O n a boring evening without cyclos around to bring me to my favored places, I happened to glance through the Post's letters. Promptly I collided with 'Spruce up the cyclos' by Mengly Chea, Revere, USA.
The writer from the USA likes the idea of having cyclo drivers wear nice uniforms to accommodate the fashionable tastes of the foreign tourists (from the US as well).
He compliments the inventor of the 'city life for the heart of Cambodia.' He also lists out 11 positive features of cyclo drivers wearing nice uniforms, including "solving social problems."
Here I am lost.
I admit, I am only a Westerner, and even after five years my understanding of Cambodians is not compatible with this US Khmer (assuming this from the name and location). But I have my small understandings. One is that the majority of cyclo drivers are poor, often without housing and poorly fed. Five dollar T-shirts are surely not much for a rich person, but for a cyclo driver whose profit after renting his machine is maybe $1 a day, or $2 at most?
The other small difference of opinion concerns the guests of the average cyclo-driver.
I like to be driven comfortably seated on a hardbacked cyclo, amazed by the skill of the driver to find every single hole in the road, looking at all this disciplined traffic passing left and right (and sometimes through). But I am not a usual guest, if I believe my wife - who is Khmer, and should know - and eyes.
They tell me that most passengers are Cambodians. A driver's clothes may be smelly, but the passenger is seated at the front, "down wind". A uniform will just make the price go higher, and it will be another poor person who pays this price.
My major difference of opinion with Mengly Chea is his optimistic view that regulations for cyclo drivers will benefit them.
In my understanding, one has to live here to know the ruling will only facilitate closer control. You are not wearing a government-issued uniform? You have to pay! How does this fit in with the idea that imposing laws would make Cambodia "become strong and prosperous"?
I understood democratic laws were designed to protect, not enforce. Should cyclo drivers start paying taxes to the government (point four of the writer's argument) in order to "accommodate the needs of rising tourist numbers" (point five)?
I have hopefully made my point, but I compliment the writer in his last "in addition" which I think is the real valid point to pursue.
Regulation and enforcement of the quality of cyclos would surely protect people. But this doesn't concern the drivers; they only rent the cyclos.
To impose this the government has to address the cyclo owners, but that would probably cause less prosperity.
I doubt for this reason that such regulations will be soon imposed.
- John Vijghen, Phnom Penh.