After talking to a lady working as a massager in one shop, I can't imagine how I can make a living in a modern town of Siem Reap with a 55$ salary per month; including paying on a house rent, electricity, water, food and even raising an old mother? Can you? Comparing to my everyday expense, I might be dead.
Living standard in Siem Reap town is as high as in Phnom Penh city, and both places share similar modernity running beyond other towns in Cambodia. Today after dinner, I went to get a massage with one of my colleagues as we both feel a bit tired after having traveled a long way back and forth to work in the field. It was my first time to get a massage since I started working in Siem Reap for a month plus; I am a new comer. I just moved here from Phnom Penh.
When I stepped into the door of a massage shop, a lady welcomed me warmly. I was asked to sit comfortably on the chair, and my both legs got washed by that young lady name Da, 24, before she took me and my friend to the room for massage. Her massage technique with a comfortable place and a very low light from the bulb almost made me fall a sleep. However, with my curiosity about how the people's living in Siem Reap, I tried not to close my eyes so that I could find out what I want to know from her.
Da is from one village of Siem Reap province, around 25 km from the town. Her village is just a few kilometers from our famous temples Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. Her family is a farmer. Sadly her father was dead for long, leaving her mother with two daughters; Da and her younger sister.
Her mother has raised her and her sister by growing rice. Now her mother is too old, so it's time for Da and her sister to make a living by themselves. In these last several years, there has been no enough rain for the people to make a farming in her village. The rice yield is low that reduces the people's annual livestock. The time for migration of the people has begun.
As growing rice can no longer afford her family's living, Da and her sister decided to come to the town to look for a job. They both don't even finish elementary school so it's hard for them to find a good job in the town. Da said most of the girls from her village come to work as a massager in Siem Reap town. As she has no other choices, she also started her career in this field.
Da's sarlary is only 55$ per month but she has to works from 12 pm to 12 am and 28 days per month. Tip is the only extra money that can help supplement her everyday expenses. However she does not get much from that as the massage shop she is working for is small with only 6 staff, and does not have many customers. These days, Da has to rents a small room which costs her 30$ a month including an extra paid for electricity, water and food. She rarely spends on other stuff besides these four things.
To be able to pay for the rental, she has to share that small room with her friends to cut down her expenses. Everyday, Da dares not spend on anything besides food because she does not only need to save money for the rental, electricity and water but also for her mother who is staying a lone at home in the village.
She said that even though she tries all her best to save, she will never be able to save any cent. With some extra tips she gets from the customers, she can only buy some rice and sends to her mother at home. In short, she does not have even a cent left at the end of the month. That's what she means. I ask her what if one day she gets sick and cannot work, how can she survive and where she gets the money from to treat herself? She looked at me and then put her face down and said: "I don't know". It seems that she has never thought about that. She just earns a day for a day without thinking of the future consequences. She might thinks actually, but she cannot do anything better for now.
Da never enjoys life of having food in restaurant, BBQ, clubbing... even massage, she only provides but never receive.
Da's imagination is to get back home to live with her mother. Asked her what she want to make a living in the future, she said she wants to be back home making a living by raising pigs and chicken and farming. She likes her life in her village than in the town. Life in town is more competitive and everything is about business. As a low-educated person, living in the town, your life will be more like a suffered rather than a better.
However she does not know when will she be able to save enough money to start her goals as she has not save even a cent yet.
This is just a small part of her life that she told me during one hour of massage. She actually has faced many more problems since she moved to the town. On her first day in the town, she got lost with its modernity and got so much pressure. One example: before she comes to the place she is working now, Da used to work in two places already. The reasons that she move from one workplace to another because of the low salary, and she got many problems with previous places. She told me that before she came here (the place I got a massage), she said her manager in the previous place is a gay man who is always means to the girl staff, and he never treats fairly between a boy and a girl. He puts pressure on the staff and find many way to cut down the salary of the staff for his own pocket. Once he lost his spoon (just a spoon), he cut down 5$ from the 60$ of all staff's salary. It was non-sense, she said. She found hard to live in the town already with her 60$ salary per month. She and her many other of friends spent many months tried to work under pressure. They all left the place when they found a new one.
Reflecting to my thought of Siem Reap, I would call it the province of a "wrong expectation". It does not mean anything critically; I just proof that my expectation is wrong. Before I thought Siem Reap was the richest province, that all people enjoy their lives well, after Phnom Penh; in contrast, the research proof that it is not even one of the richest provinces but the third poorest in the country !!! it is developed only in its small town only. Really out of expectation !!!
Now I keep thinking why can't the place, rich in natural and cultural resources like Siem Reap, cannot raise its people healthy and wealthy? What are the root causes? And what are the solutions? Answer !!!