Friday, January 05, 2007

Working at Bloom

It’s 7am and I’ve just returned from taking Austin for a short walk down the street. Sophea, Bloom’s best sewer, and Neang, the woman who was living in the concrete bag house have already arrived for work (work doesn’t start till 8am). They both stay at Chhbar Ampov across the river. Neang cycles to work everyday on a bicycle that looks much too big for her, while Sophea is dropped off by her brother who works as a motodop. She was quite upset one day to see me paying a cyclo driver (a cyclo is similar to what we in Singapore call a trishaw or rickshaw) USD2 for a trip. She says I paid too much and told me her brother earns 10,000riels a day (about USD2.50) on a good day. I knew it was way more the going rate but I like to pay cyclo drivers more because many of them are old men with weather beaten faces because they have to work rain or shine, and they sleep in their cyclos. I feel that old people shouldn’t have to work. They should be enjoying their life. It really breaks my heart when I think about these old men, many of whom suffered during the war and then under the Khmer Rouge and then now having to eke out a living pedaling people around in the chaotic traffic, risking their limbs all the time, breathing in all that exhaust. I can’t blame the cyclo drivers for wanting to smoke (you see many pedaling with a cigarette dangling from their lips)—if you’re breathing in that crap all day long, what’s a cigarette or five?

I am happy to see Neang dancing, trying to amuse Nessie, our puppy. I have joined her and Nessie thinks we’re mad! Neang really is a changed woman since working with Bloom. When I first met her, she was thin and pale and tired looking all the time from her construction work. The transformation did not take long. I remember teasing her about a month after she joined on how she was putting on weight while I was losing weight. She used to wear these really dark shirts and trousers, but have bought herself a new purple outfit (1000riels) and one bright blue top (500riels) since. She is taking care of herself now, This is what makes me happy, seeing how Bloom’s workers have changed over the past 3 months when they joined Bloom. The other big transformation is Bonthuen, who was so ill-looking that I almost did not hire him. He’s put on weight too, and now smiles and attempts to talk to me in English. He was a new father when I hired him in September and was out of a job for a year, so was struggling. The other day his family and new son came over to say hi. Cambodian children are really, really cute. I find them to be a good-looking bunch, the Cambodians. To me, they look like the Malays, with big eyes and pretty features. It is hard not to be touched by the children, especially. If you have seen Maddox, Angelina Jolie’s son, that is what many of the kids look like, although Maddox is much, much bigger.

Sipha, our trainer, Edany, Channo and Saren have arrived for breakfast. Eating is a communal activity in Cambodia and Bloom’s workers often buy breakfast to eat here at the house. At lunchtime, everyone sits on the floor and shares the food they buy, different dishes, like fish and vegetables, that they eat with rice. They always ask me to join in but I don’t have the stomach to share food with everyone. Actually, this is the way we Chinese use to eat in Singapore, until we learnt about hygiene. So now, we have an extra spoon for each of the communal dishes, for scooping food into our individual plates. Alan reminds me it wasn’t so long ago that Singaporeans spat in public, just like Cambodians today. It has taken decades for the government to educate Singaporeans on not spitting and not littering and on being polite (we had “courtesy campaigns” when I was in growing up).

It is now 5 to 8, and everyone has started work. I am very pleased that our workers seem to be motivated and do not need me to prompt them to start work, even after lunch break is over. Since day one, I had resolved to manage using more of the carrot than the stick approach and I am pleased that this seems to be working out.


Jinja said...

Cheers for your comments Diana, you can reach me via jinja [at] ekit [dot] com.

Sounds like interesting work, there's a lot of discussion right now about what the best examples of 'fair trade' are.

Unknown said...

Hey! Thanks for hosting me at your place the last couple of days. Really enjoyed myself. Southeast Asia outside of Singapore never ceases to amaze me and open my eyes to a lot of things in this world. Hope to have another chance to visit Phnom Penh in the near future, meanwhile, take care! :)

Chin Yang

natalie said...


Just been reading about Bloom and some of the cool products it makes. I'm interested to find out more about the rice bag bags!! You designing more? I live in Australia now and used to live in Cambodge and am thinking about trying to start lil shop of things from cambodge and other places made by people who need the work!! Fair trade idea I guess.

Diana Saw said...

Hi jinyang,
My pleasure. Any friend of Swee's a friend of mine! Hope to see you again in Cambodia soon and remember, don't sweat the small stuff. I'm sure you'll enjoy yourself freelancing!

Diana Saw said...

Hi Nat Gooch,

You really made my day! This idea of a fair trade retail shop is what I have been thinking about too. I am thinking of starting one in Singapore, because I believe Singaporeans are educated enough to want to buy fair trade products. I sincerely believe if people knew the truth, they would choose not to buy products that were made by people who have been exploited.

Yes! Bloom is able to supply the recycled rice feed bags, for sure! I am always on the lookout to partner with like-minded individuals. Together we can make a difference, however small. :) My email is

PS. I am reminded of something:
"Confucius say...A journey of a thousand miles begin with a single step." Hahaha!

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