"Neither does the maker ever settle in it, nor does the settler ever realize
himself in it." What it is?
Children in Cambodia often pose this riddle to pass the boring hours.
"A wooden mosquito net, right?" one might reply rather than the simply
answer: "A coffin."
Having long been deeply curious, I was granted the honor of interviewing a veteran
who has, for nearly a decade, been involved in the coffin-making business. Since
then I have discovered that it is not as funny as the young fellows think.
With this career you must pay taxes, patent ownership and make several other contributions
to the authorities, said Tay Hok Huot, 58, the owner of a riverside shop in Phnom
He complained that he could only earn enough to survive and never would become rich
selling two or three coffins a week.
"If this were a lucrative business, everyone would do it," he said, tapping
the top of a wooden mosquito net that he had just knocked up.
Huot says one good coffin may consume three or four logs of high quality wood, because
only the best water-proof parts are selected. Prices range from 10,000 riels up to
a couple of hundred dollars according to the financial means of the customer.
In Phnom Penh, you rarely catch sight of shops that make wooden mosquito nets. In
fact, there are only a few.
People seem reluctant to approach or even pass by these terrifying shops, believing
they may bring bad luck or induce nightmares. The shop-owner said people only come
to see him when when somebody dies, making him feel rather isolated.
When asked if he was happy to hear that a person had died and would need his mosquito
net, Huot strongly denied the charge,.
"We do not look upon money as important," he stressed. Furthermore, he
said he would even give away some mosquito nets to the poverty-stricken and would
gladly assist them through the funeral in the same way he treats the wealthy.
"Death levels all men," said Huot, using the ancient proverb, and described
his job as a business of mercy.
To prove his point when I refused to believe him, he promised to give me a wooden
mosquito net if I, unfortunately, died today or tomorrow.
Feeling rather upset and disappointed at his last remark, I waved good-bye and showed
my clean pair of heels.