Guilty Beach, Cambodia

November, 2009

Lunch on Guilty Beach was a tough meal to swallow.

If you look on a map of Sihanoukville, Cambodia, you will find beaches such as Victory Beach, Serendipity Beach, and Independence Beach, but you will find no such place labeled as Guilty Beach. That is because every beach here in Cambodia is Guilty Beach. Guilty Beach is not just a Cambodian phenomenon, but rathcambodia 006er a global destination that can be found along coastlines the world over. It is in Los Cabos, Mexico, in the shadow of the famous Cabo arch. It is in Jaco, Costa Rica, backed up by sagging palm trees and world class surf. It is in Asilah, Morocco; it is in Mabul, Malaysia. Guilty Beach is every beach in the world where those unfortunate individuals living well below the poverty line—many of them children—work the beach in the hope of squeaking out much less than a living; most likely just trying to make that night’s dinner.

While beach merchants and scam artists can many times be viewed as little more than hawkers selling goods you would never want, Guilty Beach, Cambodia is thusly labeled because here it is different. Children don’t prod you to buy some fake sunglasses—they simply ask for a bite of your food. Men don’t sell knockoff jewelry for some extra beer money—rather, children sell bracelets and fruit, carrying their infant brother in their arms, because their parents are too sick, or worse, dead. Guilty Beach is thusly named because I no longer want that $3 plate of fried noodles, that $1 can of beer. How can I accept that $2 plate of food when I just told the 11 cambodia 011year old girl I didn’t want her $2 bracelet? Then to eat it in front of her, as her eyes fail to flinch from the fried fare  before me.

So why not buy the $2 bracelet? Why not donate my meal? Because the sad reality is knowing that you cannot help them all, that there are no amount of bracelets that will heal this heart wrenching dilemma. Furthermore, the precedent set by rewarding begging can be far more disastrous than the problems you are trying to prevent. Finally, it is a somber truth knowing that these innocent faces, with bulging stomachs and bulging eyes, are merely working for someone above them, whether it be family or otherwise. The average tourist won’t buy sliced mango from a fully grown man, but they will open their wallet for a child. And sadly, everyone knows it These are merely conscripted child soldiers in a brutal reality of poverty and survival.

“They tell us to say that”, the little girl confesses. She has just asked us to “open our hearts by opening our wallets”. It is a heavy line that has been proven to work. How do you deny an 11 year old girl of $3, while she holds an infant and tries not to cry? How do you not look at all of them, 20 or 30 deep, wishing you could buy all of their bracelets so they can go play in the water like all 9 and 11 year olds should? Even if you buy them from 2, 3, 8 different children, eventually you have to tell one no, and is their pain dampened any by the fact you just helped 8 previous? The guilt is nonetheless the same. A cambodia 013line intrinsically must be drawn somewhere, but that line never gets any less painful, or justifiable. We gave the girl $1 for a smaller bracelet, and she left despondently, a sense of failure in her face. Nobody wins in this game.

Even more, who am I that you should even feel the need to beg to me? I don’t deserve this phony pedestal you place me upon. I don’t deserve this plate of food you lust after. I don’t deserve to sit on this beach, in this comfortable chair, and lead an easier life than you.

Lunch on Guilty Beach was a tough meal to swallow.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Heidi Kaltur March 11, 2010 at 9:35 am

Graet article!

Devin the Travel Writer September 14, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Hey Kyle,

Been there many times myself. It is such a hard call no matter how you slice it. Truthfully, I put aside 30 singles that I promise myself I will give away to people who need it on every trip I take. Yes, I know some are scams, or child laborers, or some other terrible thing. I usually rationalize feeling a little better for having tried and know that maybe one kid might get the couple of bucks for food. I also buy lunches when I can — but I cannot blame anyone who decides not to.
PS. I agree with Heidi, nice article

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