryside, he started speaking about the situation in Cambodia. “Many kids… they don’t have parents, either they were kidnapped by Syndicate or they were abandoned; they drop school and just beg for food or money in the street, and maybe one day they will die nowhere without anybody noticing.” I still remember his face vividly when he told me this sad and horrifying story.

New Year’s Eve in 2015 caught me in Cambodia. My wish was to celebrate this night along the crowd in downtown city. As Cheers had to stay home with his beloved family, I was wandering in the street trying to catch any tuk-tuk, as long as they don’t over charge at the special day. I noticed some drivers drinking and laughing, sitting under the wooden shed covered by canvas. Since I couldn’t find any other ride, I decided to approach them: “suo si dei, sorry to interrupt the fun, but I am thinking maybe one of you might want to take me to the city center?” They looked pretty confused at first, but they gave me a warm smile back, so I started to gesticulate “me, city center” instead.  “Ahhhh, city center!” one of them replied as he stood up walking to his tuk-tuk car.

“How much it is?” I asked, “It’s free” he replied. I thought I’ve heard him wrong, or maybe he just said “three” (dollars). All the way to the city, I was thinking  what should I do if he names a ridiculous price when we arrive. After 20 min and a bumpy road, I saw the Christmas lights shining, and heard the crowd cheering. I felt relieved and safe. “Thank you! So, how much it is?” “It’s free” he smiled back.

I felt really ashamed that I doubted his hospitality and generosity. “Happy New Year!” and I gave him a big hug.

Thank you, every Cambodian I met on the road, thanks for proving me and showing me that I was wrong about your inherent characteristic, as well as for your generous smile.

Leave a Comment