As of when I wrote to Kimleng, I knew I would be coming back to SE Asia in the spring, but I didn’t have any particular plan to visit Siem Reap again. Instead, I had planned to visit my European friends Jean-Louis and Kerstin at their new guust house in Koh Rong, an island off the south coast of Cambodia. Between the time of my deciding on the destination and the time of my booking the ticket, however, Jean-Louis and Kerstin’s situation changed rather dramatically, and they sold their half of the guest house to a Cambodian investor. Thus it was that I was a bit at loose ends at the end of my stay in Chiang Mai, so I decided to go to Siem Reap for a while and see about getting the silk scarf enterprise going with Kimleng.
As it happened, the King of Cambodia passed away around the end of last year, and the country was in mourning. As a result of this, Kimleng was out of school for about a week, so she and I went scarf shopping, checking out the nearby silk farm, a couple of the high-end tourist shops, and the much more local central market, where, as you might imagine, we found the most competitive prices. We decided to start out small, buying about forty pieces, in several different colors and designs. We chose traditional Cambodian motifs, for the most part, with designs of elephants, and/or the main temple at Angkor Wat against the colorful background of the woven silk. The workmanship was very nice, at least to my eye, and thanks to Kimleng’s bargaining skills, the prices were a fair bit less than I had paid for similar scarves the year before. We made our agreement verbally with the shop owner, and arranged to meet the following day to settle up. Each scarf was individually packaged in a cellophane bag, folded nicely for easy shipping; of course, silk is very light, thus inexpensive to ship and virtually impossible to damage in transit. We plan to sell them somewhere in the $10-12 range, plus shipping, which I imagine will run about another $5 or so from Japan to Europe or North America. If we can manage to sell as few as a couple hundred scarves over the course of a year’s time, it will pay Kimleng’s university tuition.
I will not keep any of the proceeds, other than enough to purchase the next lot of scarves (assuming that the first lot sells…). Anyhing that we manage to generate over and above the cost of her tuition will go into a bank account for her in Cambodia, accessible via the signature of her teacher, and will be used for school supplies, books, uniforms, tutoring, and the like. With luck, there will be enough left for her school lunches and the occasional chocolate bar (and Kimleng is a girl who loves her chocolate).
This is a small initial investment for a Westerner (a few hundred dollars), but it has the potential, I believe, to make a huge impact on one person’s situation, without being in any way a gift or charity. The scarf venture will be some work for Kimleng, without a doubt, and she has more than enough work to keep her busy already. She will have to handle the banking, the purchasing, the packaging, and the shipping, and she will be the one responsible for negotiating better terms as the quantities grow. For my part, I will try to find outlets for the scarves: online auctions; the blog; a few strategically placed newspaper articles. And then we will see…