Tonal Sap Floating Village

We were recently treated to see the biggest circus in Cambodia called the floating village near Tonle Sap.  Tourists from around the world board old noisy vessels that accommodate perhaps 30 people who sit on sturdy rough hewn benches children sat on in school perhaps 100 years ago.  For the more adventurous one could perch on a slippery tin roof  for a more panoramic unobstructed view of the village and its inhabitants.

It was an interesting journey gliding by what some perceive to be the largest slum in Cambodia and perhaps in all of South East Asia.

To the western eye the perceived poverty and unimaginable living conditions of the mostly Vietnamese people that populate the shores of Tonle Sap is overwhelming and one could easily feel a great deal of compassion for these most unfortunate residents.  But there was no need to feel sorry or be alarmed we were told because a recent survey found that 80% of the residents who rise and fall with the level of the water are happy.  That contrast with the 20% that are allegedly happy in North America in spite of obscene wealth and luxury.  Lesson learned; it is better to live in poverty and be happy than to be filthy rich and be miserable. Some might disagree.

The residents of the floating village seemed oblivious to our presence even though more digital pictures were shot to capture the moment than were shot in Angkor Wat.  In many instances it seemed we were flagrantly invading the peoples privacy.  The residents so far have entertained millions and seemed totally indifferent to our presence while for the  tourist it was our first spectacle to view such oppressive poverty. Every twist in the river revealed more hovels and dilapidated structures bobbing on the water cobbled closely together making the scene all the more depressing. Part of the village had no electricity and batteries were used to light the odd 60 watt bulb to allow for some mobility for the residents past 6:00 pm when darkness descends on Cambodia.

During our journey a much smaller vessel carrying a skipper and a young child suddenly appeared out of nowhere, approached our vessel and came close enough to allow the child to board with a basket full of soft drinks.  The scene made me think of all the super tankers and ocean going vessels that are constantly boarded and captured near the Horn of Africa.  The child who possessed considerable charm hurriedly walked through our boat selling his wares.  As quickly as he boarded he jumped back into the smaller boat in search for another pack of tourist chugging along behind us for another sale.   This was entrepreneurship at its best. On one of the floating restaurants and souvenir shops a small child would place the head of a menacing looking snake into his mouth for only one dolla.

In a way I was very pleased to learn that the residents of Tonle Sap are happy.  If they and others like them wanted as little as half of what I have, a big comfortable house, cars, efficient transportation, health care, free drugs, eye wear and hearing aids as well as a pocketful of disposable income that allows me to come to Cambodia and cruise the seven seas the world would not have enough resources to meet all of our collective needs.  I would have to share the resources and sacrifice my lifestyle and my appetite for more just so Tonle Sap residents could live in a way that would be a pale reflection of my style.

I am glad at least 80% of Tonle Sapians are happy.  A small minority may not be but we can’t please everybody.  As noted the western world can boast that 80% of its population is discontent.  Perhaps if we had a little bit more we could increase the happiness factor in North America.  We probably should not tinker with this 80 20 ratio too much in fear of upsetting the balance we presently enjoy.

Brian Maan

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2 comments so far

  1. Ann DeRooy on

    Well said. On that note, http://premiere.flannel.org/

  2. Ann DeRooy on

    Oops! Might have put the wrong thing in the last comment. Try this:
    HD Premiere of NOOMA Corner | 023 Rob Bell | Flannel Player
    premiere.flannel.org


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