The kids around the temples at Angkor are breathtaking in their English ability - their average age can't be more than eight or nine but they speak English fluently, almost without a trace of an accent. They are adept at cajoling and bargaining with you - everytime you step out of your car to go look at a temple, a gaggle of them will descend upon you, grinning, shouting and waving books, silks, ornaments and t-shirts at you. The smaller ones prod you in the belly to get you to look downwards at their merchandise. Others mark you from the start: "When you come back from the temple, you come and buy from me. What's your name? My name is Vanna. I remember you, you remember me?" So it goes as you move inch by inch surrounded by this mini-riot until you get to the temple entrance. It's pretty intimidating at first, but smiling your way through it all works a lot better than shouting.
They've got a hard gig - sometimes you see them in tears at the end of the day because they've sold nothing and have to go home to the parents empty handed. On the other hand, selling bootleg books to the likes of me means they can earn considerably more than the average Cambodian wage of a couple of dollars a day. I wonder what's going to become of these kids, how they will grow up, whether their English skills will help them get ahead and whether their bargaining skills will make them all become entrepeneurs. Following the life of one of them would make a good book in itself.
30 October 2005
Hardworking book pirates
At Splinters, Chris discusses international book piracy and points to an excellent article of his at Travelhappy, "Bootleg Books in Cambodia and Vietnam":