Two phrases that will make all the difference
His name is Yom, and he’s a 16 year old monk living at Wat Kesararam in Siem Reap. We spoke briefly just before he was ready to take a bath (yes, by pumping his own water and most likely a very cold one). Like a lot of young Cambodian monks, he was able to carry a brief conversation in English because he attends monk school where it is taught. He asked me where I was from and what I was doing in Cambodia. After a few minutes I said my goodbye and asked if I could take this photo of him. It has become one of my favourites on this trip.
It was a simple, yet meaningful exchange. It was the curiosity about each other and our cultures that made this experience real. Yet it all began with one simple word I said as I walked by: “Sousadai” (hello in Khmer). “Hello,” he said, and that’s when I knew we could possibly carry on a conversation.
One of the things I have learned during this trip is that when you’re travelling abroad, the locals will be able to easily identify a tourist. This also means that their ability to speak with you is limited because of the language barrier. By learning just “hello” and “thank you” in the local language breaks down a thousand barriers, especially in the rural parts of the city where they’re less familiar with tourists.
You’ll definitely encounter a few more smiles knowing the local language. Granted it’s not always easy to learn a language like Cambodian or Laotian, just brush up on your local hello’s and thank you’s. They will appreciate the effort even if you butcher the pronunciation :-p
One extra thing which is even more universal. Just smile. You’ll be surprised how many will reciprocate or give you a nod.
It’s certainly helped to break the ice between Yom and I. Give it a try next time! :-)