The following accounts of my conversations with two different Cambodian ladies are examples of some of the bizarre questions I have been asked and the in-your-face, blast-you-out-of-the-water insults I have received since moving to Cambodia.
A few weeks ago, a group with BIMI came to visit the Benefields. Almost every day, I would take their laundry to the neighborhood cleaners. After several visits to this family-owned laundromat, I started having small conversations with the owners, a husband and wife in their fifties. One day, the wife asked me if I had any children. In response, I was able to tell her a little about our family, how that Linda is Cambodian, and how our children are only eleven months apart. She expressed a desire to meet my family, and I told her that I would love to introduce my family to her and her husband. So, the next day Linda, Ellie, Judson and I made a quick visit to their place on our way to the grocery store. It was only a quick meeting, but quite pleasant, and then we were on our way to the store. The next day, I took the BIMI group's laundry to this lady, but I was not prepared for what she was about to ask me.
"Your children are so beautiful," she said with a large smile on her face.
"Oh, well thank you," I responded.
Enter the most bizarre question I have ever been asked. "So, if someone asked you for your children, would you give them away?" she asked, as dead serious as she could be.
I thought that perhaps my less-than-complete knowledge of the Khmer language was causing me to misunderstand her question, so I said, "I'm sorry, what was that?"
She repeated with not even a hint of a smile, "If someone asked you for your children, would you give them away?"
Still thinking that I could not possibly be hearing the question correctly, I asked her again, "I'm sorry, one more time please."
She repeated the question. I then asked her, "Are you asking me if I would give my children to someone if they asked to have them?"
"Yes, yes, that's what I said," she quickly responded.
"Why not?" she replied.
"Well, they are my children," I replied, absolutely puzzled.
Based on her puzzled look, I could tell that the fact that my children are my children was not a justifiable reason to withhold them from someone who wanted them. So I added, "And I love them."
"Oh, you love them! Oh, okay!" she exclaimed, acting as if she had just made some grand discovery.
After a few polite remarks, I made my way back to my house in utter disbelief at the question I was just asked.
I believe the reason she would ask such a question so nonchalantly is that she lives in a culture in which children, to some degree, are not valued in the same way children are valued in a Judeo-Christian culture. This explains why there is an epidemic in Cambodia of child trafficking. While the question did make me laugh, after I mulled the situation over in my mind for a while, I was saddened, not tickled.
Now, for a quite humorous insult that I received just yesterday from a Cambodian lady who is staying four floors above us in our apartment here in Bangkok. Last night around 6:00, after previously meeting this lady and some of her family who are staying with her a couple of days before, I took Ellie and Judson with me to their room to say hello. They invited us in, and were very kind. The lady looked at Ellie and Judson and said, "Wow, wow, wow, they are beautiful!" I replied, "Oh, thank you very much." Then, she said something that caught me a bit off guard.
"You know, if you had married someone who looks like you, your children wouldn't be pretty at all."
All I could say was, "Yep, you're probably right."
Then she added, "The reason your kids are beautiful is because they are mixed with Khmer."
The funny thing about this is SHE IS EXACTLY RIGHT!!!