He was around 5 feet tall, and maybe 19 years of age. He wore black beaten sandals, a T-shirt with some sort of floral print, and Doraemon swimming trunks. He yelled "Hello sir, taxi car for you!" while scratching his underarm. His dark skin contrasted with his white shirt and neon-orange bottoms. "I have taxi. I take you and your friend to see temples."
I smiled, and walked away. However, before I could walk more than 15 steps, he ran over and offered some friendly advice. "OK, sir. No problem you no take my taxi, but you buy water for $1?"
I looked over at his cooler full of water bottles that I assumed were imported from Thailand: the Thai Namthip brand was a big giveaway. He said that his father was killed during the Khmer Rouge and that he had to care for two younger sisters and his grandmother. He even had a picture on him to solidify his story.
I didn't know whether Bom was lying about his father's whereabouts, but what seemed certain was that he really wanted to sell me that bottle of water for $1. I smiled, and began to walk away.
Bom reached for my arm and called two children over. "If you want, children can sing beautiful songs for you, sir," He pleaded. "You like John Lennon? Madonna?"
I gave an awkward smile, not knowing what to do. At this point, the friend I'd been traveling with, Krystal, came to my rescue. Bom looked at both of us, smiled, and then moved closer. "You have pretty girlfriend, sir. You buy water for pretty lady, yes?"
I figured that Bom was either one hell of a salesman or he desperately needed the money, maybe both. I eventually bargained for him to give me a cold bottle of water with a cup of ice for the initial price. He grabbed a few pieces of ice, the ones fortunate enough to not have melted in the Southeast Asian heat, and put them in a disposable cup. I paid him the $1 for the water, and Krystal and I made our way towards the taxi drivers lined up by the side of the curb.
"Excuse me, sir and madam!" Bom yelled in a confident voice. "You no forget that Cambodian people are very poor, but we very kind. Thai, Vietnam, Cambodia so poor, but have good family values. Thank you for coming, sir."
I sipped on my imported bottle of water, looked at a map for directions, and walked towards downtown Siem Reap. As we walked towards the city center, the sun was beginning to set, the mosquitoes beginning to befriend us.
Food peddlers were everywhere in sight, and women and children were waving red flags to encourage tourists to sit at their restaurants. Women in pink tube-tops and 10-inch stilettos walked with white gentlemen twice, sometimes three times their age. You could hear them speaking in broken English, not quite understanding one another. Perhaps an intelligent conversation was something they may not be after. Old women in sarongs walked with naked babies on their shoulders, carrying a basket of fruit to sell to those passing by.
Japanese, Korean, German, British, and French tourists sat at restaurants advertising cashew chicken and Khmer fried rice. I look at the menu and noticed they misspelled "fried" with "friend". I'd be down to try some friendly Cambodian rice.
A strong wind came suddenly and dust picked up fast. I closed my eyes for about a minute, trying my best to avoid opening them until the mess was gone. I wiped the dust from my face and rinsed off with what remained of my water. We sat down at a mom and pop place with red Chinese lanterns and a giant poster of what appeared to be a general. Something written in Khmer with red marker adorned his pasty-white face. I asked the waitress, a young woman of no more than 13 years of age, to recommend something typically Cambodian. "We have fried rice, chicken," she replied in perfect English. "Maybe you like cashew chicken? Foreigner really like."
I went with her advice and ordered the cashew chicken while Krystal ordered some fried rice. We asked for some beers and sat down on plastic stools. Our table had a tablecloth with Thai celebrities advertising soda and fried chicken. The young woman, wearing a "God Bless America" tank with black skinny jeans, returned and handed us two beers, not quite ice cold. Angkor Beer, our savior. I opened mine immediately, enjoying the rich taste of beer that was cheaper than water.
Wiping the sweat from my brow with a tissue, I looked around me, smiled, and let out a sigh. All I could think about were Bom's last words.