Memories of Battambang's Pepsi era

Memories of Battambang's Pepsi era

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Battambang’s Pepsi factory may no longer be in operation, but tourist guidebooks have put it back on the map. Photograph: Roth Meas/Phnom Penh Post

If you travel along the west side of the Sangke River about four kilometers from Battambang town down towards the Tonle Sap Lake, a pale logo of Pepsi emerges atop an old building.

It was once a Pepsi factory, but nowadays it has lost its fizz. Tourists who’ve stumbled across this factory often photograph it, especially the Pepsi logo, and post them on Facebook. Many of the accompanying comments say the cola factory was abandoned, but what they miss is that it has one resident: an 81-year-old man named Tri Nong, who says he has worked at the factory since 1972 and continues to take care of the property, receiving payment from Battambang’s Water Supply Department.

“When I arrived here, the factory had been running for several years,’’ he said.

“People called it ‘Seng Thai’ and we knew that it belonged to a rich man known as Eab Lean Huo.”

The factory produced the drink from a powder mix imported from Thailand, which was the source of the bottles as well. At its peak it ran both day and night, which was not unusual during the Sangkum Reah Niyum regime (1955 and 1970). Then, an industrial boom saw factories sprout up in many provinces across the nation. In Battambang province there were at least four factories: for sugar cane, textiles, hemp bags and, of course, Pepsi. Tri Nong says most people had jobs they enjoyed.

“When we finished our jobs, workers at other factories got off at the same time. We had bicycles, so we rode the bikes together and chatted with each other along the streets. It was a happy time. When I think about the past I am overcome with nostalgia,” Tri Nong said.

When the Khmer Rouge entered Battambang in 1975, workers were evacuated from the factory and sent to work in rice fields.

“Still, the Khmer Rouge didn’t completely close the factory. I knew that they started the engines to produce ice blocks and drinks to distribute to people sometimes,” he said.

The Pepsi factory re-opened when the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) arrived in early 1990s. Cambodian refugees returned from camps in Thailand and used the factory to produce ice blocks and drinking water.

Nowadays the factory is idle again, though empty bottles of Pepsi, Vita, Sprite and Fanta are still piled inside it, though the machines have been removed.

“Sometimes I saw Cambodian people, maybe from abroad, visit this factory,’’ the old man said. “I believed that they are the relatives of the former factory owner. I heard that some relatives of the factory owner are still living in France.”

Although the factory is idle and there are no plans to revive it, foreign tourists still visit it. The factory is now a listed as a sightseeing attraction in tourist guidebooks and magazines.

To contact the reporter on this story: Roth Meas at [email protected]

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