Siem Reap III, Cambodia

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Having been in Cambodia for a week and having seen plenty of temples, I was ready to hide in a hotel room for awhile and make some art. I found a place that would scan my drawings and make prints for an okay price after I produced some work. I went ahead and made some prints, with the intent of joining the night market. Through a series of events I ended up with a small stall in the back of the market and set up shop. This endeavor proved to be much more about the experience than money. I met some amazing people that ran shops around me. I was so grateful for their kindness and making me feel apart of the community.

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It was a reversal of roles as I was not the tourist anymore but watching tourists from a local’s point of view. I have to say, I understand there is a bargaining game in the market but I think foreigner’s ideas of how cheap things should be are extreme and frankly disgusting. I watched people try to buy t-shirts for 50 cents or a dollar. Do you really want something that cheap? That means it came at the cost of someone somewhere, be fair not exploitative. Tourists are typically European and have plenty of money, what is one or two dollars? It’s not a lot to them, but it’s a living and food on the table for a Cambodian person. I met a talented artist too in the shop behind me and got to watch him paint.

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Most importantly I meant the most inspiring and intelligent little girl. She was boss lady. At 8 years old she was running a stall on her own. We made friends and after she came by and loved my art for so long I gave her a print. At the end of the night she just went through my phone and hung out with me and when I didn’t sale anything gave me the most real and on point business advice. When I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up she said a doctor. As someone that worked hard for everything I have, against all odds and some poverty growing up, I can identify. I see her intelligence and savvy taking her where she needs to be and she will be in my heart.

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My artwork was up the whole night and I noticed Cambodian people were in awe over it. I had such an audience and so many local people coming by and saying how much they liked it. It was such a rich and wonderful experience. I gave away a few more prints as I prefer to bring happiness than covet them. I’m kind of really inspired by street vendor culture. I admire the DIY spirit and hard work people put into running their own lives. I’ve shown in galleries before, but this a richer experience and has inspired me to consider creating some pieces on institutional criticism. I went ahead and accepted that night I would make no money and I relaxed in my stall listening to New Order, reading Kafka, and drawing. I actually made a new piece!

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My next sort of experiment is to move out of the market and try just to be on the street. I started biking around and asking around. I took a lot of rejection. It was interesting to me that most of the “modern” looking businesses were all run by foreigners. It has me more alert in making sure I keep visiting as many local hole in the wall places as possible. Not to say I don’t think foreigners can run business here, but I want to keep it fair and make sure I support the local culture and people as well. I ran into some cool street vendors chilling in front of a place and after chatting it up they gave me some tips on the hustle. They accepted me to come post up on the street with them tomorrow during the day. I think this is going to be such a weird experience… I can’t wait.

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