When offered a chance to move up and become something more, some may not think twice and sign and date. However, at least for this 41 years old tuk-tuk taxi driver, Sophun Sam did not hesitate in his choosing when offered up-front the opportunity to supervise a Japanese restaurant with the opportunity of becoming more than just a branch Manager. He knows what he wants. And he’s willing to invest in driving customers from dawn to dusk instead.
I was puzzled as Sam told me while his friend, the person who made him the offer sitting 2 feet away, was speaking to his other Japanese friend.
When asked whether it was due to the pay differential, Sam admitted that ferrying customers might not earn him as much as overseeing a restaurant for his Japanese friend. On top of the pay–which could do his wife and children a great favor–a shop Manager may also be more stable as a day to day occupation and give his family a peace of mind with regard to the safety nature of his current work and might also safeguard him and his family against the negative societal views associated with being a Tuk-Tuk driver.
“Being a hackman is not an easy task. I need to be at my peak”, said Sam “otherwise, I would not be able to carry out my 12-15 hr work each day. Every morning, I wake up at 4am to jog around the round-about of the Central Market to freshen up for the day.” The moment his children have been dropped off at school, the chase begins.
In Phnom Penh, it’s impossible to get the approximate counts of how many tuk-tuk taxi or motorbike taxi drivers there are. There is not an official census for this line of work. Any one who owns a tuk-tuk or a motorbike can become a makeshift taxi driver and start earning conveniently without having to register with any authority units. Union also does not exist; every man jumps on the opportunity to earn when he sees fit.
For Sam and others, getting passengers can also be a hit or miss. Sometimes, an overlooked wave by the passenger as they ride pass means a net for the next driver. Some can also be so focused on picking up the client that he would dismiss the red light and ease through the flowing wave of motorists to get to his client. I cringed as I saw this happening right before my eyes.
Luckily for Sam, with more than 10 years of riding experience, he has mastered the game. On top of picking up customers along the streets, Sam also has his own working website and Tripadvisor page to get him more traffic from out-country visitors. According to Sam, ferrying foreign tourists and visitors can earn him a more promising fare; this comes in the form of tips earned by his charisma and easy-going nature, which are not much valued by local clients.
Some frequent visitors who have been chauffeured by Sam, apart from continually patronizing his service when visiting Cambodia, do not hesitate to lend a hand in getting him more business. For instance, his current website and tripadvisor account were all created for him by one of his regular customers from Sweden who he now casually refers to as friend. In fact, his Japanese friend whom I just mentioned is also a frequent foreign client of his. Sam has also been invited to accompany him to Laos.
This was probably the reason why Sam enjoys his work even though if his win and loss is up to the stroke of luck, I thought. The evolving friendships between him and his customers thrive on his ferrying and accompanying his customers to their destinations. And to throttle down might consequently downshift their friendships.
But finally, I got to hear Sam’s own explanation as to why he chose running a taxi instead of a restaurant for his friend.
“My children need me,” explained Sam, “I am making an investment in my children; I can still come home at the right time and be with my children if I choose to be a hack man. It is true that the costs of living are taxing on me. The primary cost is school tuition. Every three months, I have to stow $420 dollars for their tuition costs. Some of my driver companions have commented that I should put the money to a more practical use such as moving into a bigger space and enjoying the income with my family instead. But for me, I don’t care if our family merely ‘gets by’. I want my children to go to good schools. And I want to have time for my children especially when they are stuck on their homework. I want to be by them as they are growing. And when they are all grown up, they will have the confidence and the skills they obtained from their father to carry out their lives independently. I pull the weight by their side so they’ll know how to in their adulthood.”
God helps man who helps himself.
Keep fighting, Sophun!