Tuesday, July 17, 2007

One Dollar

I spent the first week of May 2007 with Xue and his family in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Riel is Cambodia
’s local currency. However US dollars are generally used in all transactions – from accommodation to transportation to food and admission fees to temples.

In Siem Reap, many young, adorable, poor children sell one dollar items everywhere. It is common to see kids roaming the Siem Reap streets approaching tourists to buy one dollar items. Here are four of my one-dollar-related encounters:-

Encounter 1

Outside Angkor Wat, an eight-year-old girl asked me, “Lady, you wanna buy postcards? 10 for only one dolla.”

Then she went “1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10.” as she counted each one.

She pleaded, “Please buy. Only one dolla. Please help. Only one dolla.”

Looking at her condition and expression, I didn’t have the heart to turn her down. Afterall, she was just helping her poor family to make a living.

Encounter 2

Near the Bayon Temple, another little girl approached me, “Lady, you wanna buy bracelets? Three for one dolla."

"I need money to go to school. How about 10 postcards for only one dolla…. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10.” She smiled with hope.

I smiled in return and asked her, “How old are you?”

“Seven,” she said.

I was shocked because she has the height of a three-year-old! She looks fragile.

Then she asked, “Where are you from?”

I replied, “

She prompted, “You mean
Kuala Lumpur?”

I nodded.

Then she went, “Satu, Dua, Tiga, Empat, … (up to Sepulah)” as she counted the postcards again.

That was Malaysia's national language. I was impressed! I then found out that she took the initiative to learn up 1 to 10 in 19 languages including Mandarin, French, Japanese and Korean… just to spark conversations with tourists!
Imagine that... she's only seven!

Encounter 3

In a restaurant, a nine-year-old boy came to our makan table and again, “Lady, look! Nice postcards of
Cambodia sceneries. You can give them to your friends. Only one dolla for 10.”

I had to say no because I had bought enough postcards.

He paused, smiled and then turned to Xue and asked, “You wanna play tic-tac-toe with me? If you win, I give you one postcard. If you lose, you give me one dollar and I give you 10 postcards.”

Such an enterprising kid he was!

We didn’t want to 'gamble' with him, so we said no.

He persisted and said, “If you win, I will leave. If you lose, you buy, ok?”

Cambodian kids are creative. They are potential successful sales personnels.

Encounter 4

As we “cruised” around the Tonle Sap floating market on a 10-men tongkangboat, a teenaged girl rowed her small run-down boat towards our boat. Her boat slowly touched our boat slightly. Then, she held the side of our boat with her left hand and held a tray of cold canned drinks on her right hand.

She said, “Hot day. Cold drinks. Only one dolla for one.”

Her boat was exposed to the burning heat from the sun and it was almost tearing apart. In contrast, our boat had shed and cushion seats.

On one hand, I wanted to buy a canned drink from her simply because I sympathised with her. One dollar can meet her day’s needs. Afterall, she was not plain begging. She puts effort to sell something to make a living.

On the other hand, I didn’t want to buy any canned drink from her because firstly, I didn’t need a drink at that moment. Secondly, I usually avoid carbonated drinks and thirdly, one dollar for one canned drink is expensive! One dollar dilemma. Would you buy??


Some say that we shouldn't buy postcards/bracelets/etc from those children in
Cambodia. Otherwise, they will continue to be used or misused to earn for their families; and there will be no end to “child labour”. If we want to help them, we should help by donating to the right channels.

On the contrary, some argued that it is alright to buy postcards/bracelets/etc from those children because we will surely make their day, draw smiles on their faces, and allow their families to get by the day easier. Instant positive impact - isn't that good?

Having said that, would you buy any postcards from those children? In my opinion, neither is completely right nor wrong.

What is one dollar to us? What is one dollar to those poor Cambodians? When we spend one dollar, they earn one dollar. We will be one dollar poorer while they will be one dollar richer. However, being one dollar poorer can hardly ever affect our standards of living in any way; while one dollar richer can make a significant difference to a poor fellow Cambodian for a day or two.

The real value of one dollar in the hands of a poor Cambodian is significantly higher than the real value of one dollar in our hands.


Blogger cmeel said...

Just to add on, you know.... those lil Cambodians are very friendly and extremely well-mannered too!

Even if you don't buy anything from them, most of them would say "thank you" with a genuine grateful smile and will still happily wave goodbye to you.

Even the very young ones are courteous! :) :)

They are poor in $$$ but rich in values. Generally, they are much more civilised than many ppl from the so-called civilised cities.

18/7/07 2:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Chronicles of CML.

Though, I've heard this stories before still I can't help but say you write really beautiful stories, full of passion, weaved together with real life experience and you describe the pictures so vividly in easy to understand words.

I wanna get lost in the world of Mee Leng too..haha. The stories are brilliant , simply brilliant. You should consider writing a book like Joanne Rowlings..hehe.

Warm Regards,

26/7/07 12:30 PM  
Blogger cmeel said...

I feel exalted! :) I'm floating now! =) :) =) :)

It's an honour for me to receive such a compliment from a champion writer who has written winning stories -- published in the newspapers (& etc which i'm unaware of).

Thanks for the compliments, Gary!! :)

PS: Btw, thanks to Songie for teaching me how to write from the heart. :)

30/7/07 3:59 AM  
Blogger Songie said...

I wrote a lengthy comment above....unfortunately it wasn't posted.

Don't thank me ML, u're a good writer-period.

As for kids, I'd like to comment that these kids have been taught to earn at such a young age. It is- a very unfair place to live, this world.

11/8/07 8:01 PM  
Blogger cmeel said...

Hi Songie. Thanks for your comment. :)

Hmm... I think I'll remove the security hurdle in posting comments so that comments can get published easier in future. Sawree about tat.

13/8/07 6:35 PM  
Blogger Songie said...

Er..u mean u deleted my initial comment ??!! LOL! *yikes-this moderator is not 'moderator'....extremist..*

J/k :D

16/8/07 8:17 PM  
Blogger cmeel said...

hehe.... hey, hey... i'm open to all sorts of comments... in fact, i crave for comments... always on a look out for new comments... so, i surely wont delete any comments one. :D

the security hurdle i mentioned actually refers to the word verification which prevents me from getting spam comments (you know, those machine generated spam comments...) I've disabled it already cuz I myself find it very hard to publish a comment in my own blog with tat word verification hurdle in place. :)

23/8/07 10:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's a 4-dollar story.

23/5/08 1:16 PM  
Blogger cmeel said...

haha.... u got an interesting point. :)

31/5/08 11:17 PM  

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