Imagine coming to a country where the majority of the population earns less than USD150 per month. You earn 10–20 times more than them.
You start your morning at one of Phnom Penh’s only Costa Coffee branches. You gladly pay USD3 for your coffee.
Then you go to a market. A crowded, poorly lit, stuffy place. Single mothers ply their trade, taking their small kids along. Children have their lunch of rice and tiny pieces of pork and chicken next to a small radio that plays western Top 40 music from 3 years ago.
After browsing for a few minutes, you encounter an exquisite handmade local craft. A small wooden statue. You saw something that looked similar at one of the “hipster” art shops near your office before. It was sold for USD100, and while the price was quite steep, you knew that it was reasonable – especially for something that beautiful.
But at this Cambodian market, the statue, that probably took a day or two to make, costs you USD15.
85 percent cheaper. But here’s a thing. You’re a backpacker who tries to save every single cent so you get to splash out on more booze tonight, so you haggle and bargain really hard.
So you tell the trader, “7 dollars or nothing”.
Desperate for cash, the trader agrees to sell you the wooden statue for USD7.
Because you want to save USD8, which is equivalent to 2–3 cups of coffee at home, the trader takes home USD8 less today.
She has USD8 less to spend on her children’s education.
She has USD8 less to spend on providing nutritious diet of fish and meat for her family.
She has USD8 less to spend on buying medicine for her children when they fall sick.
This is the kind of unhealthy attitude that is sadly very prevalent amongst backpackers in Asia.
Respect the locals and their trade, and the locals will respect you.
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