“Welcome to Cambodia!” said my Cambodian friend. “Don’t believe anything here.”
With that utterance we clinked beer glasses and took hearty sips. My friend smiled and shook his head. “In Cambodia, you can’t believe anything the government says.”
“Join the club,” I replied. “What you say is true about almost every country on earth. You can’t trust any government.” And keep in mind, we were having this conversation last month, before the latest privacy controversy erupted in the USA.
We toasted glasses again and decided that we needed to order more beer. Just another night in Siem Reap with friends. My Cambodian friends impress the hell out of me. Whether they are working or still studying in school, they don’t take things for granted. They take their duties seriously, diligently doing what they need to do. But it’s a hard life in Cambodia if you are not wealthy, and none of my friends would remotely qualify as well off. They’re just trying to keep their heads above the economic water, raising families or trying to help younger siblings and/or parents by working, or trying to stay in school. Two of the Try brothers are in their early twenties and still trying to finish high school. But that’s what happens when you drop out in the sixth grade and work for a few years to help earn money for your family.
Talking to my friends this time, it was obvious that some of them have become quite disillusioned and frustrated with the government’s many promises, most of which have not come to fruition. Despite an obscene amount of foreign aid pouring in each year, not to mention an increase in tourism in the past decade, Cambodia remains a very poor country. One of my friends dreams of going to the United States to work, thinking it to be some sort of economic paradise. I didn’t want to burst his bubble too harshly, but told him that life there is also “very difficult” for many people.
We talked, we laughed, we drank more beer; talking about good times in the past and contemplating the uncertain future.