Pen Salon / Tour Guide
In June of this year, I headed to the Angkor Wat complex for the first time in a long time, aiming for a time when there were no tourists due to the C-19. The ticket center, which is usually packed with tourists, was almost empty. Instead, it was him, Mr. Pen.
He said, “I’ve been here every day for the last two years, but I’m almost never able to guide tourists. I’m lucky to have met you today.”
He didn’t seem to be lying or bluffing, nor did he seem like a bad guy. For the first time in my many visits to the Angkor Complex, I hired a guide. We went around Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, and other sites that we usually visit in a hurry, listening to his stories and taking it easy. Through his stories, I was able to appreciate more than usual the cultural meanings and historical interpretations hidden in the ruins.
We listened to his personal story while sipping coconut juice in the hot sun on our way back by tuk-tuk to the ticket center where we first met him.
Originally from Takeo Province, he had been working at another job, but found enjoyment in his current job of introducing his country’s culture to international visitors, and moved to Siem Reap with his family. However, for the past two years, he says, the tourists have not returned and his earnings have been so tight that he has had to put part of his house up for sale. In addition, his mother had been hospitalized for an illness and just recently passed away.
He says that she had an allergic reaction and despite having told the hospital doctors in advance not to inject her with drugs containing certain ingredients, they injected her with drugs containing those ingredients. His mother died shortly after the injection, he said.
He says the doctor ignored his advice and did not give a second thought to his crying complaints. Instead, the hospital gave him only the cost of a tuk-tuk from the hospital to his home. I had no idea that he, who had worked so hard to explain in detail about the history and culture of the ruins under the intense sunlight since this morning, had just recently experienced such a harsh experience. I was at a loss for words.
In this country, as in other countries, we see many people, not all of them of course, who think they can do anything they want as long as they have money and power. They destroy the country’s precious nature to make money, give priority to land development, forcibly remove powerless people, and suppress the voices of workers by force. Only such people try to show off their money and power by driving big cars that should not be able to pass through narrow roads.
Meanwhile, the normal public cannot say what they really think for fear of retaliation or intimidation, even if they are dissatisfied or resentful. It is true that there are also many people who are trying to make society more inclusive through business, by picking up the voices of these ordinary people through the media, reflecting them in institutions and policies, and sublimating them into music, literature, and all kinds of art.
I strongly realized again I would like to stand on the side of small, powerless, everyday people through his story.