Final Thoughts on Hong Kong, Cambodia, and the Incheon Airport

OK, I know this trip has been all about Hong Kong and Cambodia, but I have this ridiculous layover in Korea, and I have to say that I only ever want to have connections through Incheon from now on. Which might be a bit difficult if I’m only traveling within the US. But this is the best airport I’ve ever been in. Anywhere. Holy cow. I just had a shower. They have free showers. With towels and shampoo. In my own private bathroom.
There’s this whole Korean culture exhibit/shop thing where I did some arts and crafts. There’s a gallery. There’s a rest area with lounging couches where I had a nap. Need a blanket? A book? A tablet to use? They have them to loan for free. There’s of course the massive shopping mall. Massive. If my trip had started out this way I wouldn’t have been so cranky about the cancelled flight and the bumping of places.
Ah, but I was going to write about final thoughts. And this doesn’t really fit in, does it? We’ll see.
I prefer the public toilets in Hong Kong. Although if the airport toilets are any indication, I suspect Korea’s are pretty great, too. In Hong Kong, the public toilets are very clean. Everywhere. All of them. It reminded me of Poland. The public toilets in Cambodia, not so much. I’ve seen worse, but I really didn’t care for them and didn’t use them unless absolutely necessary.
Hong Kong is very clean. It’s very clean except when it’s not. It’s sometimes very dirty. The South China Sea is horribly polluted. I get that it’s the third-busiest shipping harbor in the world, but there’s also just a lot of trash in the water. Coming from New York City, this isn’t a new sight for me. It’s just a sad one. We, as a species, have managed to pollute pretty much the whole world I think.
There’s a fair bit of trash in Siem Reap, and I suspect quite a lot of it comes from the tourists. People leave water bottles and such at the temples when they’re empty. How is that treating a religious site with respect?
Speaking of respect, I was very put off by the tourists who disregarded the request to dress appropriately when visiting the temples. I know it was hot, but they are religious houses, and one must respect the religious sensibilities. They ask that shoulders be covered (I think they actually prefer long sleeves, but no bare shoulders for sure), and that garments come below the knee and that there are no bare midriffs. This isn’t hard. And yet.
In Hong Kong and in Cambodia people are far too polite to call anyone out on a faux pas like that, but they still feel injured.
It’s important to present things and accept things with two hands, and I tried to remember that, but I know I often failed. I know people also made allowances for me as a westerner, but I had hoped to do better.
In Cambodia, the Namaste greeting (hands together with a slight bow) is important. Hands at chest level for friends, at mouth level for parents, at the forehead for monks, and above the head for God and the King. I didn’t happen upon the King. People do appreciate when you make the effort, though.
In Cambodia, they don’t really care for Korean tourists. The Koreans (and the Chinese for that matter), come with their own tour guides, their own drivers, and sometimes even their own food (or they only eat in Korean or Chinese places) so the money doesn’t really get to the Khmer people. The government gets some money from their tickets, but the people never benefit from that. Still, they do buy some things.
Even so, I think that if the Koreans understood how they were affecting the economy, they might do things differently. The Cambodians experience them in only one way. I’m sitting here in Incheon airport surrounded by friendly, helpful Korean people. The woman who works in the shower room, for example, is a volunteer! I think it’s all about taking the time to understand how what we do affects another. That’s harder to do when you book a tour. People seemed so surprised when I said that I’d be traveling by myself, but it really gave me an opportunity to meet and talk to people.
Drivers are crazy in Hong Kong and in Cambodia. But it’s a different kind of crazy in each place. In Hong Kong people drive fast, and there’s a lot of jockeying for position, but it all seems to work out. There are definitely traffic deaths, and based on some advertising, I suspect often related to alcohol consumption, but overall, I felt very safe. In Cambodia, lanes seem to be more of a suggestion. There are cars, but there are a lot more bicycles, motorbikes, and tuk-tuks. tuk-tuk
And it’s not just one person on a bicycle or motorbike. Often it’s two or even a whole family, including babies. There are no infant seats, and usually no helmets. Yesterday in the rain we did see one accident. Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt, but it involved a government car and a motorbike, and my driver informed me that the government drivers will often threaten the riders with guns and be far more concerned about any damage to the car. Very sad.
I have no idea how Koreans drive. I haven’t left the airport. The one pilot I’ve experienced so far landed the plane very nicely, though. What I’d call an Air Force landing.
Children are a delight in all these countries. The wealthy people in Hong Kong can send their children to summer camp or other programs. The locals and the poorer folks just keep the children with them. They help out in the shops, or they play while their parents work. The same in Cambodia. There is no head start for poor children. If you’re poor and you have children, very day is take your children to work day. The saddest thing in Cambodia is how many children have to work. They sell things and say that they need the money to go to school. Even though school is supposed to be free, it’s not really free. I’d rather be poor in Hong Kong. Which we explains the huge immigrant community in Hong Kong – people who work mainly as domestics and send money home to poor nations in Asia.
No one I met in Cambodia had ever been out of Cambodia. Few had ever been out of Siem Reap. They know the world. They speak English – it’s the ticket to a better job and a better life – more so than French or any other language. The US dollar is king and it’s illegal to exchange dollars into riels, so even young children can do the currency conversions in their heads. Most prices are listed in dollars. There is only paper money in Cambodia.
In Hong Kong, you must use cash for all forms of transportation (or use cash to buy or add to your Octopus card), but otherwise, credit cards are accepted almost everywhere. Not the jade market. In Cambodia, hardly any place takes credit cards. Cash is king. Things are very cheap, but you can still end up spending a lot of money if you keep tipping, if you give money away, if you intentionally overpay. Although I do rather wish I’d skipped that Smile of Angkor show. Good grief.
In Siem Reap, people experience the world because the world comes to them. They see one side of the coin – how people behave on vacation. I wish they could experience the Koreans here in the airport. I wish they could experience the Chinese of Hong Kong in Hong Kong. . Still, there is interaction.
I hope you will visit these places and meet these people. Don’t just eat in familiar places. Try durian fruit. Try kimchee. Hire a guide – a local guide and climb up the temples. Visit the Temple of 10,000 Buddhas in the New Territories. Ride in a tuk-tuk. Take the Star ferry in Hong Kong. Take a shower in Incheon airport. Be in the world.
That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.

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