Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Day and Night in Cambodia

It’s 6:30am and the air is cool and smells cleaner—the motocycles have not started with their exhausts yet! It is 7:30am in Singapore and it is exactly like how it was back home, with the fresh cool air. I’m sitting in a big rattan chair with a thick cushion in the garden—I had bought these chairs for the garden café because I notice Westerners like them. They are really comfy. I am so excited about the café. It is another big investment—should I really be running two businesses, when the first is not yet stable? I have concluded it makes sense so I’m jumping straight into it, again with no experience in this area.

I wish I were a morning person but this is rare for me. In Singapore, after I quit my job, we would sleep at 11pm and wake up at 9am. We had to change our hours, sleeping at 9pm and waking up at 7am, because the work day starts earlier in Cambodia. Offices start operating at 7:30am (in Singapore, it is 8:30am or 9am). Lunch is at 11:30am and may be for an hour or an hour and a half. Work resumes until 5pm.

When I first hired the women from Hagar, I had wanted Singapore working hours (9am to 6pm), failing to see the strict distinction between night and day here. In Singapore, work hours are usually flexible, and working overtime (without extra pay, I might add!) is par for the course. Every white-collared worker in Singapore has worked till 8pm, or later, at some time or another. I remember taking a taxi to the office at 3am or 5am on days when I could not sleep, or leaving the office at midnight to meet a deadline. Yes, I was a right workaholic.

Such flexible work hours are not common here. The day starts early not just because of the heat, but because of light. It would be too late for the women to leave work at 6pm, which is when it gets dark, because street lighting is not widespread and is limited to the main roads in the city. It is dangerous for people who live in remote areas as they are prey to robbers and the like. Eventually, we agreed that BLOOM’s work hours would be from 8am to 5pm, with an hour’s break for lunch.

Very early on, I had visited the slum village that now houses the people who were moved from their homes in front of the Tonle Bassac. These people were cleared out because a big developer had decided to build hotels and shops on that prime piece of land facing the river. The new slum is more than an hour’s drive from Phnom Penh and the people were given little more than bamboo sticks and plastic sheets to build tents that would be their new homes. It was a very sad sight and one of the motivations for me to come here.

The men now have to travel more than an hour to get to the city for work and have to pay 2000 riels (about 50 cents US) a trip on moto, which is very cheap for the distance (it costs 2000 riels to get to Chbbar Ampov which is only 30 minutes away). Because they cannot afford to pay more (a round trip costs them a dollar US. It is a lot of money considering that if the men are are lucky, they get USD2 or USD2.50 a day), the motodop (motocycle driver) would pile 3 or 4 people on the bike before setting off. Then the men would have to make every effort to return home before it gets dark. It is a hard life.


Jinja said...

Enjoyed your post, please keep blogging!

I find that some offices in Cambodia take 2 hours for lunch and start at 7am. I think I'm going to revise that schedule shortly, people really seem to prefer a 2 hour lunch!

- J

Diana Saw said...

Hi Jinja,

Thanks for your comment! Yes, at Hagar, the work starts at 7:30am and it's a one and a half hour lunch break (11:30pm to 1pm). I had offered the same hours, but Bloom's workers decided to start work later and have a shorter lunch break. They usually sleep for half and hour after they've had lunch. It still seems strange to me, as in Singapore, our one hour lunch break is spent eating, shopping or chatting. We never have quiet time during lunch. Khmers seem more sensible in this regard.


Diana Saw said...

hi jinja,

I visited your blog on comics and really liked what I saw. Can I invite you to exhibit some of your own stuff and any Khmer comics you have at the opening of Bloom? Please do contact me to discuss details.



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