Cambodian boy, not your daughter

Written by on February 27, 2009 in Photo Posts, Photos and Stories in Progress with 4 Comments

I’ve been editing a video that I hope to share soon, and there are will be more stories and videos from Cambodia to come.

In the meantime, here’s a fun photo. I met this BOY while walking through Lanka Pagado in Phnom Penh. He was hanging out with a group of friends. I saw his shirt and asked if I could take a photo. Then they ALL posed for a photo. And THEN this boy, who is very clever, said “yum yum bai,” which paraphrased means, “How about getting us some food?”

I was suddenly in a good mood, so I said fine. We headed for the street where a vendor was selling snacks, probably 12 cents for little bags of crackers and what not. I was thinking I might try to get them something better than junk food, or at least some decent junk food, whatever that is.

We got to the street. I glanced right and left with a questioning look, and this boy smiled and pointed — at my favorite little cafe where they serve pretty good hamburgers and wonderful Fish Amok. (Just to be clear, I NEVER eat hamburgers in Tokyo, so…)

I knew that cafe was way, way outside the price range of these kids. I felt like I was being hustled, but I shrugged and smiled “okay.” They smiled back. They didn’t speak much English.

The waitresses saw us coming and smiled, too. I was worried they might kick us out, because these were street kids. But they were delighted. I asked if the kids frequently showed up with friendly foreigners, but the waitresses said no, it was the first time.

From then on it was kind of awkward. As I said, they didn’t speak much English, and they were all twenty years or more younger than I am. I asked their names and ages, and they asked where I came from. I think two of them live at home, and two may live at a temple. The poorest people in the city — street kids, homeless families, and university students — sleep in temples.

I only bought french fries and a pizza, about $10. No hamburgers. Sitting down with these kids and casually paying $20 for hamburgers all around, which is a nearly month’s wages for many Cambodians, just felt wrong. Maybe it would have been right. I don’t know. Actually, they wanted pasta.

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About the Author

About the Author: Andy Gray is a writer and photographer living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and working with Alongsiders International. You can find him puttering around the streets of Phnom Penh on his Suzuki Viva 125, running stoplights and driving on the wrong side of the road or on the sidewalks like a local. If you see him in a coffee shop, he'll be the one typing and deleting the same line over and over again. .

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  • I can just picture you. Nice photo.

  • Thanks for all your comments. Glad you like this.

  • Hana

    Your hesitation is depressing.
    Whats wrong with sharing the average day (luxury) just for one moment?
    No matter how it compares with their “normal”.

  • I really shouldn’t wait 9 months to reply to a comment. I appreciate Hana’s comment, especially the desire to simply connect as human to human with these boys. That’s what I did, actually, or tried to do.

    Why did I hesitate? The short answer is that it’s complicated. Spending money on kids who are begging on the street, or perhaps sliding that direction, creates unintended ripples. Imagine they were your kids. That you lived in a small town of working people next to a resort where rich people went to play. Now imagine that various men, strangers, would invite your young boys to come and eat with them, spending far more money on them than you could. On top of that, what if you knew that a percentage of these men at the resort were looking for sex with boys?

    One, speaking as a parent myself, you’d worry for their safety. Two, you might question whether this happened when they were supposed to be in school. Three, you might resent rich people throwing their money around your kids. You may suppose that Cambodians have no pride about such things, but many do.

    Or, if you’re a bad parent of questionable character, you might say: Hey, kids, stop going to school and start spending every day hunting down generous foreigners. That clearly happens here.

    If I sound upset or defensive, my apologies. I think your instinct comes for a good heart, and it makes me think, but still I don’t regret my hesitation.

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