In the early evenings, things can get a little dead on our flyer corner. Most of the travelers are eating dinner and aren’t yet thinking about whether or not they want to go out later. There’s not all that much to do…and we start to maybe get a tiny bit bored…until the bracelet girls and flower boys run up to us.
Sihanoukville has a ton of kid vendors, and they are something else. Like many places in Asia, a lot of kids here work as soon as they physically can. Which means that there are quite a few elementary school-age kids trying to sell you things.
But these kids are different than you might think.
Picture, for a minute, a kid in a foreign country trying to sell you something. Are you thinking of a quiet child looking up at you with big sad eyes and a pitiful stare?
Ha! Please. These kids have some SERIOUS attitude. But they are incredibly cute, and hilarious, and I adore them. They come up to us, smack our asses, try to steal our chairs and say things that would make a room full of sailors and truckers blush.
Two of the bracelet girls
When they’re not swearing up a storm or physically harassing us, they’re trying to get us to buy multicolored bracelets and hair wraps and braids, and at the same time promise not to buy anything from anyone else. (FYI: the best way to get them to leave you alone is to promise your business to the first girl who approaches you – and tell the other girls that you only buy from the first one).
The flower boys are younger than the bracelet girls – maybe between 6 and 8 – and sweeter. They don’t sell me as hard, since I don’t think girls typically buy roses, but they always come and say hi. They usually settle for high-fives, and we pick them up and teach them all the handshakes and fist bumps we know.
Cute as they are, kid vendors are one part of reality in Asia that’s hard to watch. The girls get picked up in the evenings, but I see the boys out and about on the same street at all hours of the night – the last time I saw them it was 3 AM.
It’s also hard to not buy things from them. There are signs in some of the guesthouses and restaurants that say not to buy anything from the kids on the beach because it keeps them there – if they bring money home, they’ll continue to get sent out. Even knowing this, turning them down isn’t easy. They’ve got the guilt thing figured out…
I’d like to find a good volunteer organization to work with kids for a little while before leaving Cambodia. If you know of one, tell me in the comments – it’s hard to sort the good companies from the bad ones without any real references!