The Siem Reap (Cambodia) Photo Dump, Part 1

February 10, 2013

A day at the lake, where tiny fishies nibble at you relentlessly

Doug Davis, mere moments before the hammock malfunction...


Kimleng's bro, aka "Number 3"




Number 5 (front), Number 4 (LR), Number 3 (RR)


Number 5, in living color!


Chrissie (UK) and Kimleng, Same Same...


"Same Same, But Different", popular SE Asian saying...


Kimleng made Cambodian supper for a crowd; delicious!


Silk weaving, Siem Reap


Do not, I repeat, do not, run into this guy!


Flower girls Kimleng and Ewa (Poland)


And one flower boy, channeling his inner femininity...


Buddhist cemetery, outside Siem Reap

The next group of pictures are of a village on the edge of huge Tonle Sap Lake, which can rise enough in the rainy season to make the stilt houses appear to be floating on the surface of the lake. Other houses are tethered, and simply rise and fall with the water. Just now we are at the end of the dry season, and the river is barely navigable by the tour boats that take visitors into the heart of the village, and out onto the lake to watch the sunset.



Kimleng and the Cambodian Silk Scarves, Part 2

February 10, 2013

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…

Kimleng and the Cambodian Silk Scarves, Part 1

February 10, 2013

With ChiangMai deep in the rear view mirror, I headed to Bangkok, then on into Cambodia, to Siem Reap, the city adjacent to the World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat (arguably the most amazing example of architecture on the face of the planet).

I visited Siem Reap last year, and I met a girl named Kimleng, who worked at her parents’ tiny grocery store a few doors down from my hotel. She was cute, sweet, and she spoke a bit of English, all of which conspired to make me do my small shopping at her place. On a typical day, I would have a Coke there in the evening, and chat with her about pretty much anything: life in the West; life in Cambodia; music; her school work; whatever. They have only snacks, cold drinks and the like, and they are, I suspect, barely making ends meet. When I left Siem Reap, I stopped by to say goodbye, and she asked if she could have my email address, so she could ask me questions about English usage. I told her she could email me whenever she liked, and about whatever subject struck her fancy, and she took me up on it. Over the course of a year or so, we became pretty good pals, a situation that was enhanced when we became facebook friends several months later.

Now, a small digression: when I returned from Siem Reap to Japan last year, I brought some Cambodian silk scarves as souvenirs. They were unanimously well-received, and I was mildly chided for upping the game at souvenir-giving, as most of my friends typically brought back cookies or snacks as souvenirs from their travels. I assured them that they had probably paid more for the cookies than I had for the scarves, an assertion I am not sure was widely believed. I asked a couple of the recipients what they thought such scarves might be worth in a First World market, and the responses I got were in the $25-30 range. Hmm! A possible business opportunity.

Okay, back to the main thread of the story. At some point in my facebook chats with Kimleng, I asked her what she planned to do after high school. University perhaps? She said that she would really like to continue her education, but there was simply no money for that. She said she would probably continue to work at her parents’ shop, and perhaps get married somewhere along the way.  A shop girl in her situation can expect to make perhaps $60 per month. As it is now, she goes to high school in the mornings from around 630-1200, and then again from 2-6pm, then comes home and works until after midnight, sometimes as late as 2am.  When the shop is not too busy, she can work in some studying, and somehow she has managed to place 4th in her class of 75 students.

One night on facebook, I asked her if she might be interested in serving as the Cambodian end of a small silk scarf enterprise, in which she would buy the scarves at the local market, send them to me in Japan, and I would sell them either in Japan or in North America. Her command of the language, plus the fact that she was a local buying the scarves in some quantity, suggested that she might be able to secure a better price than I could ever negotiate as a foreigner. My access to higher-paying markets, on the other hand, suggested that there could be a decent spread between the buy and sell prices. She texted me back, and said that it was a lovely idea, but that she had no money to buy scarves, and thanked me profusely for thinking of her nonetheless. Of course I had no intention of her paying for them, and I told her that, but still there remained the problem of how to get money to her to get the fledgling business off the ground…