Since ancient times, pagodas have not only been considered places for Buddhist religious practise in Khmer society but also as valuable schools and as treasuries protecting Khmer literature. However, some pagoda fences in Phnom Penh are been used in different ways. How do the public, especially the young, feel about this? What are the benefits of doing business along the pagoda fence?
Wat Mohamontrei pagoda fence, for example, is used as a vehicle radius-tightening business area. Wat Botumvatei pagoda is used to sell street food, Wat Koh pagoda is used for wedding receptions printing houses.
Khin Saran, who as a high school student usually walks across Wat Mohamontrei pagoda, felt that it is good that radius-tightening men can be found in a specific place like this because it makes it easy when we need the service. However, radius-tightening men should not do anything inappropriate, like waving to call customers because it can cause chaos on the road and can interrupt the daily running of the pagoda.
Son Somaly, who often goes for a walk and does exercise in front of Wat Botumvatei pagoda in the evening, says: “Usually when I go for a walk or do exercise in Wat Botumvatei’s gardens, I also like to eat papaya poke poke, fried Chinese noodles because I can eat delicious food while enjoying the nice view and environment there.”
Wat Koh pagoda’s fence is famous for being used for business, especially wedding reception printing stores. As the owner of Srey March wedding reception printing store, March says: “I work here with other businesses because if there was only me, it wouldn’t work. Because there are a lot of stores here, it is famous as a wedding reception printing area.”
With more than 10 years’ experience here, she spoke of there being only four or five wedding reception printers along Wat Koh pagoda’s fence when she set up, and the area was unattractive and not very safe.
However, since more and more businesses arrived, it is better: hygienic, ordered and safe. She also clarified that doing business there is not dependent on Wat Koh pagoda, but rather they have to ask for permission from a police officer.
Eurn Sam Ath, a monk at Wat Ounalom pagoda, says: “It really has a strong impact on the daily life of the monks and the people on environmental concerns. The efforts of the monks in cleaning and constructing the suroundings have been destroyed because of the small businesses.” He added that another impact is the loss of people’s trust when they see pagodas surrounded by alcohol vendors, for example.
According to Long Dimanche, spokeperson for Phnom Penh City Hall, not only the sidewalk along the pagoda fence but also the sidewalks in front of shop houses are state possessions for serving the public interest, especially pedestrians. So using these sidewalks for business is not legal.
He says that City Hall has taken action such as educating people about not using public sidewalks. However, City Hall also understands the businesspeople’s position and allows them to use a third of sidewalk because they help repair the sidewalks in front of their businesses.
He also had some advice for all house owners: “Don’t consider the sidewalks as your own possession, and then use it to serve your own interests rather than the public’s, because it is public property for pedestrians only.”
“People should think about their own business – espcially, alcohol vendors near pagodas,” suggested monk Eurn Sam Ath.
Doing business along the pagoda fence can pose problems because it serves private interests more than it does the public. However, it has both advantages and disadvantages.
These depend on the responsibility of businessmen themselves. So all businessmen doing business along the pagoda fence should behave morally and responsibly, and avoid causing problems for other people.