Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Interview with a cyclo driver

Known here in Cambodia as cyclos (pronounced see-clo), these human-pedalled taxis with room for one (or three if you're Khmer) aren't nearly as ubiquitous as they once were in Phnom Penh. These days the tuk-tuk, which is faster and can carry more, is increasingly the transport of choice for those wanting to carry a largish load. 

That said, there are still plenty around if you want to pretend you're Tintin or Snowy or Le Van Loc.

Le Van Loc; the idol of middle-aged tourists everywhere

The long rod with hat atop actuates the rear drum-brake
My careful observations have observed that the main custom seems to come from either greying (and in 50% of cases balding) tourists or old Khmer women coming home from market, often with a small field's worth of bananas. 

The welding work couldn't be described as beautiful but it does seem sturdy

I know why the greying tourist takes the cyclo. It's obviously so that they can feel like Tintin or Snowy or Le Van Loc. I'm not quite certain why Khmers use them but I think it's because they're a little cheaper than tuk-tuks. I would also like to think that it's a tangible and living example of the old-world wagging its tail. And while that's a nice thought, it's sad to think that, as any cricket fan will tell you, the tail may well wag a bit, but there comes a time when it must stop.

A tasseled mirror with the competition in view

Today I had a chat with Heng, a dapper and cheerful cyclo driver hanging out outside Kandal market. With his smart straw hat, red patterned shirt, black pleated trousers and fancy leather sandals, he wouldn't have looked out of place in a jazz bar in New Orleans. And it wasn't just his body that he'd decorated nicely; his cyclo was also something to be admired. It was adorned with tassels, gold and silver foil, fluffy borders around his mirrors, multi-coloured spokes, and plastic flowers. And I can't neglect the seat, upholstered in grey leather straight form a Toyota (I could tell because it had a Toyota logo embroidered in) and a diamante heart. The whole contraption looked like it had come straight out of Bollywood.

Grey leather and diamante heart

He says that he now makes between $2.50 and $5 per day as a cyclo. For the past seven years, he's spent the harvest period in his village near the Vietnamese border and then come to Phnom Penh to supplement his income by pedalling Khmers from ក to 

A well worn chainring

Soon after chatting with Heng, I was happy to see him pedal by with a paying customer on board. She didn't have any bananas but Heng didn't seem to mind.

Heng's happy but the customer's not so. And we know why; no bananas!

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