Cambodia, there are two kind of ambition

August 2 2008 085

It is Pchum Ben Festival, the Buddhist feast to honor the ancestors in Cambodia. Most Buddhists visit the pagodas to bring food, flowers and prayers. Holidays are extended for three and more days. I decided to visit Siem Riep for a couple of days from Sihanoukville. They recommended to me the night bus of Vereak Buntham Company.

It leaves Sihanoukville at 8 PM and arrives at about 6 AM in Siem Riep. My friends told me also that the trip is USD 17 for foreigners. Even if I have spent ten years in Cambodia working for the poorest children of the country, even my fluent Khmer and my love for the nation, I continue being a foreigner and I have to pay the discriminatorily fee for barangs.

I came to the Vereak Buntham office in the Sihanoukville bus station to book my ticket with USD17 ready in my hand.

–          It is USD20.

–          No, you are wrong, it is USD17.

–          Yes, it is used to be, but now it is USD20 because we are in Pchum Ben Festival.

The girl was direct in her announcement, as it was a national rule provided by the Buddhist monks. I paid, but I complain that a religious feast should not be a excuse to increase prices in so arbitrary way. Afterward, in Siem Riep, booking the ticket for my return, they asked me USD10 and Pchum Ben was not yet over!

Traveling in the night bus I lost my phone. It felt in one of the seats I used. I moved seat when a big number of new passengers came into the bus. I realized few minutes after. Even if I announced that my phone was lost inside the bus, nobody reacted. Calling from another phone, mine sounded as turned off. Honesty is something not yet considered in the development of the country. I asked the Vereak Buntham driver to help me: ‘Sorry, everybody must take care for his own!’ he said.

We find several articles, documents and denounces over corruption in Cambodia. Fighting to reduce corruption and improve transparency in the country is a very good mission. However, we are forgetting education of the new generations.

You cannot blame only the leaders for not been transparent, when corruption is a daily practice along the streets of the country. Foreigners notice it very easy, because many of them come from societies where corruption has a very good place to be distinguished. In Italy – where transparency is also poor, with the difference that it is an industrialized country; – no bus company will increase the price of the ticket because it is Holy Week.

But what you can ask in a country with so low salaries for policemen, firefighters, teachers and any other employment. They do not understand extra money as a dishonest behavior, but just as a tip. You can find tip-lookers everywhere in the country. It is true that foreigners are the favorite prey in any nation, especially poor and developing countries, but in Cambodia it seems like the people see you as a walking pocket. But these complain is not only for foreigners: Cambodians are the first victims of such practices, especially if they are poor.

Then the excuse is poverty. Cambodia still one of the poorest nations of Asia. Though the standard of living has increased, social inequality is a reality. But at the same time, you do not see Cambodia anymore as a nation too needed of humanitarian assistance, as it was ten years ago, when it ended a long period of wars and violence. It is true that Cambodia has more elements to empower its own economy and society today.

But the former image of an impoverished nations still on the move. Then, many profit from that image, while paling money in the banks.

Such attitude has promoted a society so hungry for money. Everybody wants money and money. It is legal to work for money and be able to lead a family and have the enough to live. But other thing is when it reaches ambition and cancels social values.

A young man, smart, intelligent and with a good future, wants to marry a girl? He has to pay to the parents’ girl USD 3,000 (this is the current rank.) If he does not have it, they do not accept him. In consequences, you see many girls with aged foreigners (the barang will have such money for the wedding, of course). And what is going to happen with the Cambodian young men? Time to think in how modern is this tradition and how it is going against our society. Are we paying respect to the parents or to the money? Do we give our daughter to any guy with money or to a young man with values?

If you ask young people what they want to study, much of them will answer Business Administration. There plenty of administrators in Cambodia today. Most universities have big faculties of administration and I have found plenty of business administration schools in very odd places. But few talk to you about education, sociology, social work, communication, archaeology (a science that should be the first in a country with temples like Angkor Wat), anthropology, etc.

Development is not only gathering money, but it means also growing in social values, for example, a society where its people is able to give back a phone you find in a bus or to ask for the right price of the ticket without using excuses like the Sacred Pchum Ben Festival.

If young Cambodians will continue studying only Business Administration, in their ambition of getting lot money, in few years we are going to have very well educated motor-taxi drivers, I guest.

We have to keep the ambition of building a great nation. But we cannot fall in the bad ambition of confuse progress and development with money. It is a tool, a very important tool, to build the country. But money is not the only thing we need. We have to educate our new generations of Cambodians in values like sacrifice, solidarity, respect, honesty and commitment.

I would say to those nations that send lot money to Cambodia to build works, machines, companies and many other things of infrastructure: thanks for that. Please, send more, we really need it. But send it in a way that all Cambodians will enjoy it. And send teachers, books, education, and technology for the children. We need it more.

Cities with skyscrapers can look smart and modern. But cities where their inhabitants are high in social values are real civilized cities.

Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude. Tommas Jefferson


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About Albeiro Rodas

Albeiro Rodas (in Cambodia Sky Ly Samnang), is a MA in Digital Communication, independent journalist and a Salesian of Don Bosco from Amalfi, Colombia, based in Cambodia since 1999. He is the creator of the Don Bosco schools of journalism in Sihanoukville and Kep with young people from poor communities and the founder of the Don Bosco Kep Children Fund. Medal for Social Commitment UPB (2010); among the 100 more upstanding Colombians abroad (Marca Colombia, 2012, and among the 12 Colombians that are making this a better world 2013 (

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