Angkor on reflection – another tourist industry

I have never been business-minded in my life. So it is not surprising that I found the zeal people here had for making business with tourists overwhelming.

I mentioned in my earlier posts that some hotel receptionists were a little too willing in offering their service. Here’s my experience.

When we checked in, the one who showed us to our room stayed in the room for a while seemingly waiting for a tip, and as if to fill the silence he asked if we required massage. “Oh, no no. There’s no need for that. We’ll just go to sleep. Thank you,” and sent him away. In the morning, another receptionist asked us of our plan for the day, and while we’re making a small talk with him, he navigated the conversation toward arranging an auto ‘tuk tuk’ for us. He’d say, “Sir, you need tuk tuk? I arrange it for you.” This young man was particularly cheeky (well, I thought he was rather tricky). I had 6 post cards to send, which I took to the reception, and he charged $3.00 each… Well, that’s 5 times more expensive than the post card stamps in Japan! I wonder how much he’d charge for arranging a tuk tuk for guests. And apparently, it doesn’t seem part of the service the hotel offers. He’d offer you, if opportunities arise, massage of some sort, for which he had to communicate in lowered voice over the reception counter, “Sir, you like massage?”

Curious ‘business’ of his includes making international calls. A French tourist arriving one evening wanted to call her relatives back in France. There, the young receptionist takes her into a dark corner of the foyer farthest from the reception counter, hiding behind the plant pots, and dials the number with his personal mobile phone. Having finished her 5-minute call, she handed 5 dollars to him. The value of the price (rate?) must be relative, meaning it may not be expensive for her considering the convenience and so on, as long as she is happy, but the monetary value in terms of the local economy is ludicrous.

On the one hand, the gap between the economic levels creates these opportunities for making small ‘businesses’ around tourists, which is good because tourists can make contributions to local economy without feeling abused or conned. On the other hand, the prevalence of it – I mean, everywhere you go, there are people coming up to you and trying to sell you something – gets you tired after a while. At temples, men and women, young and old, walk about with their goods with their eagle-eyes glaring. They’ll ask you where you come from, and demonstrate their knowledge about your country. I found it fascinating, but I soon learned to put on a front of determined indifference. You cannot say ‘maybe later’ instead of ‘no, I don’t want them’ because they will remember what you said, and you’ll end up being called a liar… But it hurts sometimes when you deliberately ignore someone who tries to speak to you, especially when they are small children.

It is not my intention to generalise the people there, so I should write about a couple of girls we met on the second day. We got off our auto by Srah Srang. Immediately, a couple of girls came towards us with lovely smile and said “Want cold drink, Sir?” They followed us as we walked toward the pond, and offered us bracelets. They said these were free and we should take them. We kept saying no to the offer. One of the girls then said “if you don’t take this, you don’t like Cambodia!” Well… I cannot say no to that! So I accepted her little present, and she walked away, smiling… I was left with a very mixed feeling. But I have to say I’m glad it happened.


About Dr Kats

a working sociologist/linguist/translator based in Kobe, Japan
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