This morning’s trip to Tonle Sap lake was a bit of a mixed bag, but interesting. It was a long and bumpy ride out to the lake this time of year, as the water will soon consume the pitted road we traveled on. Houses/huts/shelters will be moved or towed when the rain comes in a few weeks.
I have to admit, it was interesting to see how these people live on the water. Their ingenuity, reuse, and adaptation was amazing to see. However, the tour was a pretty uncomfortable way to learn about it all. One could write any number of different thesis papers on the effects of tourisim by studing this small ecosystem.
There were a number of TV antennae on the floating houses, and a good portion of the people seemed to be better off with the tourist boats. But at the same time, tourists had sponsored a lot of unencouraging behavior. The moment a tour boat stops, kids in little tubs and mom’s in boats quickly surround it. Our driver killed the engine and let us drift. As we sat there, he looked at us, and the small mob forming around the boat. We waited for a few minutes… curious to see why we were stopped. Finally we figured it out. It was supposed to be a photo opp, but it felt wrong. Our boat driver knew about as much english as we did kmer, so the only way out of the situation seemed to be to give money to one of the ten hands around our boat. In retrospect, I’m still not sure how to handle that.
A part of me says, “who cares, the money is nothing to you”. But everything we have been told is that these are not the people that need help. The little girl in the tub-boat certainly has less than me, but she is also chewing gum and has painted finger nails. She probably makes more than the average 6-6 laborer. What kind of culture am I creating?
The whole morning was a bit of an emotional roller coaster ride. One moment it seemed people would smile and wave, the next moment you were left with cold stares. Perhaps it was just me being self conscious. Ultimately a worth-while experience, but one that leaves me stuck in my head for a while.
We are going to try to do our good deed for the day and donate some blood at the childrens hostpital in an hour. They apparently have trouble getting donations from the local population because of buddhist beliefs – something along the lines of never getting your blood back. I have a feeling I will still be thinking about this morning for a while.