words.worth.ink

Language. Literature. Photography.

The underbelly of Cambodia’s tourism industry

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Travelling across Cambodia, it is easy to let the colours, architecture and beauty blind you from the difficult realities faced by the vast majority of the Cambodian population. Look closer, or, should I say, lower, and you will see the hangover from the country’s appalling past in the form of millions of children working on the street. These youngsters, who in most parts of the world would be absorbing knowledge and receiving education in a classroom, are forced to work for hours on end selling trinkets, magnets and anything they can exchange for a few riel.

Cambodia’s lack of education, both in terms of funding and resources, is an acute problem, and one that is unlikely to change without significant support and intervention from the international community. During a day trip around the Angkor Wat temples, a friend and I shared lunch with the tuk-tuk driver, Arun, who had accompanied us around this UNESCO world heritage site for three days. We were interested to hear his views on Cambodia, as well as to know why so many young children were trawling amidst the streams of tourists, some small enough to be almost invisible among the crowds. Explaining that his sister was a school teacher in his home town, about 30 miles south of Siem Reap, Arun told us that there was only enough government funding to provide about three hours of schooling for each child per day. This tiny window for education left the majority of the day free for parents, relatives, or, in some cases, exploitative ‘employers’ to put the children to work on the streets and in tourist spots such as the temples.

We were repeatedly told that it was counterproductive to buy souvenirs from the children dotted at every entrance and exit to the temples as this funded and perpetuated the market for child labour. Unable to sit back and ignore their pleading faces and shouts, we bought bananas, mangos and snacks from some of the older teenagers and redistributed them to the younger ones. Repeatedly refusing to give money (“five magnets for one dollar, Miss, please”) to these visibly maltreated, undernourished and exhausted children was heart breaking. However, this abstention is absolutely necessary to break the cycle and discourage parents from resorting to such measures.

Although Unicef reports that in 2011 “the overall rate of children enrolled in primary school was 95.2 per cent”, it is the pitiful amount of time spent in the classroom, as well as the vast space around these few hours, that remains the issue.

We asked Arun if he enjoyed his job, joking that he has the most beautiful ‘office’ in the world. He told us that his ambition is to save up enough money to be able to build a library in his hometown. He dreamed of giving children access to the books and educational resources that he was never able to enjoy as a boy. This simple, selfless and heartening dream filled me with both awe and sadness, making me want to round up as many tiny children as possible and cart them all in Arun’s tuk-tuk to the closest school or library.

Clearly, although much ground has been made since the years following the appalling horrors inflicted upon Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge, there is still far to go to raise the standard of education in Cambodia in line with international standards. I only hope that those who have the power to make this happen share the same inspiring vision as Arun.

Winter in Torino

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Some cities are built for summer, some for spring, and others magically bloom in winter. Torino, in north west Italy, is one of the former. The temperature drops, the snow falls, and visitors to this wonderful city enjoy panoramic views of snow capped Alpine mountains and weekends to the slopes of Bardonecchia and Cervinia.

One of my new year’s resolutions for 2015 is undoubtedly going to be to revisit this beautiful city..

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Torino2

Inspiration from Cambodia

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

A perfectly captured moment from a wonderful three days exploring the Angkor Wat Temples.

We could all learn something from this boy’s fearlessness and freedom!

Singing the Graduate Blues

Since graduating from university four years ago, there has been one recurring theme in conversations with my friends. Aside from the usual “when did we get so old?” (let’s revisit this conversation in twenty years), “being a ‘real’ grownup is overrated” and “when did a night in become preferable to a night out” (did anyone really enjoy those nights in the sticky union bar?), the majority of my friends are panicking about their perceived lack of direction in their careers.

In my experience, it seems that graduates give themselves a couple of years’ grace, during which they test the waters in a few different jobs and industries, with the belief that they will one day wake up and realise that they have landed on their feet in the job of their dreams and couldn’t possibly imagine a world in which they weren’t working in recruitment/advertising/events/charity fundraising and so forth. When I look around, however, so few of my friends are in this position, with the exception of some of those who have entered more ‘vocational’ careers such as teaching, medicine and law.

Maybe it is the shock of entering our late twenties, when really we feel like we are still fresh out of university. Maybe it is the fact that the jobs market is an employers game in which the repercussions of the economic crisis are still acutely felt. Or maybe it is simply that our belief that we would step off the higher education production line and onto a well defined, straight path towards the elusive job of our dreams was fundamentally flawed.

Whilst the American TV show ‘Girls’ may not be relatable in every way (tell me what graduate writer could actually afford a two bed flat in New York?) it does paint a more realistic picture of the reality of building your career as a twenty-something. Essentially, the three years following graduation negate all the expectations you had during your university years: you will not have the pick of the jobs just because you studied moderately hard in a red brick university, you won’t miraculously stumble upon a career that leaves you feeling fulfilled and successful, and you may still have to complete unpaid (or at best underpaid) internships in order to have a chance of getting a job in many industries.

Talking to my friends, I realise that we each, at times, have felt like we are the only one facing these difficulties. Indeed, it is almost certainly true that the vast majority of our friends and former classmates are feeling exactly the same lack of direction and fulfillment, despite the impression that their facebook/instagram/linkedin profiles may give. Social media used to be a great way to keep in touch with friends and, for some, a useful way of marketing yourself to potential employers. However, people are now using their instagram and twitter profiles to market their lives to, well, just about everybody, filters and all. All those statuses about promotions/dream jobs/incredible job perks should be taken with a sizable pinch of salt. Few people advertise details of the time they were passed over for a promotion in favour of the intern whose name they couldn’t yet remember, or the not so glamorous sides of their job that leave them yearning for the university library on a Wednesday afternoon.

What my friends and I have realised is that the ‘perfect’ job is not going to jump onto your desk one day and whisk you off into a world of vocational bliss. Yet there are things you can do to make that unlikely scenario more realistic: don’t stick with the unfulfilling job in the hope that you will somehow learn to love it. See it as a stepping stone: make sure you do it to the best of your ability, take from it whatever skills and knowledge you can pick up, and don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and apply for a job for which you only meet a couple of criteria. Someone has to get those jobs, and that job may well take you down a windy, potholed track to a job that leaves you feeling happy rather than despairing at the end of the workday.

This year

Hello, is there anybody out there?

Realising that it is almost a year since I have posted anything on this WordPress (or, indeed, written anything non-academic) I feel that the least I can do is to avoid the one year mark of absence, albeit it narrowly. My sole excuse is that I am currently writing the most epic book review in the form of a masters thesis, which compares three modern translations of Dante’s Inferno

This past year has been wonderful, indulgent, tragic, challenging, unsettling, enlightening and chaotic. With no signs that the upcoming year will be less of a roller-coaster, I hope to be able to spend more time writing once my academic career comes to a grinding halt upon the completion of my masters in July. 

Until then, Dante is my guide and Vietnam is the light at the end of the tunnel..

Zx

Handmade Notes

Handmade Notes

I love making, sending, and writing cards. These I made last year through the course of one rainy Sunday afternoon, when only cosy craft time and hot chocolate will do.

I especially like the birds, which will not come as a surprise to my friends, who have picked up on my subtle obsession with wings..

I mainly use a needle and thread on card, a throw back to my Textile Design days and, shamefully, about the only time I open my sewing box these days.

Suleymaniye Mosque

Suleymaniye Mosque

The poetically beautiful sights of Istanbul..

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The God of Small Things

Having touched upon this novel early in my study of literature, The God of Small Things had been on my “to-read” list for a number of years, just along with the previously discussed Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Intellectually engaging, emotionally devastating and stylistically exceptional, this novel has immediately been added to the considerably shorter “to re-read” list.

(Incidentally, in light of the beautiful cover above, it has also gained pride of place on my bedroom mantle)

The exquisitely intricate narrative of The God of Small Things forges an intensely, at times uncomfortably, intimate bond between the reader and the book’s various protagonists. Arundhati Roy weaves repetition of both themes and phrases through the book to give the reader an incredible sense of familiarity with the thoughts and images of the characters, most notably Rahel and Estha, the fraternal twins whose experiences and interactions with the events of novel are central to the narrative.

There is a delicate balance between the nursery rhyme style motifs which pepper the narrative, and the darker undertones they carry. An example is Rahel’s macabre yet poetic observation that she and Estha are, in the chronologically later passages:

Not Old. Not Young. But a viable die-able age.

– another motif which recurs through the course of the novel.

The physical descriptions of characters echo through the chapters, reinforcing the reader’s impression of characters such as Rahel (with a fountain in a Love-in-Tokyo and yellow-rimmed red plastic sunglasses), Estha (Little Elvis the Pelvis with a spoiled, special-outing puff. And beige and pointy shoes) and Velutha (As lonely as a wolf. A brown leaf on his black back. That made the monsoons come on time).

In addition to the vivid impression of the individual Roy paints, the cultural and social differences between the characters are reinforced by physical descriptions and the focus on the characters’ clothes. As Sophie Mol arrives from London in her cosmopolitan yellow bell-bottoms, we have the sense that the twins see her as other worldly, feeling increasingly aware of the Sunday best clothing their mother funneled them into for the show which awaits Sophie Mol. The arrival of Velutha, Barebodied.. [with] his printed dark blue and black mundu loosely folded up above his knees, at the house, highlights the disparity between his caste and that of the family, as Ammu looks on longingly at the interaction between the bare backed Velutha and her starch-dressed Rahel.

The non-sequential chronology of the narrative keeps the reader engaged and intrigued until the book’s closing scenes. The culmination of the tension and silent energy that has been growing between the now adult twins creates a strange and striking mirror with the ensuing final scene: a poetic and sensitive depiction of the coupling whose consequences initiate the tragic sequence of events into which Roy draws the readers.

An exquisite, devastating and intensely engaging piece of literary art.

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