IN a city that doesn't offer many leisure-time activities for its younger inhabitants,
an increasing number of Phnom Penh's kids and teens have taken up a hobby that even
their parents feel at ease with.
Roller-skating or roller-blading has become a popular pastime both in the streets
and in specially designed rinks. And as the price of the secondhand skates, imported
from Korea, has dropped, even less-well-heeled children can afford rolling around
town on wheels.
In front of the General Post Office, 13-year-old Meing Samady spends his days watching
the parked cars together with an extended group of friends. Among them they have
five pairs of battered roller-skates, all bought with money that the young lads earned
A month ago, Samady had managed to save 5,000 riel to buy his own pair of battered
green and yellow roller-skates. Every day he takes them to the post office and lets
his friends borrow them when he gets tired of tooling around.
"We have more fun with the roller-skates. Sometimes we will try to follow a
car or a motorbike in the street or cling on to them. I've fallen several times,
but it didn't hurt very much," says Samady.
More affluent teens are attracted in droves to Phnom Penh's three roller rinks. In
a well-hidden square between the Bassac Theater and the Hun Sen fun park, kids flock
to one of the fenced-in rinks for a short break between school lessons or a few hours
of rolling fun.
For 2,000 riel an hour anybody can rent a pair of roller-skates and race around on
the square rink with a mogul on one of the long sides. The faster - and therefore
more prestigious - roller blades cost 3,000 riel per hour.
Accompanied by ear-splitting rock music, kids of all ages swivel around the rink
in a chaotic whirlpool that resembles Independence Monument at rush hour. Beginners
tiptoe cautiously around the edges, while others show off with daring jumps, pirouettes
and backward skating.
Streetwise, lanky youngsters mingle with pre-teens in school uniforms. Giggling school
girls swap their neat platform shoes for worn-out boots on wheels and roll around
hand-in-hand. Even "orange squeeze" girls and young prostitutes come here
for a break from their daily grind.
The rink is open every day from seven in the morning and sometimes until as late
as 11 in the evening, with its busiest hours after classes end in the afternoon.
Thirteen-year-old Ouk Phirun goes to the rink every day to play for at least half
an hour. His father taught him to roller-skate when he was six years old and has
even bought him a pair of skates that Phirun uses at home as well.
"I like roller-skating. It makes me more happy when I skate fast. It's also
good exercise," says Phirun while taking a break to cool down after a robust
few laps around the rink.
While he's resting, the narrow entrance to the rink clogs up. A group of young boys
are anxious to enter, while a tall teenager stops to primp before the frequently
used mirror on the fence. With comb in hand, he carefully rearranges his bristling
fringe that has gone unruly from the sweat and the wind.
Then he struts out to his mates on the rink and a new group of eager skaters are
off and rolling.