This weaving factory was formerly leased by a foreign firm which left after the 1997 coup, like so many others leaving a cumulative debt to Cambodian creditors of around $70,000.
PING Meng Yi's mattress factory is the last stronghold of
a once thriving local industry now decimated by flaky
foreign investment and competition from low-quality,
Based in Prek Tamark, Kandal, the factory was set up in
1980 to weave mattresses from locally-grown reeds.
Since that time more factories have sprung up, many owned
by foreign investors mainly Korean and all much larger
and more sophisticated.
This changed the shape of the weaving business.
What was once a cottage industry became instead centered
round large factories.
While this gave locals a regular income it did not
provide them with the job security they once believed it
Following last year's coup the foreign investors fled the
area leaving debts of more than $70,000.
But of greater concern was the changes they had wrought
in a local industry.
The initiative was taken away from local people, many of
whom now hang round their old work places hoping the
owners will one day return.
Peng Meng Yi, on the other hand, is forging ahead as best
she can, but she admits it is difficult.
She said that plastic mattresses from Thailand, the
Korean economic crisis (Korea had been a major importer),
and competition from Vietnam which imports local reeds
and makes mattresses there had all contributed to the
decline in business.
She added that last year's coup had also interrupted the
flow of stock to neighboring countries, which in turn
found alternative suppliers.
One of Ping Meng Yi's weavers contemplates a dying industry
Yi's husband, Bun Sothea, said that it was not just
external problems that had plagued the industry. Local
businesses had not been innovative enough. He said that
compared to Cambodians, the Vietnamese seemed more
They did not just weave mattresses, he said, but used the
same weaving techniques to make curtains, bags,
table-cloths, pillows and car seat covers.
"The Vietnamese people are very clever, and they are
very proficient at business.
"They bought low-quality reeds from Cambodia and
made items as good as the Cambodians could make from the
best quality reed."
He would like to see Cambodians follow the Vietnamese
example and develop new products in an effort to boost
the industry. As an example, he suggested locals should
begin making the traditional mattress that Koreans use
for their wedding ceremonies.
Meanwhile the other worry for local producers is the
prevalence of cheap, plastic mattresses from Thailand.
However, Cambodian manufacturers point out that they are
very uncomfortable and hot to sleep on because they don't
allow air to circulate.