A failed attempt at assimilation

By Brianna Randall

Dressed in an oversized button-up, ankle-length skirt, and wide-brim hat, I visited Angkor Wat expecting to blend in among the many other visitors, but I soon realized that this was not the case.

Within five minutes of descending from my tuk-tuk, groups of Cambodians and Koreans excitedly circled around me, keeping their distance almost as if I was some well-known exhibit sheltered by a glass case. The piercing stares of either fear, admiration, or curiosity and the low mumbles in various languages that were, of course, foreign to me broke my focus on the wealthy of history behind me.

Despite all that I missed, I did hear my tour guide, Nimol, explain that people from all over Asia make visiting Angkor Wat at least once a lifetime goal. So, how did I, a mere woman with no influence over their eternal well-being, manage to be more wondrous than this one important moment in their lives?

Though well aware that I contrasted the ideal Southeast Asian beauty who, according to interpreter Santhou, is petite with pale skin and straight hair, the exact reason for their curiosity baffled me.

Was it the fact that I, being unusually tall, towered over them? Was it my ethnic hairstyle that they had possibly never seen anything like? Was it the combination of my caramel skin and slim figure? I was self-conscious and confused.

This feeling remained until my tour guide happened to hear and interpret the words of one onlooker. “Who is that woman?,” she translated. “Saart! That means ‘beautiful’!”

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