Thursday, November 20, 2008

Race and all that

In business, as in life, you meet all sorts of people. At the Bloom shop, the worst people I have encountered are the immigrants to Europe. These immigrants are just like the nouveau riche: arrogant, snobby and rude because of their new found status (wealth in the case of the nouveau riche). Yesterday one woman who looked ethnic Indian came into the shop, declaring she is from Sweden before proceeding to ask all sorts of questions about Bloom. In contrast, the white guy she was with, who is also from Sweden, was extremely polite and respectful.

I normally like questions from customers, because it means they are interested in what we are trying to do at Bloom. But questions for the sake of showing off their English or questions asked in a dismal attempt to show they know all about Cambodia, I have no patience for. Especially when it is clear these people have no intentions of purchasing anything. They're just bored, or want to give the Cambodians a hard time.

At the Bloom shop in Phnom Penh it was a Vietnamese woman, who was working in Singapore, who behaved in this rude, dismissive manner.

However, people like this are few and far between, which is why I remember every one of them. Far more common are the travellers who like what we are doing and buy our bags, who spread the word and join Bloom Bags Facebook Group. Incredibly, we have almost 300 members! It's quite an achievement when you compare Bloom Bags with other groups on Facebook that sell similar eco-bags. I am so encouraged to know there are many, many people out there who care about other people and the environment and want to show their support for our cause.

Just a couple of days ago, I met a lovely customer who was born in France to North African and Indian parents. We got along so well, we've become firm friends and meet almost everyday. She is absolutely beautiful but she told me about the racism she faces all the time. She has an Irish husband and a gorgeous young son. (People of mixed races are much better looking, in my opinion, probably because they are born from a wider gene pool. In Singapore, Eurasians--persons of European and Asian descent--often get jobs on TV and a friend of mine who studied media studies grumbled at the opportunities offered to Eurasians because of their outstanding looks.)

As an Asian with a white partner, I could commiserate. Everywhere we went on holiday, everyone always assumed I was the leech, sucking up a white man's money. Things were so bad in Bali, I wanted to print a T-shirt that said "I'M THE ONE WITH THE MONEY." My corporate job paid more than Alan's one in academia, so I paid for all our holidays.

And every time we were out, the waiter would speak only to Alan, assuming I cannot speak English. When the bill arrives, they'd go to him. And even after *I've* paid, they'd go to Alan to return the change. Incredible. I am the invisible woman.

Except when I am with a white person who complains about bad service. Then it is me they take it out on. Once, I was with a Finnish friend at Saem restaurant (it's now closed) by the riverside in Phnom Penh. We both ordered the same drink, a mango shake, but my friend insisted it tasted bad. The milk was off, she said and told the waitress she would not pay for the drink and asked to exchange it for a cup of tea. The Khmer waitress pulled a long face. Many Khmer service staff can be quite rude to customers, showing their temper when you complain. I have so many stories from customers, I am actually thinking of starting a blog reviewing restaurants in Cambodia.

Later the waitress said to me, in English, "Why you don't want to pay". Flabbergasted, I said what do you mean, it's not me, it's my friend who said that. Why are you asking me, not her? Indeed I had been quietly sipping away at my mango shake without complaint (perhaps it is because I have more plebian tastes, so it takes a lot to make me complain about food).

I was so angry, I told the Khmer woman: "You are so stupid, because of one lousy fruit shake you make your customers unhappy. I come here all the time and take all my friends here," I added. It's true, I used to take all my friends to that restaurant. "I will never come here again!"

The thing is, and this is what was pointed out by the French woman I mentioned earlier, when you are rude, or throw your weight around, these people back down. They behave exactly like bullies, who pick on people they perceive to be weaker. In my case they think "small Asian woman versus big Westerner" or "less rich Southeast Asian (I think the Japanese, and maybe Koreans, Cambodia being overrun with rich Koreans, get more respect) versus richer Westerner". And bullies will back down when you stand up to them.

Another friend, a Western woman, agreed. She told me about a policeman here in Siem Reap who confiscated the books from two street kids who sell books. To get the books back, the kids will have to pay the policeman. My tuktuk driver in Phnom Penh had his seat confiscated for the same reason and had to pay USD5 to get it back. Anyway, my friend was having none of it and told the policeman she had paid for the books, so legally they are hers and if he does not bring them back in half an hour, she would call her lawyer and file a report with the tourist police. He backed off.


haSan faTula said...

This post give me some picture of the Cambodian people. Good ...

haSan faTula said...

I mean good post not good people 'some of them' ...


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