Hopefully you end your vacation with wonderful memories of incredible sights, vulture, people, great adventure, and amazing new foods. Every once in a while you have all of those great memories, AND you return home changed, but in a good way. Have you ever returned home a changed person? Where you now see life differently. Cambodia was one of those places that changed us. Not only did we have a wonderful time but in Cambodia there were lessons to be learned.
Cambodian people are amongst the kindest people I have ever had the pleasure to meet. They have a respect for there elders and the community. They are courteous and have a deep respect for others. All of which seems to be lacking in so many parts of the world. Cambodian people live a simple life. Their homes are simple, their clothes are simple, their food is simple. Even without all the frills so many nations strive endlessly for, they are truly content with simplicity.
History of Cambodia
I think most of us are aware of the horrors that Cambodia has endured. The Khmer Rouge tried to break Cambodians in the most horrific ways. Nevertheless, Cambodian people did not and do not give up. They may have been bent some, but they did not break them. The remarkable kindness of Cambodians to visitors continues with a cheerful and very open approach. It speaks to their sheer strength as a culture.
We met so many wonderful people. I don’t think we encountered a single aloof or rude individual with the exception of one man in charge at the airport. Maybe he felt the need to be that way when dealing with tourists. At first I was concerned that he represented Cambodians, but nothing could be further from the truth. There are a few individuals that particularly stand out and provided the lessons learned in Cambodia.
Our guide to Angkor Wat. This man was likely just in his 40s. He spoke very good English and was very knowledgeable about his country.
This man lived through the terror of the Khmer Rouge during the 70s. His father died of starvation when he was just a boy. He and his brother would sit on termite hills, catching termites to eat. Sometimes using a lighter to toast them a little.
The tiny village where he grew up would nightly plant landmines around the village to protect them while they slept and then remove them in the morning. Occasionally not every landmine planted from the night before was recovered. Can you imagine the anxiety they felt? Probably most of us cannot.
He sensed as a child that if he was to survive that he would need to learn English, but the Khmer Rouge had forbidden any of their people to learn English. He did anyways on his own, at great risk too himself. Participating in Bible study in English to learn was one way he learned. Today, he makes a very good living by Cambodian standards giving tours in English.
Another man, Pibak was frequently our tuk-tuk driver. Pibak would be waiting outside of our hotel almost every morning. When he took us to the museum, when we were done, we found him waiting in his tuk-tuk for us. When out to dinner, we encouraged him to go and find other fares, he did but was always there waiting for us when we were done. Just a really nice guy,
We ended up following each other on Instagram. When I posted a picture of him someone mentioned how young he looked and asked how old he was. He had no idea! He was orphaned when he was just a baby. Not knowing how old you were in Cambodia was common.
One day we had the opportunity to meet a group of Cambodian children. As we approached a small settlement on a dusty little road a child came running up, then another and another, until there were about 30 children surrounding us. We were sharing a simple gift, a package of Top Ramen noodles.
Each child respectfully waited to be handed their little package. Showing appreciation after receiving theirs. One child was so hungry that he ripped into his bag right then and there and ate the noodles unflavored and uncooked.
Did these children look sad and forlorn? Not at all. They were clean, dressed nicely, although most had no shoes. They had been playing, some swimming in a canal next to a rice field. They didn’t have bikes, or balls, or an iPhone to idly play games on. That didn’t matter, they were happy!
I was touched by this little girl and her beautiful eyes. To read her full story, click the link below her picture.
A Common Story
We met countless Cambodians who had been orphaned or who had grown up in monasteries. One waiter shared his story with us. His parents had given him up to be raised by Buddhist monks. We had felt sadness for him. But there was no sadness in him. Instead, he was grateful to his parents because there was nothing about living under the Khmer Rouge that was in their control. What they could do was turn their much loved little boy over to a monastery just so that maybe he would allowed to live. The monks had food, they would feed and protect their son. He says it as a great sacrifice on his parent’s behalf.
Lessons Learned In Cambodia
The lessons learned in Cambodia are simple. Cambodian’s simply respect and honor. They do not live in the past. The past can not be changed. Holding on to the past helps no one other than to hurt one’s self. They are grateful for what they have. Is there something that as humans we can all learn?