Breaking the rice pot – a Cambodian proverb

Cambodians have hundreds - perhaps thousands of proverbs.

Cambodians have hundreds – perhaps thousands of proverbs.

One of the more vibrant Facebook sites  dedicated to things Cambodia  is the group run by expats from around the world – who dwell in Cambodia. Each day the site is populated by a wide variety of comments.  There are the unfailingly  generous  comments from the Rosy guesthouse, and the help wanted  requests  from expats who are finding it hard  to locate  a house to rent, or a hairdresser  who is used to working with the mysteries of European hair.

This week one of the stories that unfolded concerned a Samsung Galaxy notepad  that had been stolen.  Unfortunately for the thief, the photos they took –  as proud new “owners”  of the device –  ended up  hosted  not on the device,  but in the Cloud, and could be accessed by the victim of the theft.

The photos were selfies, and the thief  wasn’t simply anonymous,  a desperate youth,  but an easily recognisable  disabled person. Caught on camera! I gather it took  only 48 hours or less  for the Samsung device to be recovered.

What hurt was  that the thief  had been supported (with food and shelter,) over previous months  by the victim. The English proverb  comes to mind;  ” don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”

Cambodia has more than its fair share of proverbs as well,  and the proverb  copied above reads something like this:

Taking the opportunity to embezzle from those who help you, through the use of cheap, disgraceful tricks, thinking they are unaware of attempts to cheat them – this is breaking your own rice pot.

Judging by comments  posted on Facebook,  the owner of the Samsung device has been far from alone in their experience.  Others attest to the fact that they too have been ripped off by people they had previously helped.

I’m not saying dishonesty is especially widespread in Cambodia, (the first time I was there  a stranger tapped me on the shoulder and pointed out that my wallet was half out of my back pocket, and was at risk,) but l have often wondered  at the immense temptation that many people face. A lifetime is spent scratching for dollars, and  there, within easy reach  is a laptop, or tablet,  or wad of cash – it must surely cross anyone’s mind  that one quick snatch  might be life changing.

Savong and I have discussed this a few times,  and the issue of forgiveness comes up. I’m afraid  that if he caught a thief  he would be less forgiving than I would. Or perhaps simply less soft.  I searched Google  for Cambodian proverbs about the subject of forgiveness,  but so far  I have not found anything quite so elegant as the old European  adage: “To err is human.  To forgive – divine.”

Instead  I see more Cambodian proverbs instructing owners to be careful with their goods, and instructing servants  to avoid the penalties  that come with dishonesty.  Here are two such proverbs:

Stealing may bring profit, but hanging costs far more.

Don’t let an angry man wash dishes; don’t let a hungry man guard rice.

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