Aug 23 2012
Sopheap works in a Siem Reap hotel, perhaps it’s your one. He’s actually a partial owner of the hotel, despite his young age, and he’s working hard to improve himself, learn more and be more. He also works at an NGO. As he gives you some advice on what to do and where to go for the day, he may really be thinking about the cycle he plans to do later on in the afternoon.
Had I the Heaven’s embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
He’s an avid cyclist and always finishes well in the annual Angkor Wat Bike Race. I think he dreamed of joining the Cambodian national cycling team, but even though that dream will not be, he never lets his enthusiasm for the sport diminish. The NGO he supports helps communities to secure clean water and educate their children.
Bunthon is a tuk tuk driver, perhaps the one that brought you home late last night. His friends recently helped him to restore his tuk tuk as it’s important that he can attract customers with it, and a lot of people are depending on him. So much of what Bunthon earns is spent on supporting those that need it in his village outside Siem Reap. He’s built a school and helps to ensure that it is properly equipped. He brings medical support and food for the poorest in the village who rely on his support, that is your support, in order to survive. He does this all at his own expense.
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
Socheat is a breathtakingly beautiful woman who recently married and had her first child. She’s been working in an organisation that offers nature tours for the last two years and even though her English wasn’t very good at first, she has learned a lot and now chats away happily. She came to Siem Reap about seven years ago, together with her two younger siblings, while her parents stayed back in their home province. Before she worked full-time at the tour operator, she held two jobs, went to class and then would go home to feed and look after her younger brother and sister who were both still at school and not working. Even with all this pressure, she always remained cheerful. She still does.
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet ;
Tread softly for you tread on my dreams. — W.B. Yeats
I don’t put their pictures here, and their names have been changed. But these stories describe real people whom you may encounter while you’re here. And even if you don’t meet them personally, you will meet hundreds of other Cambodians whose stories of hard work, strong hearts and sacrifice are almost the same. If one day you feel impatient because of the rain, or heat, or discomfort, and perhaps there has been some confusion about something or other, there often is — it’s the flip-side of the joy of cultural difference that makes travel worthwhile and meaningful — remember that you might be talking to any one of Bunthon, Socheat or Sopheap, and they might be feeling a little tired too.
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