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Inside Business: Business ballooning for Siem Reap resident

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Photo by: KYLE SHERER

Thouen Thear invested US$1,500 in his balloon game stall in Siem Reap.

SIEM REAP
THOUEN Thear owns a bos beut bong or pop-a-balloon game concession in a Siem Reap park, giving contenders the chance to win a prize and show off their throwing arms by bursting balloons with darts.

For seven hours a day, the 25-year-old entrepreneur mans his stall while punters pay to fling darts at a splintered wooden wall propped up behind him, where several rows of balloons are secured.

Thear's stall is on the edge of Angkor Pyung Yu, a public park less than 10 minutes by moto from central Siem Reap, where Cambodians gather to picnic, drink and exercise.

At 1,000 riels (US$0.23) per dart, Thear's game is cheap enough to earn the patronage of about 10 people every weekday, and up to 30 on the weekend. It's similar to what you'd find at carnivals all over the world, with one major difference: the prizes.

Instead of the stuffed animals proffered at most Western sideshows, Thear offers a spread of mundane but useful utilitarian commodities such as coat hangers, oil, dishwashing liquid, slip-on shoes and glasses, plus cans of Black Panther beer.

The most in-demand prizes, according to Thear, are the plastic baskets and bowls. "It's something that can be used every day," he said.

Thear said that he doesn't buy prizes based on how appealing he thinks they will be to his audience. The important thing is that they are cheap and plentiful, so he knows he can keep replenishing his stock.

"Every day at about 2pm or 3pm, I call the vendors at Phsa Leur market and top up my supplies," he said. "I try to keep a steady amount of each item."

Thear bought the stall for $1,500 three months ago, and running it is his first job. He said he chose the business because he thought it would be easy, and so far he has no complaints.

Thear's day begins with the early-afternoon trip to the market. In addition to prizes, he also goes through four packs of balloons every day, a total of 200. He said the total cost of the prizes and balloons varies greatly from day to day, but averages between $7 and $8.

Though the crowd at Angkor Pyung Yu is overwhelmingly Khmer, Thear said that the age range is broad. It's a popular spot for families, young dating couples and kids, all of whom are interested in taking a crack at the balloon game. Thear said the average customer is middle-aged.

Another dissimilarity to Western sideshow games is the success rate. Though most carnies could rig a game like Thear's, he said that about 80 percent of his customers go away with a prize.

Thear finishes work at around 9pm, and usually ends up with a profit of about 10,000 riels. Between 500 and 1,000 riels from the day's takings go to Thear's other overhead - paying a fee towards cleaning Angkor Pyung Yu.

Thear doesn't have any immediate plans to move on. If he did, he said he could recoup much of his money by re-selling his prizes at the market. But at the moment, he doesn't have another job lined up to replace it. "Yes, I like this job," he said. "I don't have a choice."

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