In Cambodia, a thing that you really have to understand is that you actually can’t judge a book by its cover.
The first example is the second we stepped off the bus to get to the hotel.
Just walking down the street of our hotel, we see Cambodians, sleeping and begging at one in the morning. Which made me kind of question the quality of our hotel, because in America, rich houses stay on rich streets and the poor stay on poor streets. And so I concluded that this street has poverty on it, our hotel must be poor, and not be super nice.
It’s true that I didn’t walk into a fancy, pristinely cleaned hotel. But I did walk into this tropical, junglelike, simply beautiful and beautifully simple guest home full of crispy bread breakfasts, art living rooms, a bright blue pool, and wifi.
Different than what I expected. Better than what I expected. The cover had revealed nothing.
Again, as we were walking down the street to a place where we were supposed to “chill out” and have “fun time in the pool”, there was poverty on the streets and not super tidied houses on every corner.
I personally say we turned into the most perfect place I could imagine.
The pool was a perfect saltwater pool surrounded by bright green jungle trees and hammocks and a couple of flowers. There seemed to be six or seven rooms, including one or two bathrooms, and that was more than enough. The dining room downstairs was seated directly, openly, next to the pool, with wonderful people handing us these sweet passionfruit drinks. The whole area had a very bamboo-jungle texture to it; the house was made of this sort of wood that just made the whole thing perfect.
I’m sure most of you skipped that description. Which is fine. I don’t really like it myself. It doesn’t really even capture the whole place.
In conclusion, it was perfect. That night was perfect. It really was.
So similarly, you would think that with all this poverty in Cambodia, the people would be really scary or sad or depressing, not smiling, hateful to the Americans.
But they’re not like that at all. At all. Every single person smiles. All the kids love it when you take a picture, or shake their hands, or try to speak your language. Everybody smiles. Everybody tries to be helpful. And everybody smiles.
I’m not even scared. We were told that once some Cambodians on a motorcycle rode up and stole a purse off one of the teens touring here. And honestly, at this point, even if somebody did that to me, stealing my camera and money, I would understand. I would be extremely upset, but I’d understand. It’s not right, but they need the money. And although the same probably applies to the “punks” that steal things in Los Angeles, the “punks” in Los Angeles don’t smile. They hold grudges. And they don’t all collectively wave to rich foreigners while they’re starving on the streets.
There’s a reason why the Cambodians are called the “smiling people”.
And there’s a reason you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.