I met a cute Cambodian girl the other morning as I headed back to my hotel after a run on the beach. We went to breakfast, and she told me she knew a great place to go snorkeling, which was our plan for the day.
She was fun and hot and spoke English, so of course, I told her please come with us! :) I didn’t realize she would teach me a profound lesson about what it really means to be a bootstrapping entrepreneur.
When we reached our first destination, she jumped in with me and swam around for a few minutes, but then she headed back to the boat. I figured she was going to be a diva relaxing on the boat the rest of the day, or start complaining about being bored. I quickly saw that I was very, very wrong.
She proceeded to wrap fishing line around an empty water bottle, tie on a small metal hook she got from the boat driver, and then jump back into the water wearing a life jacket for extra flotation. From there, with a dive mask on for vision, she began fishing.
After a while she moved back into the boat, leaning over the edge, hook dangled into the water. Aside from the times I was in the boat or water with her, or when we were moving from island to island, she fished this way all day.
I had told her before we headed out to sea that I had to leave as soon as we got back, returning to the city. So, she caught her own dinner.
But maybe she would have done it anyway, because it’s just what survivors do – they survive (and some thrive) by seizing every opportunity that they can grab hold of.
That determination of spirit shines in stark contrast to what has become the prevailing western mindset. She knows there are no handouts. She knows opportunity when it presents itself. And she probably knows real, painful hunger in a way that none of us can imagine.
So she made the most of it. And not in a ‘woe-is-me-I-have-to-catch-my-dinner-why-won’t-someone-take-care-of-me’ way. She laughed and had as much fun all day as I did. With me, and on her own. She’d yell out to me every time she caught a fish, beaming from ear to ear, proud of her success.
I was simply looking at pretty fish, while she was surviving. And yet because it’s just a way of life, she was very happy doing it.
The opportunity to do so had presented itself, and she seized it without hesitation.
When we arrived back at the beach, she took her fish to a local restaurant. They traded her some veggies and rice for a couple of her fish, for when she returned later when they’d fry the big one up with it for her dinner. A simple trade – a hot meal for a day’s work.
What people in the western world don’t understand is that in 3rd world countries, EVERYONE is an entrepreneur, because they have to be! And thankfully, there are few regulations stopping them from being such.
Every house is selling something out front. Every person has something they will offer you or pitch you on the street, to maybe make a few cents, or a whole dollar. If they don’t work with what they have, they starve to death. Simple as that.
There are no food stamps to buy steak and lobster. No free Obama phones. No handouts.
There is simply the freedom to hustle. The freedom to use what you have, to get what you can, to make it through another day.
In Asia, people seem to understand this better than most anyplace I’ve ever been. And that’s why I’m staying (along with this). I’ve said it before, and it bears repeating here:
I would rather live surrounded by the exciting chaos of birth that is Asia, than the struggling chaos of death that is the West.
There is no perfect system or place on our blue planet, so spare me your pious lectures about poverty in the 3rd world until, say, you’ve fixed your own fucking Detroit.
Because people in the 3rd world are working their way out of it. People under socialist control are not allowed to, and so poverty and crime get worse as economies decline.
In the West, this girl (and the restaurant, the boat driver, me the tourist) would have been in violation of numerous health codes, fishing laws, OSHA standards, tourism permits, and more. Leaving her with only one real choice – dependence on a flawed welfare system.
With freedom, though, she could happily get her hands dirty to catch her dinner while laughing and enjoying life, and become an image of human resolve and the entrepreneurial spirit that I will never forget.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way…as long as the freedom exists to grab hold of the opportunity to work for it without regulation.