Thursday, July 02, 2009
My tuk-tuk driver in Siem Reap 2
I've written about Phern, my tuktuk driver here in Siem Reap. He is 54 and speaks very little English. I mentioned in my previous post that is the reason why I use his tuk tuk. It is almost impossible for him to compete with the younger tuk tuk drivers who speak English. They are the ones who get the tourists and the big tips.
Whenever friends visit, I always suggest they help him out, because he is a sweet old man and is very honest. Recently he told me because of the low season he gets sometimes only 2000 riels (50 cents) a day. Phern has 4 children so it is hard for him. I try to help him out by giving him odd jobs. More recently, I asked his wife to try making necklaces out of recycled paper which I can buy to sell in the Bloom shop.
Anyway I visited Phern and his family recently. This is his home, a single room for which he pays 50,000 riels (USD12.50) a month. His place is only one room, with one door, not the whole building. It is the one with the table and the plastic chairs, which Phern's wife (pictured) took out for me, my aunt and her friend. I had bought them different varieties of fruit and they insisted we have some (of course we felt shy). Cambodians are very hospitable. Even if they have nothing in the house, you can be sure they will offer you at least water.
You can see in the second photo his home consists of 2 beds, one for the parents and the other for the 4 kids. He has a gas stove which is kept on the bed during the day as the wife prepares the day's meals. At night it is put on the floor to make space on the bed. The red bucket on the bed contains drinking water. Underneath the bed in a basket are plates and bowls and cooking utensils. Clothes are put in baskets (behind Phern's wife in the photo).
The house is unbearably hot during the day because of the zinc roof, so the family usually sits outside the door. The shared toilet, the one made out of bricks, is used by three families, so 10-12 people. Phern is showing my aunt the chicken coop in the next photo.
My aunt and her friend were quite affected by the visit. They were dismayed at the living conditions. I explained that as far as Cambodians go, Phern is actually ok. He has a concrete house, which means the family is protected from the monsoon rains. They also have mosquito nets and access to a toilet and running water. It is hard for Singaporeans to imagine anything worse. My aunt says even in the 50s in Singapore, people were not so badly off.
The last one photo shows firewood. In case you think it is shared--it is not. The wood all belongs to the landlord, who sits on a huge wooden double storeyed house in the same compound. I wanted to take a photo of his house, but his wife who was sitting under the house (it is raised on stilts) was eyeing me suspiciously.