“One dollar, one dollar. Two magnets, one dollar. Ok, ten postcards one dollar. One dollar. One dollar. One dollar.”
The child looked up at me, her eyes wide and glimmering. Shuffling the objects in the plastic tray slung across her stomach she pulled up one item after another and repeated the mantra.
“One dollar, one dollar, one dollar. Lady, maybe later? One dollar.”
She looked hopeful, her eyes sparkling with calculations but a tired strain fed into her voice. I could only smile at her. I didn’t want to be rude but I wouldn’t be buying anything.
I have a white face and I could afford to be among the temples of Siam Riep. That meant money. Or should have meant money. But what I couldn’t convey was my student status and my dwindling budget.
I tried to explain that I didn’t have room for souvenirs even if I had liked them with one woman. It became a sparring match of excuses.
“Hey ladyyyy, you buy this!”
Before I could stop them my eyes hopelessly glanced to my left at the beaming face of a woman with strips of fabric slung over an arm. She looked like a seamstress. Chastising my curiosity I forced my sight on the temple once more. I winced as the woman settled into my pace and doggedly continued her campaign.
“Ladyyy, beautiful cloth. You buy this, very pretty.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t need a table cloth. It’s beautiful but I don’t have a table for it,” I replied knowing that I’d been caught.
“Euh? No table?”
“Yes not even a house.”
“Buy for when you get a house.”
“My suitcase is too small to take it to my future house.”
“Buy for your mother.”
“My mom is in Canada and I already gave her a souvenir.”
“Use the post.”
“My backpack is full!”
“Buy for your friends.”
“They don’t need a table cloth.”
“How about a scarf.”
“I have too many already.”
“One more! See it has Angkor Wat on it. Nice colours!”
“I don’t need a scarf.”
“So many nice colours! See! See!”
She exposed an array of scarves hidden beneath the tablecloths slung over her arm.
“No thank you,” I said one last time as we approached the temple’s gates.
“Ok ladyyy I wait for you when you come back. I remember you. You buy later?”
“Maybe,” I reply with a weary sigh. The woman grinned and turned back to convince others to buy her wares.
And she’d be waiting for me when I left the temple. The trap had been sprung. I’d committed to the gauntlet of goods once more before I’d even left it.
The moment I crossed the temple’s threshold though I shed those thoughts as effortlessly as I toss my hat into the closet when I arrive at my temporary home.
I took a breath, focused on the now and marvelled at the wonders set before me.
If you’ve made it this far please enjoy the rest of these photos uninterrupted.