This was based on a true experience I had in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I was having lunch in a locally owned Café at the Old Market. Just as I was having a second serving of food, a western tourist couple and a group of local kids dressed in torn and tattered clothes came in. The owner’s wife of the café took orders. I overheard the couple was ordering food for the kids. I was surprised and touched by their acts of kindness. After ordering food for the kids, the couple left. The kids sat down happily and they chit chatted.
Moments later, their food arrived and something was definitely missing. They had food and glass of ice each but there wasn’t a single drop of water in it. So I decided to ask the owner’s wife why they didn’t have drinks. I got shocked when she said, “Oh, the Western couple did not buy drinks and I can only provide a glass of ice for each of them. Don’t worry, the ice will melt in this weather.” I sat there and was not impressed by her answer but to blame her or the western couple was simply naïve. Nothing in this world comes for free. In such a poor country, a meagre amount may mean much to the people. I decided to take the courage and ask the kids the drinks they want. They were reluctant at first but I told them it was on me. I suggested a fruit shake but they wanted coke. I was more than happy to pay for them.
When the cans of coke arrived, the kids lined up at my table to thank me. Clearly, I wasn’t expecting a huge “thank you” with a bow. I was overwhelmed. I have never felt this way my entire life. I was so touched. I never thought a few cans of coke would make these kids so happy. I wanted to cry but I had to hold back my tears. For once, I felt appreciated. When I spoke, they immediately know where I came from. They recognized my Singapore English accent. The oldest of the kids was a 15 year old girl. She was so skinny that she looked more like a 10 year old. She told me about herself. One of the kids was her 11 year old brother. What saddened me was he looked like a 7 year old. Both their parents died long ago. I never asked why as I didn’t want to offend them. I told them about me and how sad I was when my mother passed away. I know how it feels like to have someone whom you love so much pass away. I still love my mother though. I guessed me and the two siblings share a few things in common. My last words (or maybe not) to them were, “Please stay in school no matter what. Study hard and I am sure your dreams will come true.”
It was time for me to leave as I had finished my meal. They waved goodbye and I still feel the pain by the fact that they are orphans. I walked back to my hostel. I sat down at the hostel balcony and did some self-reflection. My heart was still pounding. I have never met a bunch of kids without parents and still look forward to a bright future. These kids are strong. These kids are my motivation. I have learnt so much from them even though our encounter a was brief one. I used to get so agitated over small things.
One observation I made is Cambodian children as young as 4 are so independent. They never beg. Instead, they make handicrafts to sell it to tourists. A child beggar in Siem Reap is rare or virtually non-existant. I have not seen one during my entire stay in Siem Reap. I used to cry when I was really young just ‘cos I couldn’t get the toys that I wanted as our family was not well off. These kids, they are so young and yet so optimistic about things in life. They never show a single sign of sadness nor grief due to their sad past. To the Cambodian kids, my heart is with you guys!