Oum Choeun Street Barber Oum Choeun has been trimming hair and shaving beards for more than a decade on Street 282 behind the Wat Langka pagoda. This week, Mech Dara and Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon caught up with him to find out what spots in the capital make the cut for the 45-year-old barber.
I’ve lived in Phnom Penh since the ’90s. I set up shop here near Wat Langka since about 2006. At other locations, I would get kicked out. We street barbers are only allowed to set up shop near schools and pagodas, because they are more accepting. If I rented a house, it would be too expensive, I could not support myself. I get some Western backpackers coming here; we use body language to communicate, but sometimes the foreigners speak a little Khmer. Foreigners maybe see street barbers as unusual, because they are not from a poor country where people rely on them. I have many clients, because I offer my services at a cheap price, so I get about 10 people per day.
I buy my equipment for hair cutting such as scissors, clippers, towels and combs at Olympic market. It’s reasonably priced and it’s close to my home. They sell good quality equipment there that lasts a long time at a good price, and my vendor is very friendly, so I always buy from them. I like to go to [nearby] Olympic stadium to exercise and watch people playing volleyball. Sometimes I’ll ride a bicycle there. It’s close to my home which is convenient. There’s always a good crowd of people there. It’s become more and more difficult to relax at the stadium though as they’ve been constructing buildings around Olympic stadium and there’s less and less open space. It’s become more and more crowded.
Royal Palace Park and Wat Botum
In my youth, I would spend my time at the Royal Palace Gardens and around Wat Botum. It’s where I would hang out and flirt with girls. For older people like me, it’s still the place to hang out, but for the young people, I think those days over. Now they all go to Koh Pich [Diamond Island]. The park has changed a lot since my youth. With every new Phnom Penh governor, the gardens and parks near the Royal Palace and also by Independence Monument have been changed and renovated in different ways. There used to be long flowers and big trees by the palace and Wat Botum, but it’s been replaced with tile pavement now.
My wish is to one day visit Aeon Mall. I have never been there and don’t know what it is like. I imagine it is a kind of supermarket. I want to see what things are in there, but I do not have money. I do not want to go unless I have money to spend there, even though it is free to walk inside. I think it is a very expensive place. Otherwise, I often go to Central Market, it’s very nice and I go there to buy shirts. It’s been remodelled and is more modern than it used to be. It was crowded and disordered. But because it’s prettier than other markets, I like to go there.
I like to drink my morning coffee at this shop on the corner of Street 63 and 240 before work at about 6am to 7am. The coffee is cheap and it’s a comfortable place for me. I open up shop from 7:30am, then I’ll then take my lunch break between 11am and 1pm and work until about 5pm. I take my coffee hot with sweet milk. I did not want to be a barber. I would like to have been a civil servant working at the municipal court, but I did not have the money to do legal studies. I would have liked to study this subject. I like the idea of there being laws – just laws – that need to be properly implemented for the people.