Angkor Wat rubbish dump a monument to our reckless consumption

By Wan Lixin
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Shanghai Daily, April 1, 2015
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Sigen Rathy has worked at the site for a year.

The Daily Mail recently published photographs of people, including children, picking through a toxic rubbish dump near a tourist center in Cambodia.

They even showed groups of Japanese tourists who arrived in buses and tuk-tuks to take pictures of those children working at a dump in Anlong Pi, just 18 miles from Siem Reap, home to the world-famous Angkor Wat site.

I visited Angkor Wat some months ago. While I was delighted by the ruins and temples there dating from 800 years ago, I was not aware of the existence of this rubbish dump nearby. I did see small children at the tourist sites trying to make some money by selling souvenir books or trinkets to tourists.

The local guide told us that it would be OK to give them snacks, but not sweets, for children there have taken so many sweets from tourists that many now suffer from tooth decay.

In recent years, Angkor Wat has seen a rise in the number of Chinese tourists, and most of the enterprising children there have picked up some simple Chinese, in addition to other languages.

At a fairly secluded site of ruins near an ancient palace, my son offered some snacks to a boy who had accosted him.

Overtaken by progress

Before he knew it, about five other children of a similar age had sprung up from among the stones in the ruins and began to close in on them. My son had to beat a hasty retreat.

During a boat trip on the Tonle Sap Lake, two children offered to massage the shoulders and backs of the passengers, and got some money for their token service. The children also helped anchor the ship, and gave a helping hand to passengers embarking or disembarking.

They spoke quietly, were fairly adept at their business, and were not aggressive to those who refused their offers.

The Daily Mail report reminded me how idyllic and carefree the lives of these children seemed to be compared to those who have to plow through mountains of rubbish under the scorching sun.

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