Would you like a snake with your soda?

By Colin Tom

As our long, wooden boat puttered along  Tonle Sap lake, two motor boats maneuvered along side. Small children, who’d wrapped boa constrictors  around their necks and shoulders, held out to us six packs of Fanta soda.

“One dolla,” offered one boy. “One dolla,” offered another, who had climbed into our boat.

I took the snake in one hand, bought a pineapple soda for the other. The boys returned to their boat and it pulled away. Their father, at the boat’s controls, grinned with approval.

Our guide explained that the families living on the floating villages of the Tonle Sap Lake made a large portion of income from the visiting tourists. Because the houses were technically not on Cambodian soil, inhabitants didn’t have to pay taxes to the government.

Although families lived in relative isolation on the floating villages, money could be made from fishing and curious visitors. Although the lake is becoming increasingly contaminated, families are continually moving onto the Tonle Sap.

More than 3,000 families live on the lake for free, selling merchandise to the tourists. Tourism attracts increasing numbers of inhabitants. Fear is that too many inhabitants will eventually overwhelm the lake and its tributaries. Living conditions, at some point, will become unsuitable.

For now, tourists are welcomed, handled with utmost care.

Conversely, a kick boxing gym on the road to Angkor Wat is not as inviting to visitors. A Cambodian companion asked our trainer not to strike us back while performing boxing exercises. He disobeyed, slapping the sides of our head with his striking pads. He never asked us to leave, but he made no effort to make us feel welcome. He just continued slapping the sides of our head, perhaps harder than the other native patrons, a gesture of tough love.

Tired and beaten, we walked off the mat navigating through the stray dogs and naked children playing on the workout equipment. We had previously been informed that the gym price would be twenty five cents for each parton.

The man behind the front desk peered at us.

“For you, a dollar,” he said.

We shrugged and handed the employee two dollars. Less than enthused, he took our money.

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