Southeast Asia has an incredible vibe to it, due in part to the way that people get around. A common mode of transportation is the scooter. These two-wheel machines are everywhere and undoubtedly not the safest form of travel, especially for the uninitiated tourist. Though the locals use them everywhere and expertly, the tourist travels at their own risk. Of course… I rented one. Over the years, I have owned no less than three sport bikes (each of which I crashed) so I felt pretty confident that I could handle a scooter. Boy was I ever wrong (again).
In the rush hour of Cambodia, you have no choice but to go with the flow of traffic. Otherwise, you are likely to find yourself in a very tight situation…literally. The veteran scooter riders of Cambodia flow together, traveling so close to one another that deviating from that flow will likely get you run over, resulting in a messy injury due to the fact that you’re wearing only flip flops, shorts and a tank top. As I explored the city, I stopped by a restaurant to have dinner to escape the rush hour traffic.
I ordered a wealth of food for one person and sat looking out the window as people watched me enjoy my delicious meal. As I ogled out, I noticed a man selling local postal cards to tourists. The man walked into the restaurant and offered me the postcards, yelling “1 dollar for 10”. I declined. Though most restaurant owners hustle street venders out of their place of business, I was curious when the restaurant owner paid the man no mind. I asked the restaurant owner about this and he replied, ‘He has two kids and lost his parents, so I let him in from time to time to eat and sell cards’.
I was in absolute shock. The man looked to be in his early twenties. But there before me stood someone who had lost so much so young, and yet continued to smile and work hard for his family. I gestured for the man to sit, and asked him to join me for a meal. He spoke very little English but spoke enough for us to converse comfortably.
The man told me of his daily commutes from Vietnam to Cambodia. He told me of his two kids and that both his parents had died. He also told me how each day he left his kids and wife to commute the long distance between Vietnam to Cambodia in order to stand outside the restaurant and sell postcards to make a living for his family. He told me that some nights it was too late to make it home so he would sleep on the streets.
I didn’t have much money on me at the time to offer him some, but I had an idea, so I asked him to come to my hotel the next day. I asked him to bring all of his postcards. The next morning, he was at the front of the hotel. My friends and I greeted him and he quickly sold out of all his postcard stock. My friends and I also gave him a year’s worth of earnings so that he could have a bit of relief from the hardship he and his family faced. The young man was in shock and wanted to take me out for a coffee. I accepted.
I walked with him to the nearest coffee spot and we sat down together. Over the course of that morning I learned that he and I shared the same passion for soccer and that one day he too hoped to explore other parts of the world. I also came to understand that his main goal was to give his kids a chance at a new life somewhere West.