Wei Gu
Wei Gu

Chinese tourists diversify fast from the cattle-like crowds moved around by large coaches. Some are starting to join a global industry of volunteers, helping out in poor countries, and enjoying new experiences. WSJ´s Wei Gu recently joined with her family on a trip to Cambodia. Her report in the Wall Street Journal.

Wei Gu:

Looking out of the tour bus window, Cambodia looked like China did 20 or 30 years ago. People rely on motorcycles to travel around, just as we did with bicycles in China back then. I saw a family of four squeezed onto a motorcycle, which reminded me of my dad carrying my mom and me around Shanghai on a single bicycle.

The roads in Cambodia are quite congested and it took 10 hours to make the 250-kilometer journey from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap.

While Cambodia’s roads are bad, its electronic infrastructure is well-developed and accessible. People from monks to “moms” at the orphanage carried smartphones, and they talked on the phone all the time. The monks explained that they used cellphones for work and not entertainment, but they kept snapping pictures of us or talked on their cellphones when conducting a house blessing.

Mobile connectivity is cheap and reliable. I got a local phone card for $5, for five gigabytes of data, enough for 35 hours of surfing on the Web. This kept me abreast of the Hong Kong protests during the whole time we were in Cambodia. In fact, the connection was better on Cambodia’s muddy roads than in my Hong Kong apartment.

Cambodians are incredibly connected. A 17-year-old boy at an orphanage we visited quickly added me on Facebook after he saw the pictures I posted about the orphanage where he lived. Now I’m seeing his updates every day, and he has asked how to get in touch with one of the Hong Kong girls who went on this trip.

When American and Japanese students visited our schools in Shanghai, we exchanged snail-mail addresses. The letters would come after a month or so and stopped after one or two exchanges. It was difficult to keep in touch back then.

In some ways, Cambodians are more global and more informed than many Chinese, who are cut off from global media. YouTube, Google , Facebook and Twitter are banned in China. Even now, English is still taught mostly by Chinese teachers at schools, while in Cambodia many students learn from native speakers.

More in the Wall Street Journal.

Wei Gu and family

Wei Gu is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need her at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers´request form.

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