People of Money

posted by Megan Swanson

Her face is stern. She is young, not too young, but it is hard to tell an exact age. Her ponytail pulls her dark hair away from the indecipherable face while her calm facial expression turns quickly into action.

She walks at a quick pace, almost a jog, to her booth of clothing and souvenirs. Surprisingly enough there is no “Hi lady!” or “Special price for you!” which is either a result of my inept attempt to style a pair of traditional Cambodian pants on over jeans or that she is tired.

A giggle escapes her while she fixes my futile attempt at wrapping the gold pants. While she ties the pants around me her face returns to an unsatisfied calm. Now that she is up close I would guess she is in her 20s.

At the back wall of the night market in Siem Reap this quiet little corner stall was empty when we arrived. The sales lady did not race over to me when I had pants half-on, half-off, but slowly arrived and began to gently teach me how to tie them.

A dusty rack of fake Ray-Bans sits on the counter above the mirror in which my reflection results in an indecisive conclusion. I immediately think not of the pants, or the girl, or of my friends telling me to buy them, but of who I can bring back fake designer sunglasses.

She begins the debate with, “I will give you them for six dollars,” I quickly respond, “No need, I won’t need them anyway.”

Her face only reveals a slight disappointment, but one that fades quickly. A tightly curled green and black hammock curled catches my eye. I ask how much and she responds four dollars. I counteract with three and she laughs muttering something about having to make a little profit. I hand over four dollars and agree with her. I bought a hammock for four dollars.

I stereotype sometimes, like everyone does, but says they don’t. A personal stereotype developed within seconds of stepping out of the tuk-tuk on our first day into town was that Cambodian salespeople will do anything to sell their fare no matter how impractical or gaudy.

The scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Lion and the Scarecrow are all being primped and pressed by the beckoning people of Emerald City comes to mind. Just as the Lion had several Emerald City goers to curl his tresses to perfection, I have my pick among fish massage tanks, cheap sales and massages galore.

Instead of singing and dancing hands are grabbed, menus thrown into faces and whispers of “happy times” fill the ears of many a tourist. Emerald City seems to fade.

Recently I bought a pair of pants. They are from Old Navy, inexpensive, long, linen and comfortable. They are also from Cambodia, but I haven’t seen these pants anywhere here. My linen pants are made with a soft hand of cotton while the Cambodians struggle to acquire gentler cottons for their own clothing. Thailand imports the majority of the cotton for in-country clothing and according to the locals it is hard to find well-produced, softer materials.

My linen pants are balled up in the corner of a hotel armoire right now. As breathable and soft as the cotton may have been, the heat here makes them too hot to handle. Several salespeople at the market watch as tourists filter by their stalls, buying t-shirts that they may themselves soon ball up in the back of a hotel armoire.

The old navy pants cost me thirty dollars, but yet I still stand here bargaining over pants that I would on a whim buy for much more than thirty back home.

Maybe that woman with the gold pants knows this, maybe she is just having an off day. That “people of the market” stereotype never jives with the fact that we are all people of money. Unfortunate, but the bargaining goes on.

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