Shortly after our arrival in Cambodia, frustrations sky-rocketed. Getting through immigration was frantic enough (considering it was rainy, muddy, and we had to haul our luggage all over the place – this situation was only worsened by the sprained foot I sported from my Bangkok disaster day), but the more frustrating things all boiled down to money.
Instead of taking us directly from Poipet to our destination in Siem Reap, our rented vans wanted to take us to their home office so that we could change vehicles and (in short) pay them twice. All we wanted to do was get to out guesthouse hotel which wasn’t even that far away. Convenience wasn’t the issue, money was. Because of communication differences and rather extreme stubbornness from both parties, we waited a long time before finally moving on to our temporary residence.
However, upon arrival at the hotel, we discovered that three of our nine reserved rooms had been given away earlier that day. For – guess what – monetary reasons! The owners of the guesthouse didn’t think ahead to losing the business of foreigners staying for four nights. Instead, they took one-night guests, thinking they would just get the money then. Basically, they set themselves up for less profit. Instead of practicality, they were focused on immediacy.
All of this raises questions about the importance of money. I can’t live well without it, that’s for sure. It is a part of day to day life. Wake up in the morning. Check the stock market. Attend expensive classes at a university. Buy lunch. Pay off your new car (since you wrecked your first one). Buy groceries. Buy a mango sweet tea at Sonic Happy Hour because who can argue with a dollar drink? I dish it out regularly, and I consider myself fairly frugal. I celebrate every time I get a paycheck and can have a more extravagant meal than Ramen. (The life of a college student is so hard, you know.)
The government, our society, businesses, and individuals all rely on the strength of the economy and the circulation of money. None of this is a bad thing. Money is a tool to build a functioning society. It helps regulate the trade of goods and services between members of a community. People like to be compensated for their efforts. Imagine the chaos without it.
No, no. Money is, in itself, a good thing. The problem arises when money becomes an idol. When the simple need turns to devouring greed. Dramatic as it may seem, huge consequences can result from the love of money. We, thankfully, did not encounter huge consequences. We just split up to stay at different hotels in the vicinity. And the people of Cambodia would not recognize or call their desire for money “greed,” since their basic needs aren’t always fulfilled. They take the money where they can get it so they can keep food on their tables and a roof over their heads and maybe have enough left over to buy a toy for the baby. Mostly, it’s the treatment of money in wealthier countries that is brought into perspective by the experiences we had in Cambodia.
We should not take for granted what we have. Moreover, we should not forsake the more valuable things (like a unified family, a loyal friendship, etc.) in pursuit of money. Most of us (and I can’t speak for the followers I don’t personally know) live comfortable lives. Money should simply be a part of life, not the cause of so much frustration. There are worthier goals than money, richer treasures than gold, and wealth alone brings no joy.
(below: Siem Reap graffiti and Cambodian humor: “Angkor What?”)