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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Female motodop a veteran of city streets – in a man's world

Female motodop a veteran of city streets – in a man's world

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Future's so bright, got to wear shades? Um Chantorn strives to remain optimistic.

It's rare that you see female moto-taxi driver – and there are various reasons why. The Post speaks to one to learn more

I am young and fit enough to work as a motodop at the moment, but I don’t know what I will do when I get old.

THE familiar cry - "Moto?" - comes, as always, but there is something different about it this time.
The ultra-competitive world of motodop driving in Cambodia is usually the domain of men. Men who will employ all manner of tactics and charm to ensure they're the person who parts you from your cash.

Yet if you search hard enough, you may well come across Um Chantorn, 37, a rare species in Cambodia: the female moto driver.
Um Chantorn has been ferrying passengers around Phnom Penh since she was 28 years old.

Since the breakup of her marriage in 2003, she became the head of her family, working to support her mother, two sons, younger brother, nephew and herself. She discusses her occupation with the Post and reveals how difficult it is to be a woman in a male-dominated world.

Why did you choose to work as a motodop driver in 2000?
Originally, I was a vendor in Phnom Penh, but I decided to become a motodop because many people owed me money for goods and didn't pay. I work as a motorbike taxi because I need to earn enough money to support five members of my family. I didn't want to be a driver originally; I just tried it for pleasure at first. After two or three days though, I enjoyed myself and became interested in the job. I've been doing it for almost 10 years now.

What are the main difficulties you face in your job?
The most pressing one is that I alone have to earn money for all the members of my family. Also, some people - especially male motodops - tell me that a lady should not be doing this kind of work. Some people say to me that if I don't have another job to do, I should go to work in a karaoke club. It is very tiring work as well; I am out under the sun from the morning until 8 or 9pm. I also have to be careful at nighttime because it can be dangerous. There are all sorts of people about after dark, and you can never be sure what drunken people are going to do.

What do you think when you hear people talk about you disparagingly?
I don't care what they say; I just do what I can. Everything is for my mother and two sons. I don't cheat people, and I don't rob people, so I have a clear conscience. If I sleep at home, I have nothing to eat. This is Cambodian tradition, I know, but I don't care because otherwise my family won't have anything.

How many customers do you have per day? How much do you earn?

I don't know the exact number of customers I have in a day. I just know that I earn 30,000 riels to 40,000 riels per day on average. Sometimes it is more than that, but sometimes I don't even earn 100 riels; it varies greatly from day to day.

Have you ever had a traffic accident?
No, I am always very careful when I ride my motorbike; I use a helmet and have a plate number.... I obey the traffic laws of our country. I am not proud on a personal level; the most important thing is that I ensure the safety of my customers.

Do you want to change your career?
Of course I do, but I don't have enough money to start a meaningful business. On the other hand, I don't like it when people owe me money, so being a businesswoman might be difficult.

What do you think about your future life?
I am young enough and fit enough to work as a motodop at the moment, but I don't know what I will do when I get old. It will make me very miserable because I am the one who earns money and supports the family. If I am incapable of doing that, I imagine I will be sad because it means I will have to rely on my sons to help me in the future.

Your career is pretty remarkable considering all the obstacles and difficulties. Do you have any reflections?
Women should never think they are inferior. This is still a problem in Cambodian culture. You have to do your best, get out there and work very hard ... and never, ever let people look down on you.

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