Don’t be an asshole in Cambodia

It’s hard not to be an asshole.

Most of us actively avoid it, even though there’s some research to suggest that being an asshole is gratifying.

Yet at some point or another, most of us end up inadvertently being assholes because of ignorance.

This is a picture of me about to be an asshole.

-Preah Khan candle angkor wat amateur vagrant

I didn’t know it yet. At the moment this picture was taken, a man dressed in an official-looking uniform was taking pictures of me. I wasn’t sure what he was doing, except that he was having me pose very precisely and he was squatting down trying to get it just right. He took six pictures of me total. When he stood up, he handed me my phone and turned to the white people standing behind him and offered to take their pictures, too.

I was anxious to get my phone back as soon as possible. I did not think he would steal it. I was afraid there would be a mixup or it would get dropped. I wanted to see the pictures. I wanted to get out of the way.

“Not together?” he asked.

“Oh, no, we’re not together,” I laughed. The other white people laughed, too.

I took my phone and trotted away. I was so amazed by the pictures! I had no idea what he was doing, but the effect was so cool!

Another white tourist accosted me. “Did you give him any money?”

“No,” I said. “He didn’t ask me for any.” I should have given him money! Shoot!

“He took our picture, then he asked us for some money.”

“Oh, there was some confusion. He thought I was with the people behind me, but I said no and I just took my phone, I guess he didn’t get to ask me.”

“You know, his uniform doesn’t even look like the other guards’ uniforms.”

“Oh, no?” I didn’t know what else to say. I literally did not have a dollar on me. I had opted to move through the temples without a purse. I didn’t even have any pockets in my cool harem pants. J was carrying all the money, and as usual, he had wandered off by himself with the camera.

When I found him and joined up with the rest of our group, we were heading out the back of the temple to meet the tuktuk drivers.

I didn’t go back. I should have, but sometimes I am so passive. I didn’t demand a dollar from J. I didn’t demand that everyone wait for me while I ran back to give this guy a dollar. I was agreeable.

I was indifferent.

When I was looking up the name of this temple, I found another blog that described the same experience: a “guard” who offered to take this picture and then asked for money. The blogger was upset that “they do not do things out of the kindness of their heart”.

How fucking entitled.

You are not Kanye, Kim, or Taylor. Local Cambodian people are not the altruistic papparazzi, hanging out in the dark recesses of ancient temples waiting to make themselves useful to you.

My take on the situation is this: I don’t think that man was actually one of the guards/rangers that observe and assist the visitors at Angkor Wat. I think this is his hustle, taking this really neat cool picture for all the tourists that come through, and then asking for a dollar.

Imagine if he’d taken the time to patiently explain or even demonstrate to each tourist what he wanted to do. Imagine if he asked for a dollar to do it. And then recognize how many tourists would turn to someone else in their group or another stranger and ask that person to do it for free.

Only you might not have even known about that cool shot if it hadn’t been for the guard. He just dropped some local insight on you, the kind you’d pay $4.99 for if your favorite blogger wrote about it in an e-book. He provided a service for you. I would say that if this guy has been taking this same shot every day for a couple of years, he provided his expertise.

Who has time or money to do that shit “out of the kindness of their heart”? That man would lose the shirt off his back if he had to keep waiting for white people to weigh the pros and cons of “hiring” him as a photographer for a dollar or two. Instead, he gets in there, gives you a product/service that is guaranteed to be downright enchanting, and then asks you what you think it’s worth.

If you’re an asshole, you say, “Nothing.” You get annoyed that somebody “tricked you”. It’s the principle. He should have explained it to you first, given you his trade secret for free, and then let you decide if he deserved any money.

He didn’t beg for money. He certainly did not steal. He provided a very unique service and you, the customer, only complained about being asked to pay for it. This was my second time in Siem Reap, and not a single person asked me for money in the four days I was there. Kids chased me back to the van or the tuktuk trying to sell me magnets. An old lady gave me a stick of incense and some strings for my wrist in exchange for a dollar. Drivers and guides accosted us, trying so hard to sell themselves and so hard not to push our spoiled white selves to the point of indifference. People were trying their damndest to provide a product or service I would pay for. If you can’t respect the hustle, stay at home.

If you have enough money to travel all the way from the U.S. to Southeast Asia, if you have the the kind of job that gives you weeks off OR if you can afford to quit your job and assume you’ll find another soon enough when you get back, if you can be away from other obligations (i.e. family members with health problems), if you can afford to buy a bunch of harem pants and headscarves when you get there, if you can spring $8 for a bucket at Angkor What, you can give a dollar to the guy who took what was surely your new Facebook profile picture.

If you don’t, you’re an asshole.

I’m an asshole.


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