I love my country, but Singapore is getting too glitzy and I know I need to shake myself out of this spoilt bubble that I’ve created around me. Singaporeans like me spend hundreds of dollars on taxis every month, and it has become so normal to watch my friends or overseas visitors spend anywhere from $2,000-$30,000 a night at my favourite nightspot haunts. Having my own business now means that I need to better appreciate the value of money, so I am taking a break with my parents to visit their friends in Cambodia. I need to escape this unhealthy perspective that I sometimes create for myself in my comfort zone at home.
Phnom Penh is much cleaner and has a surprisingly slightly westernized landscape. My days here are easily filled with $3-5 meals in beautiful restaurants, $1-2 coffees and drinks at spacious alfresco settings and conversations with a substantial number of expatriates – mostly sent here to work with the government, business projects and NGOs.
With the strength of my US dollar or Singapore dollar, it is simply impossible to be disappointed with $2 clothes at The Russian Market or Central Market, sleeping in $40 boutique hotels, or enjoying $9 per-hour massages at fine spas.
It’s common to see motorcycles carrying trays of heavy and bulky items, or 3 adults clutching each other as scarfs and hats shade most of their face. Skinny cows or cats roam the land, and young children beg me everyday for food or money. Some are commonly run by begging syndicates and by giving in to one person, you are usually just disappointing 100 others. I want to give them all the dollars I have, but I know that’s not the way to help get them off the streets. The Cambodians need more than just money to break their poverty – they need a lot of support, jobs, education, love and probably a miracle.
The Cambodians are lovely people, albeit shy and fearful – oppressed by the unfortunate circumstances that toppled their once glorious kingdom. They were the second richest empire next to the Roman empire! How could so many problems happen to one country in such a short period of time? I am deep in sad thought as I sit in my wonderful air conditioned first class bus and eat my Twisties.
It’s one thing to see pictures or read books, but being present here will fill you with genuine understanding and clear impact of the change that the nation needs.
(Still in Cambodia on the way to Siem Reap… More stories and pictures to come soon.)