Holiday In Cambodia

Posted by on Jan 2, 2015 in Cambodia, Children, Poverty, Sales, travel, War | 2 comments

Holiday In Cambodia

   “You buy from me! Mr. You buy from me! Only one dollar!”

    The kid ran up to me followed by six or seven of his stiffest competitors. Each of them had some sort of postcard, magnet, plastic flower, banana, or yes different postcards with better pictures.

    They are like little bugs crawling out of the wood work when a van or bus pulls up. I imagined them all in a back room playing cards, smoking a quick butt on their break. With the sound of an engine larger than a scooter, they sprint into action. Rub a little dirt on their face, maybe skin up their knees a bit. Put on their best “you buy from me look.” Check the mirror, and out the door!

    Okay, okay, before you think I’m getting insensitive towards the poor village kids, let me tell you. I’m just kidding.  Some of them really did break my heart. But entrepreneurship does let the cream rise to the top. You either got it, or you don’t.

    And whatever it is. the kid in the picture here, he’s got it. Being a professional salesman for a good part of my life I appreciate someone that is not willing to give up on the sale. And my little friend here exceeded all of my expectations.

   Even after I told him there was no way I was going to buy his postcards, he said “Alright, why don’t you just give me some candy then?” I didn’t let on, but I liked this kid. He had it and he knew it. And I think he knew that I knew it. From one salesman to another, it’s that look of sheer determination, supreme confidence, and the willingness to shift oars midstream in a sales pitch.

   This kid was only eight or nine years old. I wondered why he wasn’t in school. Where were his parent’s? Did he have parents?

   Cambodia  is an absolutely beautiful country ,rich with history and architectural achievements .  And it seem’s to be on the mend after a whole generation was pretty much wiped out, with those that did survive being thrown into extreme poverty. I had a few candid conversations with people that lived through the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pots extreme view of what their society was to be.

   Our driver was one of the lucky ones. After his village was carpet bombed out of existence, he managed to cross the border just a few steps ahead of the Khmer Rouge. He trained to be a Muay Thai fighter to put food on his table. He had over a hundred professional fights as a young man.

    Another man, our temple guide, had been conscripted by the Army when he was just fourteen to go fight in the jungle. If he or his family refused, they would all be killed. He was trained to kill people, and to stay alive, he did. He told me of a time when they were surrounded for weeks, with no food or water. I wont go into the details of their diet to stay alive. Lets just say, it was not pleasant.

   When he got out, he became a monk. It took him seven years in a monastery to come back to terms with his life.

    I heard plenty of other stories, and there are grim reminders on the not so lucky ones, but I think you get the picture. I thought back to when I was a teenager. My biggest problem was my parents not letting me grow my hair long.

   We visited hospitals, orphanages, rural schools, and poor villages. I am  humbled by the graciousness, and kindness that the Cambodian people showed us. I think it may take a while for my head to comprehend how my heart feels. I wanted to cry, laugh, and be thankful all at the same time.

   So any way my new favorite little salesman kept following us. We kept walking and he kept talking. We reached an area near the temple we were visiting, where he and the rest of the sale team were not allowed. But did he give up? Not a chance! He left the loop open. “Okay you buy when you come back. I will look for you.” Tenacity, I Love it!

    As we were exploring an eight hundred year old temple I kept my eye on this kid. English was not his only foreign language. A bus load of Koreans drove up, and my little buddy was there with open pockets, and the language to smooth talk you right out of your own bowl of kimchi.

     I mean, now I wanted to hire this kid. Immigration, let me at him. You put this kid in America, and he’d be running the block by time he was ten!

     After an hour of exploring ancient architecture, bas reliefs ,and pondering how an ancient civilization was able to create such magnificence that still stands today, we headed back.

    And who was waiting. You got it. My little buddy. We caught each others eyes from across the field. I motioned for him to meet me in the corner by himself. I had an idea.

   He crept away from his team with the stealth of a ninja. It felt like I was meeting a dealer to make a score. We met. We locked eyes. He made his pitch. I told him I had a better deal for him.

   “You keep your postcards to sell to someone else. I will give you money if you let me take a picture of you holding my new book. What happened next melted my heart. A little boy looked back at me. His smile was as big as his innocence. It is a moment I will always cherish. After all. he is one of us, and he’s just a kid.

   I shook his hand and gave him a couple of bucks. A deal is a deal. He just kept on smiling. Had he just closed his best prospect of the day? Was he that darn good? Would he go back to the back room gloating how he just closed me without even giving up any product?

    More power to him if he did. But I don’t think so. I think he is just out there doing what he knows how to do to put food on his table. Soon the rest of the sales team caught on and came running over. More pictures were taken, and more dollars were spread around. I will always remember their smiles, and their laughter. The laughter of children.


  1. Awesome article!

  2. Really captured the moment and the sense of place – all the ancient grandeur, the innocence of the many children, the horror of a recent past these wonderful, gracious people are trying to put behind them.

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