Angels & demons / by Marek Charytonowicz

'Can you buy a postcard from me?' 'I'm sorry but I already have the same pictures in my camera…' 'Same same but different… only one dollar…' 'I'm sorry but I've already bought from other children…' 'But not from me… only one dollar…'

This comes from a tiny, very cute girl, maybe 6 - 7 years old that stands next to me until I leave the square in front of a temple in my tuk tuk. There’s no discussion here and although she seems to understand all my arguments against buying anything, she’s got answers to everything I say.

It’s very sad that children like that spend their time trying to sell tourists souvenirs instead of playing, learning, doing kids stuff. It makes you think too. One dollar in London buys you almost nothing. Here it’s a cheap meal. I must say the only beggars in Cambodia I’ve seen so far, were in front of S-21 museum. Everywhere else it’s children and adults trying to sell you souvenirs.

From a tourist point of view it may be an annoying spoil to a nice itinerary, crease on the smooth fabric of temple experience. But this is a poor country, damaged by war and cruelty of Khmer Rouge and the money we bring, regarded by us as bargain, puts food on their plates. I wish I could teach how to fish instead of giving a fish here and there. When I was that age my biggest worry was a new Matchbox car model to impress friends. That thanks to my parents and I guess the economy we got to live in. Here most of the kids work - either helping parents in a field, in a shop, in a laundry place, at the roadside food stall.

At some point while visiting the temples you start unconsciously developing defense system against all those ‘Sir please buy…’. That shows the other side of the problem - its easy to become immune to this and stop noticing.

So I buy that set of postcards and the girls face lights up with the most beautiful smile. She waves at me later cheerfully when I’m leaving the temple, she’s busy talking to another tourist.