For the past decade, most talks on Asia Pacific focused on its dramatic economic rise, on China and India’s new status as global super powers, on Vietnam and Cambodia’s staggering growth, and on how the region is fast becoming a magnet for serious foreign investment.
Pictures and articles of the region focuses on Shanghai’s skyscrapers, Vietnam’s sea of traffic and India’s billionaires.
Yet few talk about the equally dramatic rise in inequality between the rich and the poor which has led to some of the worst child mortality rates and poverty levels in the world’s most populous region.
It’s been a week here in San Francisco and I’ve been all over this town. One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t even move without money pouring out of your pockets. EVERYTHING is expensive. Even walking down the street there are a lot of homeless asking for change. It’s hard to drop coins after seeing the poor in Cambodia and trying to figure out who will not buy drugs with the money. Also, I rented a car and got two parking tickets. The first was for not having my “wheels curbed,” which means you have to turn your wheels towards the curb in case your car starts to roll since a lot of parking are on steep inclines. I will contest that one since I have a drivers license from Ohio and will say I just didn’t know. Probably won’t get any sympathy though. The second one was when the meter ran out since my interview lasted for 3 hours!!!!
I used to consider myself a liberal but after a week of living in San Francisco I think I’m going to have to go back to being a conservative. Everyone here has bumper stickers telling you to do or not do something.
1. Click it or Ticket – Wear your seatbelt or you get a ticket
2. Nobody is free when people are oppressed – Yea, like these Starbucks hippies know something about oppression. Oppression for them would being denied whipped cream on their mocha latte frappa cappa rino.
3. I’ve heard about people call others a bad word about 17 times. Apparently these people aren’t as happy as I thought. A lot of attitude here in the west.
4. Homeless people – Many are fat and I saw a few drinking starbucks. Quite a big difference from the deathly skinny people with limbs blown off in Cambodia. Most look like they do drugs and they get paid $300 a month by the city to feed their addiction. If you dont’ give money expect to be called names.
5. To rent an apartment you have to fill out forms and applications, and other bureaucratic crap. It’s just as bad as France!
But on the positive side, the city is very clean except for the ghetto that city planners decided to put right in the MIDDLE of the city!!!! Funny how the ghetto is located one block from the richest part.
Apparently here, making money is the way to happiness. I really miss the people of Vietnam and even though many are poor, still smile and are friendly and don’t look like they will shoot you if you don’t give them change.
Being a student of languages, I found it very interesting during my recent travels to compare the English abilities of street vendors in both Cambodia and Vietnam. These are the people who continually summon you to check out their goods and really pressure you into buying something. At times it can be very annoying, but one has to remember that there are no social services here and these people struggle day by day to just get by. But for the foreigner, it’s difficult to identify who the true needy are and who don’t need as much help. So this entry will serve as kind of a guide to help in discerning who you should give a bit of money to as well as how they will approach you.
The first thing I noticed is how from Cambodia and throughout Vietnam they are using new English phrases to get you to buy something.
1. The new phrase everyone is using after you have repeatedly told them no is “ok, later.” The vendor will continually say “You buy me one, you buy me one.” They will be persistent but after telling them “no” continually they will say “Ok Later” after which many foreigners say “Ok.” Then the next time they see you they will say “You say you buy me one, why you not buy me one,” and look at you with a sad face. If you really don’t want to buy something you cannot say “ok” after they say “ok, later” because they will really pester you since you agreed to buy something after they said “ok, later.”
In the beginning, foreigners will usually buy something but their constant pleas will eventually wear anyone down. On the beach in Nha Trang we bought a few items at first but that created a swarm of people around us. To those that simply wouldn’t leave and looked needy, I offered to buy them a drink and gave their kids some gum. It costs next to nothing and will create good will.
Sometimes, they are greatful if you just sit and talk with them instead of shutting them out completely. I spoke with one woman on the beach for about an hour and learned so much about her life and how she makes a living. It made me laugh when she said she really didn’t like the French because they never bought anything. Again, it can get very annoying when you are continually asked to buy something but it’s important to remember that these are human beings as well and it’s good to drop a few coins now and then.
While in Hoi An, I ran into one kid who had a very unique approach to selling his newspapers. We had just gotten of the motorbikes when this kid with tears running down his face said to me “You buy me one.” Now in this case I could tell that it was a trick that many foreigners might fall for. So I asked him directly, “Why are you crying.” I don’t think he could understand but all his tears really did get to me and I offered him about 20 cents for nothing. He then pointed to the price of the paper which was 30,000 VND. It was then I could see in his face that he wasn’t really sad and it was all a ploy. The price of a newspaper is 5,000VND and somehow he figured out how to erase the price that is printed on the paper and reprint in strange font a much higher price. This was a sham and made me mad so I walked past him and into the restaurant. He tried to follow me in but the staff stopped him.
I began to observe him from the outside and saw other Vietnamese looking at him with amusement. It sounds cruel, but this kid was doing ok with his gig of ripping off foreingers. His tears also immediately stopped when no foreigners were nearby. He then saw me looking at him and started gesturing after which I asked again in Vietnamese “How much??” with a look that told him I was not going to pay that outrageous price. I really did want a newspaper but there was no way I was going to get ripped off that much. He lowered the price a little after which I told him in Vietnamese “Too much!” He then came into the restaurant and the staff wanted to kick him out again, but I told them to let him come after which I negotiated the price down to 10,000VND which is twice the price, but then again this is how the kid makes his living and for me it’s not that much money.
The moral of the story I guess is that it’s a bad idea to let yourself get ripped off because it is not an honest way of doing business and will cause trouble for other foreigners but on the other hand it’s good to be generous from time to time and when the need is truly there. So I felt good about not paying too much but at the same time giving him a little extra.
After I finished my meal I spoke to him a bit but my Vietnamese wasn’t enough to understand what he was saying. I gave him a handshake and he returned a big smile.
Another story to illustrate the negative effects of giving money when one shouldn’t is to the very young bow legged girl who hangs out on Dong Khoi street. She is cute as buttons but if it’s her mother who makes her go out day after day when she should be in school. If we give money to her it will simply encourage this terrible practice. And, she really isn’t that needy which I found out by offering to buy her a coke and a hot dog after which she replied “No,,,, Money!” The conversation usually goes like this.
girl: you buy me one
girl: yes,, you buy me one!
Me: Not today
girl” ok later
Me: No not later, do you want a coke?
girl: No, Money!
Me: No, Coke!
girl: You give me money!
With the young ones it’s easy to get them off their goal by asking simple questions.
Me: How old are you?
Me: What’s your name?
Me: Hi Hanh, my name is Matt
girl: You buy me one!
Then I usually just smile and continue on.
This girl knows me since I’ve lived here for two years and the other night when we were hitting the bars she started to come up to me after which I looked at her with an overanimated expression of surprise and started to run away saying “Nooooooooooooo” I turned around and it was so cute to see those little bow legs running after me with a big smile on her face. I picked her up and carried her in my arms and said, “Why you always chase me!” She said “You buy me one?” I said “Already buy you one last month!” She started to count her postcards “One, two, three, four….” and I responded in Spanish after which she looked at me with a quizzical look. It was cute and I couldn’t help but give her 2,000 dong which is about 15 cents. I really shouldn’t encourage that practice but I couldn’t help myself on that occasion.
Another good trick if you really don’t want to give money is to simply talk with them or offer funny answers to their questions.
They will say “You buy me one,” but then sometimes ask you questions to keep you attention. Most all of them after you initally refuse will ask “Where are you from?” To this I sometimes reply “Japan” and if they are quick they will think a minute and then smile and say “nooooooooooooo” Then you can smile and share a laugh with them. I then ask where they are from and they usually say “Ho Chi Minh City” and are pleased that you stopped to talk with them since most foreigners do not.
It’s also extremely important to always keep a smile on your face and be warm and friendly. Even if you don’t want to buy you can sympathize with them by the expressions on your face and they will begin to have a favorable opinion of foreigners even if they don’t buy.
These last couple of weeks have been insaine. I’ve been all over S.E. Asia and thought it was time for a blog entry but unfortunately had a big night out last night and can barely think straight today. But I’m tired of watching movies yet too lazy to get out of the house.
I don’t even know where to start, so I guess I’ll just give the run down of my adventure in Cambodia. I went with my gf and buddy who came to visit me from France. The picture above was taken in the war museum and what an experience that was! The civil war just ended five years ago and they still have a lot of weapons around and let you pick them up in the museum. A visit to this place really puts things in perspective and makes you wonder how anyone could ever support a war. Our tour guide was a soldier in both the Khamer Rouge and then switched sides to the Vietnamese army or would have been executed when they invaded.
He had been shot by an AK-47 three times, his body was full of shrapnel metal and nails, he had a prosthetic leg and was 70% blind. His wife also stepped on a land mind and was killed two years ago. Some questions were asked that he could not answer because the current PM of Cambodia and some elements in Government were in the Khamer Rouge so he had to be extremely careful with his answers.
Most of the beggers in Cambodia have had limbs torn off by the thousands of landmines still strewn about the country and all I could think about was those religious zealot idiots in America who support the war in Iraq as they drive around in their SUV’s and believe God is on their side in promoting war. Damn.
On the positive side, Cambodians are wonderful and extremely resilient people. Our waitress in the restaurant was as cute as a box full of kittens who replied to our requests with “Thank you a moment please.” (Thank you and just a moment please). When she kept saying that it made us just want to give her a big hug.
Although there is a lot of misery in Cambodia, the people are warm and extremely friendly. It is also a very big tourist destination for Asians and the Ankor Wat temples are extrordinary. My gf dragged Ryan and I to about 6 thousand temples in the blazing sun but on the second day we took a break at the Sofitel pool and their wonderful swim up bar.
Cambodia is not the only place we hit, but in the past month I’ve been to Thailand, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, Danang, and Hanoi. I’m pooped! For those Vets who wonder what Danang is like now, there is nothing left of the American war machine and nothing mentioned about any war sights listed in Let’s Go which means they have all been built over by economic progress.
Hanoi was also quite the experience. It’s much more solemn than Saigon and the people much more reserved. I spoke to a university student and said that I didn’t find Hanoi people very friendly but she said they were just more quiet than people in Saigon. We visited the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh and saw him in his glass sarcophagi surrounded by four white uniformed guards with bayonetts.
It was also extremely interesting hearing the North Vietnamese accent with their heavy use of the “z” sound. So many words are pronounced with the sound “zzzzz” that it makes me think that if bumble bees could talk they would speak with an accent from Hanoi. Zum zaa, zoi zzzunn! In the line to see Ho Chi Minh the guards pick out people who are not dressed respectfully enough and one stern faced 6 foot tall guard picked out a Vietnamese, said something strict and made the guy go to the clothing lending station to put on pants.
In other news, I checked to see how many hits my website was getting and it’s over 1000 a month!! It really makes me wonder who wants to read my ramblings and whatnot. Well, it’s about time for an afternoon nap so I’m gonna conclude this entry here.
——-Pictures in the “Photo Gallery” ———–
Just got back from a three day trip to Cambodia. Ended up going with my Vietnamese friend Phuong, buddy Axel and friend of a friend Michael from Denmark. It was nothing like I expected and reminds me a lot of Vietnam except a little bit more “earthy.” My first impression was of course of the airport which is brand new and a beautiful, small building. When we walked out the front door I kind of expected to see a hoard of people like at the Saigon airport but instead walked out to a very peaceful, clean environment with a nice food court and Dairy Queen. Yes Dairy Queen!!! Phuong’s friend was going to pick us up so we sat down and I treated myself to a chocolate dipped vinella ice cream cone that only Dairy Queen knows how to do.
It was while eating my ice cream that I found out exactly who Phuong’s friend was and it turned out he was the chief of police for Phnom Penh (Mr. U for this story) as well as owned his own computer stores. So it was a bit surreal to be picked up in a Lexus SUV in one of the poorest countries on earth. We first drove to his shop to say hello to his parents and see what kind of store he had. It was a very nice shop, just like you would find in the USA except smaller. After that was done we found our hotel on Sisowath Quay which is a nice little strip full of foreigner friendly restaurants, bars and hotels. We didn’t have reservations but had done our research and went to California Hotel. Axel had tried to make reservations ……….