Sunday, June 29, 2008

Giving and taking...

There is unsurprisingly a number of people begging in Phnom Penh. This can be quite challenging for some but I have found the beggars here to be far less persistent and "in your face" than in other countries I have visited. Even the begging in the tourist areas is often done with an element of good spirit and the children selling the books on the riverside often appear to be more interested (as they should be, being children(!)) in playing and winding each other up rather than the hard sell.

Whether to give is a personal choice but (not being the un-opinionated type) it is in my view a foolish thing to do when children are involved. Many of the children begging in Phnom Penh are put there by their parents who know that their child can earn more begging than they could in a job. The children do not therefore go to school, they cannot get a job and the begging cycle remains with them in adulthood. Many of the beggar children run around the Riverfront (the main tourist drag - I suppose the equivalent in London might be Piccadilly Circus...) completely naked. I think this may be part of the begging act to get more money rather than complete poverty but is obviously totally inhumane to the children.

One of the things that disgusts me here is the fact that some adults run what I call "glue stands". These are stands where children, who cannot afford to buy a whole tube of glue to sniff, go to buy a little bit of glue in a plastic bag to inhale. I am horrified that people would run such an outfit - aimed at vulnerable children. This is also where your money may go on giving money to the street children. Far better to buy them a meal or a drink of clean water. That said, on offering this you can work out the genuine needy and hungry from the more fake.... Needless to say the fakers will turn it down and press for more money.

I do however give some money to an ancient old lady who begs on our street. She is a "regular" beggar and the moto taxi drivers are always very happy with me when I give her some cash even if it is only about 500 Riel (about 6p/$0.12). I have only ever given to one other old lady who accosted me as soon as I got off a moto taxi away from home - She was not impressed with the 500 Riel I gave her (which I know to be fair as the regular is always thanking me far too much for this amount). From now on I will certainly 0nly give to the lady on my street.

Here she is with some monks...

Another very frustrating thing is the moto drivers who try and rip you off for journeys. I never negotiate the fare - Just get off the bike at the end of the journey and pay them the amount that you know is about right (or often a bit more). This week however I have had a number of drivers complain at the amount offered. They obviously have inflated ideas when a foreigner gets on the bike. I have even had discussions in Khmer with the second, third and fouth rip off merchants telling him I am not a tourist, that I work in Stung Meancheay and how much it costs to get there (much further than the journey he just made with me) and why the price was therefore fair....ummm good Khmer practice but I just prefer a quiet moto ride and a non angry driver. Its quite funny when they are surprised I speak some Khmer - Luckily they do not speak back too much otherwise they would immediately find out that my Khmer is limited!!

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