The dark side of Cambodia
Cambodia seems to be struggling with a number of issues that will very likely affect you as soon as you enter the capital. The first impression I got while walking around the city was a filthy one with trash lying around everywhere and sewer smells penetrating the air.
Another dirty matter is the sex business, visible in most touristy restaurants and clubs of the sort. You can observe the ongoings of unregulated prostitution anywhere in the center of Phnom Penh, white unattractive man of age with teenage girls on their laps engaging in small talk leading to the obvious.
Equally disturbing is the child abuse issue. It is such a dominating concern that brochures and flyers are laid out in every hotel or place of interest to raise awareness, to a problem that is vividly showing itself everyday on the streets. Children coming up to you, begging or trying to get hold of groceries, snatching food out of your bag. Homeless kids sleeping and living on the street. Easy targets of the sex industry.
Children everywhere. Cambodia sure has a young population.
Brochures about the ongoing problem of a growing number of orphanages in contrast to a decreasing number of real orphans. The brochure suggests that the cause lies in orphanage-tourism.
Seven tips to keep Cambodia’s children safe and off the street. One issue affecting me was not to buy anything from children working at the temples instead of attending school.
The tuktuk driver’s daughter may look to a future with more open doors than her father. She curiously watched me taking pictures of the city and after a long think and practising sentences in whispers she shyly asked in English, if I can take a picture of her, too.
As I was taking a picture of our shades, this naked boy appeared out of nowhere begging for food.
On top there is major corruption slowing down progress and in consequence a crippling economy, poverty, lack of education and crime going in endless circles. Everything is walled or fenced in, security guards in front of shops, salons and hotels. We never felt threatened or uneasy at any point in Cambodia, rather safe and looked after, however locals were warning us of the occasional bag or camera snatch.
There was one weird approach of a policeman trying to sell his metal ID (looked a bit like the ones American cops have) and his badge indicating a certain degree of achievement for 30 $. We asked him, if he doesn’t need it anymore and he replied that he would just get a new one from work.
As we learned from an (Italian) restaurant owner, who sells (very tasty) Khmer food, corruption has its convenient sides. He has traveled the world and tried to set up business in Brazil, when annoyed by the overwhelming bureaucracy he left for Cambodia, where he has found fruitful grounds for his interest.
“You will get visited three to four times a year by various institutions, for example the fire department, to pay a certain amount of cash and that’s it. Any foreigner can set up business without obstacles but Cambodia has changed a lot. Five years ago, when I started to run the restaurant there were shootings in town, even in front of my shop. That has stopped. I am not worried about safety more than I would be in Italy. The greatest danger here are drunken drivers, so watch out for cars going too fast.”
However, I believe that all in all, looking at the city developments, Cambodia is on a good way to make it out of misery. We didn’t get kidnapped or robbed and we were not afraid to walk around Phnom Penh by ourselves late in the evening. That must mean something.