Downfalls of Money and Language

I have been here in Siem Reap for a week and I have identified the following as what will be my monetary downfalls here in Cambodia:

1.) The blue pumpkin. It is still cheap compared to the US, has wireless, good food, and most importantly it is one of the few coffee shops within walking distance that is air conditioned * so on those really hot days I might actually leave my room before 3pm.

2.) The used bookstore down the road that I have to pass to get to school, the blue pumpkin, and home from both of these places. Prices are comparable to the US. One of my favorite things to do is wander around thinking about the kind of travelers that abandoned these books. Abandoning books happens a lot to a traveling bookworm. It’s no less painful than you’d think, but I almost wish that I could have taken the books I left in HCMC with me so I could trade them in at this bookstore and save some money.

3.) Food. It’s hotter here. The street stalls are hotter than the fan powered restarunts. Will pay an extra dollar or two for a fan.

Conclusion: The heat, the higher prices, and books, will be the downfall of my budget. It doesn’t help that you can only take money out of your checking account in multiples of 50USD. What kind of bank does that? Not only that but they give you a 50USD bill. That’s hard enough to break in the states, what the fuck am I going to do with it here? I don’t even think my hotel can break that. I shouldn’t have to go some place fancy and spend money just so I can break their damned 50. Given the choices (multiples of 50 with just a little over 100 in my account), I had to choose 50. If I had chosen 100USD, would they give me a 100 bill? In fucking CAMBODIA? I mean. Really.

The following is an example of the two block walk between my hotel and blue pumpkin, or anywhere for that matter. This takes place as I am walking brisk-American city style “I know where I am going” walk, it is also after half a dozen similar encounters that would just sound repetitive if I transcribed them all:

Street-hawker-child: Lay-DEE you buy book?
Me: No, thank you.
Street-hawker-child: You buy bracelet?
Me: No.
Street-hawker-child: Where you from?
Me: (I’ll either ignore him at this point or…) The US.
Street-hawker-child: Capital is Washington DC.
Me: That’s right.
Street-hawker-child: You buy postcard?
Me: No.
Street-hawker-child: You help me out, you buy postcard?
Me: No.
Street-hawker-child: You buy book?
Me: No.
Street-hawker-child: Why not?
Me: Because I don’t want a book, a bracelet, or a postcard.
Street-hawker-child: *looks confused for a moment, then sees another group of tourists and runs their way*
Tuk-tuk driver #5 (there were more before the street-hawkers, this just gets repetitive.): Lay-DEE you want tuk-tuk?
Me: No. (shakes head and makes the hand gesture that means No that I got in the habit of doing in Vietnam).
Tuk-tuk driver 6 (who is standing right next to #5): Tuk-tuk, Lay-DEE?
Me: (shakes head)
Tuk-tuk 6: I take you temples?
Me: No.
Tuk-tuk 7 (who is standing in front of my destination, where I am obviously going because I am walking past him): Tuk-tuk, Lay-DEE?

I guess Lay-DEE is better than the Vietnamese “MAH-DAM,” though it irritates some of the girls here more. I am not a Madame, if you’re going to go French on me, call me Mademoiselle. Madame would be like if I walked around calling a twenty year old Vietnamese woman by the wrong personal pronoun that addresses her as an old woman. Or in Khmer, if I addressed an old man that I should call ‘grandfather’ by ‘child.’ If you’re going to use English to address me, use Miss.
Or don’t call me anything because I’m still not interested. I’m not really irritated by the use of Lay-DEE or Mah-dam, it’s just when you hear so many times every day it gets a little wearisome. Its not like I know the nuances of my foreign languages, I can’t expect people who don’t speak much more than “Lady, you buy book?” to know the nuances of mine.

As for the beggers and the landmine victims that I pass every day, no, I’m not heartless. I also can’t afford to give them money every day. I think I’ve reached a compromise where I’m going to buy one of the landmine victim musician CDs (because they’re good and I like their music in addition to helping them out), try to shop at the various NGO-sponsored shops around town for my gifts, and find an NGO in town that caters to the poor and/or something along those lines and make a donation. My plans of a new iPod ($249, which I could swing when I get back to the states) to replace my four year old one that is starting to sputter and shut off randomly seems supremely insignificant and selfish in the face of people who might make that in a year. Not to say that I won’t eventually get a new iPod. I just can’t look the mother and her three children who beg on the corner I live on every day in the eye and tell her that.

* I am aware that I am a pansy assed westerner. I’m French Canadian, British, and German, for Christ’s sake. I was built for snow, rain, and beer, not tropical climates.

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2 Responses to Downfalls of Money and Language

  1. Mary says:

    I didn’t realize that you could only get $50 bills from the bank. I know you could get it broken into smaller change in the market place. The dollar is the de facto currency in Cambodia – the riel is worthless.

  2. Mary says:

    One question, are there any Khmer Americans in your study abroad group? I was looking at CIEE’s website to study in Cambodia next summer.

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