The sign outside of the stall in Siem Reap, Cambodia says “Karaoke.” Inside, tourists stand around a bar, with karaoke girls standing around encouraging some of them to drink, drink, drink.
No one is singing. It’s not a karaoke bar, said Dawn,* an advocate with an anti-human trafficking organization in Siem Reap.
It’s a glorified brothel.
Child prostitution isn’t unique to Cambodia, but it is a growing issue, especially in Siem Reap, where tourism has fueled an increased interest for the workers, Dawn said.
Dawn has lived in Siem Reap since September of last year, and lived in other areas of Cambodia from 2000 to 2003. Since moving here last year she has worked with the anti-trafficking organization that was founded only a few years ago. The organization houses some girls and teaches them skills such as making purses so they can make a salary.
"It’s a process," Dawn said. "We want to encourage girls to stand on their own. Every girl is in a different place."
About half the girls were karaoke girls. They would encourage tourists to drink, and were expected to sleep with anyone who prepositions them. The other half are girls who were identified as at-risk, in that their families would probably approach them about working in the karaoke bars. Even if they just worked at the bar, they would eventually be pushed into prostitution, Dawn said.
"The longer you’re in that, the more pressure there is to start receiving customers," Dawn said.
The illegal activity is hard to crack down on because the organizers continually change their ways of trafficking. Instead of all customers going to one area, the planning and exchanges are done at different places, and in some cases, the organizer or pimp takes the girl to a specified location, Dawn said.
"At any moment, a child is on a motorobike, and could be going to a guest house," Dawn said.
The goal of the anti-trafficking organization is to help these girls be independent, knowing that they don’t have to be forced into prostitution, Dawn said. The facility has small groups and one-on-one time for emotional rehabilitation, as well as English and life skills classes. It can’t solve everything, but can still make a difference.
"God gave me a sense of humor, where I am able to go home and know what’s mine for today, and know that I am just the hands and feet," Dawn said.
She’s confident that one day, there will be change.
"There will be a day when everything will be set right," Dawn said. "When there’s justice."
*Name has been changed. Because of the nature of Dawn’s work, she asked to not be identified. I documented the first and last name of each person included on this blog, however, I chose to only include their first names for these stories.
“Lady No-Name, I waited for you to come back! Buy my bracelets!”—Girl selling souvenirs outside of Ta Prohm. While walking to our restaurant she had asked me what my name was as she tried to sell me 10 bracelets for $1, and when I didn’t say anything, she said that she would call me “Lady With No Name.” When we walked back out she again asked me to buy her bracelets, but shortened my name to “Lady No-Name.” I bought the bracelets.
*This is another section of my blog, dealing with the effects and rebuilding of Cambodia after the Pol Pot regime. I will be documenting people’s stories and noticeable effects and posting my findings here.
Som was born in the middle of the Pol Pot regime.
It was 1977,and the Khmer Rouge had put Cambodians in work camps, killing fields and mass graves.
Som, a tour guide in Siem Reap, Cambodia, doesn’t remember what it was like. One of his best friends, who was born around the same time, doesn’t know, either.
But the two have different stories of its effects. Som didn’t lose any family members. His friend never met his father.
The genocide is important for everybody to remember, Som said, because it affected all Cambodians, and people need to know what happened.
His father was a fisherman, and his family lived on farms. They were used to the work they endured in the work camps, working in the fields the entire day with a short break for dinner. Those from the city weren’t used to the hard work, so it was much more difficult for them.
His family also hadn’t been educated. The Khmer Rouge’s enemies were officials from the previous government, and those who had been educated. They posed a greater threat.
Much has also been written about it. Outside of Angkor Wat, souvenir sellers hold up books about the Pol Pot regime and memoirs of those in the work camps, shouting that they cost $1.
A greater number of people are talking about what happened during the regime now, too, Som said.
Moun’s answer to whether he liked his job was very different from the answers in Singapore.
"Yes, I like very much," he said.
Moun’s official title: Bell Man at the Khemara Angkor Hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
His main work is opening doors for anyone who comes into the hotel. He opens the door, puts his hands together and does a slight bow and says “morning” or “afternoon.”
He does this every day, he said. The 28-year-old has had the same job for nine years.
In a city where children only a bit older than toddlers walk around ancient ruins selling bracelets to tourists, a bell boy is a good occupation.
He has another rare opportunity. He gets to go to school. He goes to a University in the mornings, studying marketing. He doesn’t know much English, but smiled when trying to describe how he wants to keeping studying in the four-year program.
There was another difference between Moun and the workers in Singapore. The Singaporean employees didn’t know what they wanted to do in the future.
According to JC, drinking tea helps people stay healthy, especially when it is drunk every day.
That’s the speciality of the Kwong Chen tea shop in Chinatown, which JC’s family has owned for 70 years.
But not enough Singaporeans drink tea every day, said JC, who has worked at the tea shop for 10 years. Westerners don’t drink tea every day, and so those in this Westernized nation don’t drink tea every day, either. They should, though, and so the tea shop sells many teas that can be consumed daily.
JC’s favorite tea they sell is a decaffeinated black tea. The tea is packed together in a shape like a thick frisbee and sells for S$10.
She shook her head and smiled when asked what she did or did not like her job, but gave no answer.
Instead, she just said again that she likes keeping people healthy.
*Our internet at our hotel is slow, so I haven’t been able to upload any photos of videos. An audio slideshow of JC talking about her favorite tea will be coming soon.
In this small island country, most restaurants are still bustling past 10 p.m., there is a Starbucks within walking distance of anywhere, and a number of them are open 24-hours.
I am writing this at 2 a.m., and I can see people walking outside . By themselves.
I love this country. They support my messed up sleep cycle.
This part of my blog will focus on my own experiences as a part of the College of Journalism and Mass Communication Southeast Asia trip .
My blog will be focused on other people and the things I encounter in Asia, but the stories behind the stories are pretty fun, too.
For my first example: a story of the coconut man and cab fails.
A group of students and I wandered through Chinatown and stopped at the food stall to check out what exactly drinking out of a coconut tastes like.
I thought it tasted like soy milk. The others weren’t so keen on the cold drink, but perhaps it’s because anything that is similar to milk but doesn’t contain lactose (oh hey there, lactose intolerance) is good to me.
We were the only customers, so I asked Yu if I could ask him a few questions.
"English no," he said.
All right. That’s okay. How long have you worked here?
"About six months," he said.
I asked a few more questions, shot some photos and moved on. We went past a 7-11, where I noticed the cigarettes for sale all had photos of either a cancerous jaw or black teeth. Interesting. We walked a little further until we came by a taxi stand to hail a cab back to our hotel. Three of us got into a cab, while Tyler and I tried to find another.
So many cabs, and so many opportunities for public transportation. And so many people who need a cab to themselves making seemingly short taxi lines very deceptive.
And so Tyler and I ran back to our hotel to find that our group wasn’t even ready to leave yet. Though stressful, we did get some exercise, and were able to see more of Singapore.
But if we try to hail a cab again and there are more than four people, I’m shoving.
Now it’s past 3 a.m., and I still can’t fall asleep. It’s probably because of the 13-hour time difference.
“How the f*ck did we end up in Little China again?”—Tyler Thomas, questioning why the f*ck we had ended up in Chinatown (which he called Little China. We were distressed) while looking for a place with wifi. It was the second time the journalism students found themselves lost through Chinatown. The second time in less than five hours. We got to see lots of Singapore, though!
Yu sells around 30 to 40 coconuts a day at Chai Chee Nasi Lanek and Fast Food.
At S$2.50 each, that’s around S$100 per day for the food stall in Chinatown, Singapore and relies mostly on the coconuts for its profit. It’s this reason among others that he wouldn’t disclose that contributes to how he describes his working life: “not very good.”
Yet he has worked at the stall for six months after working at a stall on another street in Chinatown for 10 years.
He is part of an interesting pattern among Singaporeans as they describe their job: they like it, say it’s all right, then shake their head or move their hand back and forth, more or less, to show how how it can be good or bad, or just okay. Yu did this, as did Jaycee, an employee at a tea shop a few blocks away, as did Yi, a jewelry seller at a gem and metal company.
And with all three, the employees continued with their jobs immediately after speaking. They may not like their jobs, but they endure. Yu said “not very good,” smiled, and went to get another coconut.
*Photo above: Yu puts a straw into one of the coconuts his food stall sells in Chinatown, Singapore. Yu has worked for the same business for 10 years.