Coca Cola Cambodia

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!


12 thoughts on “Coca Cola Cambodia

  1. hey mate found your blog through twitter etc. I absolutely love this story and the fact that these children have some hope afterall hope is important!

    Im really want to visit Cambodia and hope I get the chance in the next couple of years

    • Thanks Tom! Yes, these kids have hope after all. They are also entrepreneurs by nature which is something we can learn from them. Their selling skills are superb its hard not say no. I urge you to visit Cambodia and of course the Angkor Wat.. The place is really laid back and the people are really kind. Have a good day!

  2. I think the westerns only forgot to order the drinks but it’s so kind of you that you bought them the drinks. It’s a really nice story and I think I know how you feel. When I was traveling in Central America I also saw these things. Poor children who weren’t orphans but who were very young and already had to work because their parents couldn’t afford anything… It always broke my heart!

    • It probably slipped their mind but its not their fault. =)

      Personally I have never been to Central America but for this issue that you mentioned, I believe its more of an exploited child labor industry where children are deprived from basic needs such as a normal childhood and education. I have also heard in Central America where strong communist guerillas deploy children to become child soldiers. Weapons should not even be part of their “toys”. These are totally absurd. One of the few solutions to these problems would be re-education, not for the children but for the parents. The parents need know the seriousness to these problems. To overcome these problems wouldn’t happen overnight but I am sure its achievable cos nothing is impossible. =D

    • This experience motivated me to do more. I am signing up for TEFL course soon to teach English which I hope I can teach children from poor countries. Its gonna be a tough road but I am pretty sure its worth it! By the way, my friend Anne from the Philippines recommended me your site even before you commented on my post. I have subscribed to you page. Looking forward to new posts!

      • yeah man, you’re in for a tough journey… but im sure a very fulfilling one… hope to bump on you in Southeast Asia since i’m just wandering around and thank you very much for subscribing… i hope you did get my free ebook that i just launched yesterday 🙂

        and i hope you keep on writing, especially to share your life’s journey… im sure your decision to teach children will inspire a lot of people…

  3. I felt guilty while reading your post because when i went to cambodia I met young touts so I thought all the kids there were like them who would just harass me to buy souvenirs. I forgot what theyve gone through. I wanna go back and make up for it. I love siem reap, i love the temples. I hope you’ll write more about siem reap.

    • Hi Chris. Firstly I would like to thank you for reading my blog.

      Well actually you don’t need to feel guilty. Perhaps you misunderstood their (Cambodian kids) message and no one can blame you for that and neither should you. There’s always a first time for many things in life. Everyday is a learning opportunity. Cambodia was my first solo trip and it has totally open up my eyes. Suddenly the thought of having material wealth and assets disgust me. A bit of an overstatement but this is how I feel after the trip. I hope we can learn from one another. Glad to meet another traveler like you!

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