While I've never subscribed to this hobo-chic sensibility, the sentiment has certainly plagued me lately. I'm writing this column from an Internet café in Cambodia, and I'm sure it goes without saying that this country is pretty down in the dumps. Even as well-read (translation: well Wikipedia-ed) as I consider myself to be, I really wasn't prepared to encounter this level of poverty.Source of this article at...Diamondback Online
It's no secret that wearing intentionally ripped jeans is really a microcosmic manifestation of a person's latent middle-class guilt for being able to afford jeans in the first place. I think that's been pretty much agreed upon by the contemporary pop culture scholarly community. While I've never subscribed to this hobo-chic sensibility, the sentiment has certainly plagued me lately. I'm writing this column from an Internet café in Cambodia, and I'm sure it goes without saying that this country is pretty down in the dumps. Even as well-read (translation: well Wikipedia-ed) as I consider myself to be, I really wasn't prepared to encounter this level of poverty.
It's the first time I've ever experienced something I could honestly describe as gut-wrenching. Little kids approach you at restaurants and beg for the rest of your sandwich, and when you walk down the main thoroughfare of the capital city, there are babies literally sleeping in the street. The slums along the roads are surrounded by moats filled with more trash than their inhabitants could possibly have generated on their limited means, and there are people everywhere missing limbs. All the while, I'm staring out the window of a bus, wistfully listening to depressing music on my iPod (trying to justify the fact that I can even afford an iPod) and consciously not complaining about the glaring lack of air conditioning.
To make my financially fueled guilt complex even more complex, a huge part of traveling in Cambodia is simply trying not to get ripped off. As soon as I crossed the border, the actual government of Cambodia sold me a visa for a hugely inflated price and told me that if I didn't like it, I was welcome to walk back over to Thailand. Afterward, a man charged me $10 for what he promised would be a 20-minute ride in his "cab" to the bus station, which was really only a block away. And you thought tricks were just for kids.
This whole Khmer-traveler dynamic is quite frustrating, but to put it bluntly, they need the money more than we do. So do you just blindly get ripped off and taken for a ride by some mean old fruit lady who sends her little kids off to beg instead of to school? Or alternatively, with the pride of "stupid Americans" everywhere hinging on your bargaining ability, do you haggle down to the last quarter with someone who would genuinely notice if they lost a quarter?
I'm not writing advice anymore, so I'll be the first to tell you - I have no f---ing clue. Personally, I handled it by stealthily sneaking ice cream to child beggars when their parents were forcibly peddling drugs to innocent passersby. Unfortunately, in my lifetime, there probably won't come a time when children aren't forced to work in Southeast Asia, or their agrarian society can yield sustaining amounts of income. Instead of stewing in guilt or donating all of my hard-earned bankroll from The Diamondback, as cheesy as this sounds, sometimes you really do have to settle for a child's chocolate-covered smile ... and, of course, take a prominent role in your campus' activism community and so on and so forth.
Esti Frischling is a sophomore studio art major writing this semester from Thailand. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org