Monday, October 04, 2010

Panama court overturns US tycoon's will to leave $50m to poor children

- says it should go to his millionaire family instead. Read full story in the

Friday, October 01, 2010

The handicapped bicycle repair man

Lois and I cycled to the Old Market today. Along the way, we decided to get some air pumped and the chain checked. Lucky us! We found this man and his son in a small lane just beside the Angkor National Museum. 

I don't know if you can see it from this photo, but the Cambodian man is a double amputee.

This photo makes it clearer. He has these plastic legs, which an NGO provided. It was in 1983 that he lost his legs. He was 16 years old, a boy soldier, when he stepped on a land mine. He is now 43 years old and has taught himself to fix bicycles. He was also teaching his son what to do, so his son can learn the trade, although he said he'd prefer it if his son could do something else as you don't make a lot of money repairing bicycles.

He is usually under the big palm tree just beyond. It is in the lane beside the museum. He moved today because there is a fair going on at the museum but usually he is under the tree.

Father and son. The man has 5 children and he and his son have very good chemistry. The son obviously loves his dad, which I take to mean he is a good father. To oil and tighten the chains and pump air, the man asked for only 1000 riels (25cents US), which is the Cambodian price. I was very happy he did not try to cheat us, as Lois is obviously a foreigner. I gave him a dollar, which I was prepared to do even if he'd asked, because I admire and respect him for earning a living instead of begging. Having said that, I stopped my bike on the way back just to give a very old man money because he looked so destitute. I think there are circumstances where a person has no choice but to beg, for instance, when you are very old and cannot find employment.

The boy's eyes widened and both father and son said thank you. I promised I would send all our bicycles from the guesthouse to him for repair. Lois also gave his son some money as she was touched he did not try to cheat us. See, it pays to be honest, Cambodian merchants!

Lois' visit and Bloom Garden Guesthouse

I'm writing this as I sit on the terrace at Bloom Garden Guesthouse. My Australian friend Lois just left for Preah Vihear after spending a night here. Lois has an NGO in Preah Vihear, at the Thai border, and where Thailand and Cambodia are fighting over the cliff-side temple. The young women are given free education and lodgings at a dormitory, and this year, four of them qualified for university in Phnom Penh. They are the first in their family, if not the entire village, to have this opportunity, which Lois hopes will change their lives and those of the community.

This is Lois, at the guesthouse lobby, proudly showing off the miniature Christening dresses that she and a friend taught some of the women at Preah Vihear to make. The miniatures are beautifully made - I had a close look and the workmanship is impeccable. The women are paid a fair wage and can earn up to US$120 a month, says Lois.

This is what these tiny dresses look like. Lois tells me there are some 300 miniature clubs around the world, so potentially a large market for these doll-like dresses. They are made from imported French lace, so it is not something the Cambodians will be able to copy. Copying is a big problem for those of us involved in product design and manufacture in Cambodia, especially for those of us who believe in using locally made and sourced materials--like me, cos of the carbon footprint and also to create as many jobs as possible for the local community. It is not easy juggling business decisions and one's principles and I am glad I have not caved in yet, unlike Bono, who decided to tackle African poverty by moving production base to China.

I got to know Lois when she contacted me for an interview for her PhD thesis on social entrepreneurship (SE) and we've had many interesting discussions on SE models (I refuse donations but Lois thinks it's still possible to accept donations and be an SE. I'll write about these discussions separately because they are interesting.)

When Lois checked out, she actually paid US$20 for the room, instead of US$15 that we asked for, as she said $20 is the price it should be! My friend Sun also said I had underpriced the rooms when she visited, but because we are new, I decided on special rates. (See why I love my friends? They're all people with a sense of fairness).

Anyway, this is the view I'm looking at while typing this at the guesthouse terrace.

I love the open space and the view of the trees and the sky. Because Singapore is one of the densest countries in the world, it is hard to get a view unblocked by tall buildings, so I always appreciate it when I see a large expanse of sky. And of cos the breeze is nice too.

Yesterday, one of our water lilies bloomed, so I took the chance to photograph it. So pink and pretty!

Here is the lone lily, underneath the orchids. Lois and I had breakfast here and it is very peaceful and quiet. The other day while I was sitting there with a friend, a tiny bird hopped by.

And these are the orchids.


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