Tea and Other Ayama Na Tales

When we think about Asia, it’s really easy to romanticize the life, the people there — I think. It’s easy to be aggravated by the Starbucks even while we’re heading there to get Frappucino because good lord, it’s hot and I’m jet lagged and there is nothing that would be more reassuring right now than caffeine and air conditioning and yes, I am speaking from experience, this means YOU, Singapore.

I think it’s also nearly impossible to create any kind of real picture of the young woman who’s making your coffee, to imagine where her family is from and how maybe, this is a really good job for her or hey, maybe not. And maybe a little too much cable TV has made it possible for people who have no idea what California looks like to aspire to a life that has no rice paddies or water buffalo or arranged marriages. I think it’s easy to be annoyed by the culture clash we perceive as outsiders, but there’s no way we can get inside the head of the guy who built my Nikon so he could send a kid to college, for example.

This rambling mess of thoughts is what I took away from reading Tea and Other Ayama Na Tales by Eleanor Bluestein. Yup, I got a review copy and I really enjoyed it. It’s a collection of short stories about the people of Ayama Na, an imaginary country that’s maybe Cambodia, maybe somewhere else, maybe cobbled together out of bits of Southeast Asia. Though I had the opportunity to ask the author about this imaginary place, I passed on that intentionally, I didn’t want reality to color my vision of what Ayama Na looks like, though I did patch it together in my own head, using pieces of Vietnam and Cambodia.


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High Impact Tourism

Angkor Wat Traffic

Early morning traffic, Angkor gate

In 1993, after Angkor was added to Unesco’s World Heritage List, just 7,650 intrepid visitors ventured to the site. Last year Sokimex, the oil company controversially granted the entrance concession on behalf of the government’s Apsara Angkor management, sold almost 900,000 tickets worth $25m (£12.8m), with British travellers making up the fourth biggest contingent behind South Koreans, Japanese and North Americans. Three million visitors are expected in 2010. Guardian

Three million visitors! Imagine three million visitors tromping through your home. It’s not built for three million visitors to start with, right, there’s no plumbing for that, and the couch can’t take it, plus, everyone’s going to be touching stuff they’re not supposed to be touching, and standing on that one step that you know is rickety but no one else does, and dropping stuff accidentally and leaning on things and just generally exerting massive wear and tear on the place.


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Kids Causes in Cambodia

Kids Selling Souvenirs at AngkorThey’re everywhere, all day long. They’ve got plastic baskets of bracelets, strings of origami fish folded out of silk scraps, little handbags, cheap photocopies of guidebooks, postcards, postcards, postcards. You see them at 6 in the morning and at 11 at night. You think they should be in bed, at school, on the playground… at an early morning breakfast in the Angkor Complex, I watched an 11(ish) year old boy go back and forth between taking orders and selling souvenirs while his much smaller brother focused on moving the postcard inventory. “You buy. Ten for one dollar. 1..2..3..4..”

I asked our guide why they weren’t in school. “Later,” he said. “They work in the early morning, then they go to school.” This might have been true of these particular kids, but everywhere we went, all day long, we saw children working the streets.


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Being Prepared at Angkor Wat

Camera. Hello. Hat: Keeps sun off and helps contain exploding head. Super lightweight long sleeved shirt. Respectful and free from sunburn. Backpack. Contains extra batteries, compact flash cards, water, snacks, painkillers for head explosions, TP, bug juice, hand cleaner, and snacks. Super lightweight below the knee shorts. Respectful and free from sunburn. Sturdy hiking sandals. …
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