Even before the sun rises over the ancient temple of Angkor Wat, the air is already hot and heavy with humidity. There’s barely a breath of breeze.
Yet the sticky stillness is suddenly broken by a blast of air that seems to rise from the ground to the left of me. I turn to see a little boy, about eight-years-old, vigorously waving a black fan. He’s pushing the warm sticky air straight into my face. Having attracted my attention, he says,
“Oh Madam, you are very hot.”
I instantly like this kid. He continues.
“Madam you are so hot. You are feeling just too hot.”
Wait a minute. Feeling just too hot?
“Two dollars. You need this fan. You are very hot. Only two dollars.”
I see. This ‘flattery’ is just his sales pitch.
My partner Andrew and I rose this morning at 4.30am to join the throngs of tourists wanting to catch the sunrise over Cambodia’s best-known temple. It’s a must do on any visit to Seam Reap. We have jockeyed for a good photo taking position with hundreds of other tourists as we wait for the sun to come up.
Young children weave through the crowd seeking customers for their souvenirs. They each carry a small supermarket-style shopping basket brimming with the usual tourist tatt – like postcards and fridge magnets. And fans for those of us feeling just too hot.
“I’m OK. I don’t need a fan,” I tell the little fan salesman.
“Yes you do. You feel too hot.” Right back at me.
The fan is made from plastic covered in some type of plasticky fabric and adorned with gold sequins and embroidery. It’s not something I particularly aspire to own. And besides, I don’t like black. I have no intention of buying it.
We move to take in the view from a different angle. Another child approaches Andrew, offering fridge magnets. Our fridge at home is covered with souvenir magnets from his favourite places. I reckon this kid’s on a winner. Sure enough, Andrew takes out a little roll of American one dollar bills – the going price for most small items in Siem Reap – and hands one over in exchange for a magnet.
Seeing this transaction unfold, other little sharks smell blood and begin to circle. Children selling postcards – ten for one dollar – theatrically count them out in front of prospective buyers chanting, “one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine and ten. Ten for one dollar.”
I notice the kids tend to hone in on English-speaking women. They seem to recognise a soft touch. And I am one.
I have collected postcards since childhood. I have hundreds and always take a few home from trips. Ten for one dollar is a good deal. But before I can attract the attention of one of the postcard kids, I feel a tell-tale blast of air, this time from my right.
Our little fan boy is back for another try. This time he changes tack and tries Andrew. The conversation goes like this:
Fan boy: (continuing to wave his fan in my general direction) “Madam, she is too hot. She needs this fan.”
Andrew: “She’s not too hot.” (ed: geez thanks)
Fan boy: “Yes she is. She is vey hot.”
Andrew: “I haven’t got any money.”
Fan boy: “Yes you have. I saw.”
Me: (chipping in from the side) “He’s got you there. He saw you buy the magnet from his friend.”
Andrew: “We’re coming back here again later. Maybe I’ll buy one from you then.”
Fan boy: “No. Later I have to go to school. You buy now. Please.”
Andrew resists. For the next hour we take in amazing views around Angkor Wat from different positions as the day dawns. We run the gauntlet of souvenir selling kids. And adults. Any time I stand still I’m quickly surrounded. Women implore me to buy trousers and handbags emblazoned with elephants. Others offer knock-off guide books about the history of Cambodia’s ancient temples. T-shirts and hats are waved at as. But nobody is as persistent, or keen for a sale, as the little boy with his fan.
Time and again, he appears as if from nowhere, just when we think he must have given up. Sudden blasts of air from his enthusiastic displays of the black fan’s capabilities hit us from the sides and from behind. Each blast is followed by his pleading voice offering a lower price. And reminding me just how hot I am.
“OK. Only one dollar. Just one dollar. Please.”
As the huge crowd begins to disperse, we make a break for the exit to meet our guide and head back to the hotel for breakfast. Just before the exit I pause to hand a little boy a dollar for one his packs of 10 postcards. Immediately half a dozen kids swoop. They’ve spotted a buyer. We’re chased all the way to our car by children brandishing their baskets and loudly spruiking their wares.
Above them all I hear, “OK. OK. Two for one dollar” as a now familiar blast of air reaches the back of my neck.
“Pleeeaase. Two for only one dollar.”
We find our guide and jump into the hotel’s 4WD. In my lap I’m holding a pair of elephant trousers, three elephant handbags (to be given as gifts to friends back home), a knock off guide book and Andrew’s new fridge magnet. And my new black fan. That I paid the original two dollar asking price for.
I fan myself all the way back to the hotel. Because I am feeling just too hot.