I lived and worked at the quiet end of the quiet beach in Sihanoukville,Cambodia at a resort run by Americans. The best part about working at a resort is meeting other travelers who have incredible stories to share. The worst part is, well actually working while everyone around you is vacationing (boo-hoo). I had never lived on the ocean before and my day revolved around it. I'd wake up and go for a swim, wrapping each day up with a sunset, that always took on different colors and hues. When the tide was low you could collect shells, when it was high you could avoid jelly fish. And in true asian form, a big celebration was thrown each month for the full moon. During the first week, I went clam diving, which involves holding your breath and diving 10 meters down, digging in the sand for shells as quickly as you can. Most of the time, when I wasn't working, I'd lay in a hammock and read. During work, I bartended and waited tables, watched drunk Russians dance and dropped bottles and glasses. Through the Khmer staff and other Cambodians, I was able to learn a great deal about the surrounding community and culture, as well as the foreign influence in Cambodia.
When I first began working, I noticed police officers who would come by the resort every once in awhile. They were “tourist” police, there to protect the tourists but seemed to ask for bribes quite often. The cambodian government owns the land along the beach and can reclaim that land whenever they choose. A couple of years ago, it bull dozed over all the western owned restaurants and businesses along the water. The resort I worked at decided to take precaution, and built their bungalows across the road on land they lease and have control over. Land is a big issue in Cambodia. Cambodian police officers are some of the most underpaid civil workers in the country and did anything to get money. This obviously leads to a very corrupt system, such as, in the case of a robbery, the police are suspected as well as called upon to help file a report. I’ve been pulled over a dozen times on my motorbike. They always asked for an international drivers license (which Cambodia is the only country in Asia that requires) and then they “fine” you. This fine is a bribe, because they determine the amount, without issuing a ticket, and then pocket the money. Sometimes, they would make up charges to get more money out of me, claiming I ran a red light, or that my headlight was on during the day. To make it even more absurd, rarely did Cambodians stop at the red lights, and they were never flagged down by the police. When they pull you over for money, they try to intimidate you, make you park and get off, walk over to them and demand any amount they want. One day I got so fed up with being stopped for no reason ( it had been my third time that day) that I ended up standing in the street yelling at three cambodian police men that I couldn’t afford to feed all the families of Cambodia’s police force on the bribes they make and I was so god damn tired of being stopped. They looked completely shocked. We all stood there in silence and then one of them waved for me to move on. They know what they are doing is wrong and illegal but they expect to scare the foreigners into paying them.
Whenever I go to a place overrun by tourists I feel a sense of shame that people have moved in and disrupted the local way of living. However, after being in Sihanoukville for some time I saw that there was some positive foreign infuence on the place. The expats living in Cambodia try to give back to the community in different creative ways. When I went to trivia night at one of the bars, the proceeds went to help support a local school. The weekly market had a raffle and those proceeds benefitted an NGO protecting children in abusive situations. There’s a dutch woman here whose house serves as a type of foster boarding home, helping Khmer people off the street. An upscale cafe in town employs Khmer people with disabilities and funds disadvantaged youth. When a Khmer father dragged his 15 year old daughter into the street by her hair and began beating her, everyone came to her defense, intervening first, then calling Child Safety Watch, an NGO created to protect children from living in abusive homes.
This foreign influence, and NGO presence attempts to create a social safey net that is nonexistent in Cambodia, a lack of infrastructure and services that has long been ignored by the government. Alongside the road into town are groups of temporary structures built with scrap wood and metal. They have no running water, no electricity and no toilets. They burn their trash in piles on the road. These shantytowns are made up of people who have been wrongfully evicted from their land by the Cambodian government. Land eviction is a huge issue in Cambodia that has affected more than 400,000 people since 2003 (Greenwood, Global Post). As natural resources become more valuable the Cambodian government sells land to companies to make way for “superfarms”. This was a huge issue in Myanmar as well but it dealt mostly with Chinese businesses looking for energy sources. However in Cambodia, it leaves thousands of people without homes or hope for a future. They live on the streets and send their children off to beg, which I saw a lot of Sihanoukville. In December, thousands of protesters gathered in the capital, Pnom Penh to draw international attention to these land evictions. How they grabbed media attention? They all danced Gangham Style.
My two months in Cambodia were equally relaxing and challenging, the work at times wasn't easy but its always rewarding living a new a place, learning about your surroundings and meeting inspiring people. Otres Beach will always have a special place in my heart. Now, I slowly make my exit of Asia, down into Thailand, Krabi, Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta and through to Malaysia.