Since I’ve been in Cambodia for a year and a half, one of the biggest differences I notice between Cambodian youth and those in Western countries is the level of consideration they have for other people and responsibility in the home.
I usually take a nap at my Cambodian colleagues’ house. When I arrived at her house two days ago, her energetic and playful seven-year-old sister who was the only person at home. She was eating on a bench and I just started to lie down on the best beside her. I heard her immediately go into her house, get me a pillow and ran to get another chair for herself so I could sleep on the whole bench. I was very impressed.
Today I also went to an NGO school located 12 km outside of the Siem Reap city-centre. I was prepared to sit on the floor with my computer and as soon as I walked in the room, a 12-year-old girl ran out to get me not one, but two chairs. She said, “One for you and one for your computer.”
I run into a lot of Western expats, whether I want to or not, in town and many would barely have the consideration to get up to get you a chair or do something to help a new visitor or a guest. I was very impressed with my friend’s sister who is much more polite than most Western adults I’ve come across in Asia.
When tourists or expats visit people in rural villages, they’re often surprised how well-behaved many of the children are. Many don’t have a chance to live out a full childhood because they have to help their parents clean the house, pick up their siblings from school, cook around their school schedule, if they even go to school at all.
I keep learning to shut up when I complain about working long hours at times because some Cambodian friends tell me that they wake up at 6:00 a.m. to drop their sister to school before starting their 8-hour work day then going to university for three hours where their teacher may or may not show up because they drank too much the night before. They don’t tell me this to make me feel bad; my friends are just open about their lives. I’ve heard too many “poor” me stories from expats who didn’t get the perfect massage or not having air conditioning.
When I visit my friends’ hometowns in the villages, I’ve seen 11-year-olds who know how to cut and clean fish, young kids helping set up the tables before a meal and kids sweeping and watering plants happily at their schools. They are extremely modest and rarely ask for much from their family, mostly because they can’t. But they know how to use their imaginations and play well with each other.