“Same, Same, but Different!”

posted by Sumon Ray

Same, same, but different! This seems like a continuous phrase printed on the shirts hanging  around the inner and outer shops of Siem Reap’s Old Market.  After awhile, the English freak in you takes over and you inquire about the nature of this  “same, same, but different” saying.

The journalist in me pushed me into asking one of the people in the market about the details of this saying. Although I knew I would be lost in translation when asking about what the phrase means, I took up the challenge.

I walked into one of the shops and asked the sales woman about what “same, same, but different” means? She simply chuckled in the sweet Cambodian way and proceeded to explain. The lady said, “you and me the same, but different” or something along those lines.

The saleswoman’s simple and to the point English actually made common sense. I thought I was going to feel like I was going through a root canal trying to unravel the mystery behind this simple phrase. I handed the lady two dollars and didn’t buy the shirt with “same, same, but different” written on it, but an “I love Cambodia” shirt. How tourist of me? I couldn’t help myself.  I left the little shop in the market with my shirt and scurried along to explore the inner workings of the market that is the beating heart of Siem Reap.

When in a country, it is of utmost importance to explore the markets of the land. The way the people bargain and trade is better than watching Jerry Springer on your sofa at home. It gets a little irritating with all the people barking at you like mad dogs, but you start learning how to simply say no. Then, a tune in your head starts playing “who let the dogs out woof, woof!” Not to say that the people in the market are dogs, but they come up to your face and seduce you into buying something from their shop.

So I would like to repeat that the salesmen are not dogs, but individuals who sing to you in different tunes of “Mister, you want to buy watch for 5 dollar” or “Lady, you want scarf for three dollar. I give you special price. Just for you.”  Once you get used to the tune, you will be able to ignore them and just peruse through the markets and mute them in a way that you never thought you could. Then, you can increase the volume as you see something that intrigues your eyes.

As you go through the markets the aromas intensify and change. Sometimes it is incense, fish, body odor, or something else. Maybe even the mixture of everything. You will just have to suck it up and bask in the scent of the air. As your eyes wander in and out of the markets, you feel like you are watching a re-run of the same episode of some show. You watch the re-run because it makes you feel good while working on something else. That’s what the experience in Old Market feels like. It’s that warm feeling that you are delving into a new world with experts there to guide you. You don’t necessarily pay attention to it, but it is there. You can be perusing through the market and miss certain things going on because you are also texting your friend who is getting a fish massage at one of the many fish massage stands in Old Market.

After texting and pretending to look around the market, you bring yourself back to the market because something interesting happens. When I say interesting, I mean salesman who insists you purchase something. Actually, insist is a nicer way of meaning they keep bargaining with you until you check out what they are selling. I look and I realize that almost all the shops in Old Market sell the same thing. There is an endless supply of  “No Money, No Honey,” ‘I Love Cambodia” and off course “Same, Same, but Different” shirts.”

Now that I think of it, the saying comes from the fact that everything sold in the market is the same, but different in their story and price. Somehow all the products ended up in the same market. Every thing in the market seems and probably is the same, but the people selling the items will tell you a different story to cough up a different price than you want to buy. The shirts, scarves, hammocks, watches, sunglasses, and a plethora of other market accessories will stare at you and all you can say is “Same, Same, but Different!”


2 comments so far

  1. Jonathan Tanaka on

    interesting, thanks for the explanation … I was wondering the same thing! I loved interacting with the people selling things in the marketplaces.

  2. darwin on

    finally! I actually asked my friends whose living in cambodia about this..I even requested them to buy me a shirt with same same but different

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