Friday, December 7, 2007

Children of Siem Reap (Part 1) ...and a postscript

All grown-ups were children first. (But few remember it).

- Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)

I rarely remember my childhood days. But I do remember crying on top of a covered manhole which is located a few walks away from the gate of our house in Los Baños, Laguna. I was nine and my mother scolded me for something I could not recall right now. That was my idea of leaving home. Thinking that my mother would be sorry for what she did to me and beg me to come home, I stayed there for hours. But no one came for me. Eventually, I had to come home because I was afraid of the dark. Note, the word “was” I AM NO LONGER AFRAID OF THE DARK.

When I was in Siem Reap I learned how the word ‘childhood’ means so little to Cambodians.

The population of Cambodians right now is about 13+ million. With a country size of 69.9 sqm which is almost as big as Quezon City (64.2 sqm), considered to be the most populous city in the Philippines where I work right now and has been living for 6 years, 13+ million people is quite a lot. Quezon City has a population of 2.2 million only.

A great percentage of the population of Cambodia comprises of young people. These young people make up for a great chunk of their total labor force. I don’t have the statistics but being there in Cambodia will pretty much tell you about the living conditions of these children. In the touristy areas of Siem Reap, you will likely to encounter a horde of children working as vendors. And we’ve met quite a few of them. In fact, we’ve met a pack of them!

Quite frankly, these children are not on their top form. Most of them are emaciated and toasted. For such a young age, they look weathered-beaten already. They speak to you in broken English, but you’ll be amazed by the fluidity of how they converse with such an ease. We’ve met quite a few children who speak much better English than I do. I am drag in conversational English really. I'd keep my mouth shut most of the time. Children who can speak English are definitely of much advantage when it comes to this kind of business because they can easily yank tourists to eat in their resto or to enjoin them to buy one of their goods.

They seem to be happy talking to us. Filipinos are like their Asian twin. They even revive our songs and put Cambodian lyrics into it, which I find utterly amusing. We look like them in almost every way. I guess, it helps to look like them because when we haggle, they give in. They know we come from a poor country too. (yah, yah)

In the faces of these children, we saw the different facets of life and poverty. A face toughened by adversities and the will to survive. I was touched, I got angry, I was fed-up, I was emotionally battered, but amidst it all, I was never surprised. The feeling is (so) familiar but I have never gotten used to it. I will never be used to it. What bothers me more is that, it’s happening anywhere else. The Philippines is not a greenhorn to this issue.

flute girl

This girl practically followed me around. We met her in one of the temples we've visited, Ta Phrom I think. I was trying to ignore her (among the other vendors) and instead, I said the word "later" to her, hoping I could shoo her away. Little did I know that she was damn serious about the idea of "later". She came up to me right after we went out of the temple. Children often remind grown-ups the meaning of "promise" and I had to keep it. I bought three pieces of her native bracelets. I get to keep one, the other two I gave to Oki and our tuk-tuk driver. I also bought the flute she was selling.

tupig kids

These are a group of kids we met during one of our stopovers. Lyn and Oki spotted this Cambodian delicacy being sold at the side of the street. It looks like our tupig here, but much bigger. It is rice cake stuffed with something inside. I didn't eat so I really can't tell you much of what it tastes like.

dollar kid

I call him the 'dolla kid'. We met him in Tonle Sap. Lyn bought a bunch of banana and gave him the one dollar bill which he instinctively rolled and kept.

donation kids

These are a group of kids asking for 'contribution' . I forgot what for but they have brochures (in English) with them to explain. I didn't get one, but I remembered I gave something. We met them while we enter Pre Rup temple.

under the mango tree

Three cuties enjoying the shade of the mango tree. We met them in Lolei temple. I gave some of them our candies (hehe, menthol pa!). That's all we can afford to give for free.

neak pean kids

Kids in Cambodia are pretty much used to tourists wanting their photos. The 'peace sign' is almost part of that photo routine. These kids are playing near the road going to Neak Pean temple.


[Postscript: Batanes the Movie]

I went to see Batanes the movie on its opening night last Wednesday. Oki is pretty much busy these days with her Accountancy review so I wasn't able to drag her with me to watch the movie. I went to see it in Trinoma. It was my first time to try out that particular cinema house so I got a bit excited. The place was like any other cinema houses in Greenbelt or Glorieta except that the chairs are much cozier. Really, I could snooze in there.

Mitch texted me yesterday and asked me how did I find the movie. This is pretty much what I told him. The movie is a love story. It's a given. And movies with a theme like that is pretty much predictable so to speak, so don't expect too much, which I did. I came to watch because of three things: 1) They used Batanes as a background for the film. I haven't been to Batanes, I have been aching to go there so watching the movie will at least give me a glimpse of the feeling of how it is to be there. 2) My old time friend, Crim is a native of the Isle of Batan that's another reason. 3) The movie is inter-racial.

Overall, I got what I came there to watch. Well, pretty much. I have three things to say about the movie: 1) Batanes is a BEAUTIFUL place. Enough said. I will have to go there. This year. Or not. Definitely next year. I will, I will. 2) I like how the directors (Adolfo Alix Jr. and Dave Hukom) used the different faces/aspects of the sea as the central theme of the plot. After watching it, I am looking at the sea (a bit) differently now. Both scared and blissful. 3) I like the ending. Totaly, indie. Not spoon-feeding. It made the plot a bit unpredictable, shying away from the "...and they live happily after" typical ending. The audience get to decide. Did Ken Zhu and Iza Caldo ended up together? Take a wild guess. Let us ask the sea. :-)


kyels said...

Albeit the children are living and suffering from poverty, they still look happy. Life is hard but they try to make a living out of it which I'm very proud of.

Pinas has issues about poverty too but it has never decrease the love that I harbor for it. Pinas is beautiful ... So beautiful nga!

Ate, you said your conversational English isn't that good but you write properly ... Hehe.

Off topic; I did use tripod for the night shot and that is the Petronas Twin Towers and Kuala Lumpur Tower.


Batanes the Movie; I gotta check it out na. With Ken Zhu in it ... Oo, amazing. I'll try to get it here but I doubt I can anyway. Haaay!

kyels said...

Off topic; I checked out the trailer for Batanes the Movie ... Awesome! Pero, do you know from where can I download the movie cause I cannot locate this show anywhere in Malaysia.


Sidney said...

Third world country, poor country or whatever...the human rights of children should be protected at whatever price...

One of the basic rights is the human right to education -- to free and compulsory elementary education, to readily available forms of secondary and higher education.

There are no excuses. Those children should be in school.
Shame on the governments who are not taking steps to protect young children.

It is really sad to see all those kids trying to sell their wares to tourists.
Beautiful but sad pictures!

don - slackwater said...

A very interesting series of shots showing these great looking kids. Sidney raises an excellent point. Cultures have a responsibility to protect and educate their young. Slackwater

pieterbie said...

So sad to hear that children don't get the same opportunities all around the world. But then this is not new to me. Great photos!

Tien said...

Yea, "The Tattooist" is locally released, but they have plans to release it internationally as well. But I doubt so. It's like a secondary school play/skit reject...

Anyway, the kids looked happy in the photos, despite the poverty in their country. I guess simple life do have its own happiness as well. :D

lino said...

nice set of pics on the children rayts... there's always a sense of innocence...

unwritten said...

ang gaganda ng fektyurs mo sa Cambodia. i like the fact that hindi lang mga sights ang kinukuha mo, kundi pati yung mga seemingaly mundane - like these school kids - which gave better clue as to what and how the locals were. gleng gleng!!!

my gulch said...

hey read your email. i will send it as soon as it's released. no hassle. my pleasure. good luck with the thesis.

you are (so) right. there should be no excuses. unfortunately, the government has all the excuse not to send these children to schools granting them their rights to education. what you say is ideal. what i presented here is the real thing. i don't know how to reunite these things. i guess it's simply beyond our control.

thanks the comment. we do what we have to do. i don't know if it's the government alone. but i guess, parents should have a portion of the blame to. giving birth to kids who they know will just suffer the same consequences as they have.

that is exactly the thing. this issue is not new. i am afraid that one day will come when looking at this issue will be too worn out that people would stop caring already and accept things as they are, not being able to do anything about it.

i guess that is the other side of the coin. being happy amidst adversity. they have no choice.

you'll be surprised but children like them, "innocence" is only a portion of what they are. they learned to be tough and to be an adult at that early stage.

salamat tsong. appreciate it.

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