An Inspirational Hackman

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Figure 1. Tuk-Tuk (n.) a chariot drawn by a motorbike.

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.

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Figure 2. Sam Sophun, an over 10 years experienced Tuk Tuk driver in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

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!

Sam Sophun’s website:
http://tourphnompenh.com/
Sam Sophun’s tripadvisor:
https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g293940-d11910971-Reviews-Sophun_Tuk_tuk_and_Van-Phnom_Penh.html
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I Spent 25 Minutes, Standing Still, in A Mental Ward

This post is to capture what took place at another mental ward in Selangor, Malaysia that I also visited along with the one on which I wrote a blog. Read here. No pictures were taken at this second site because I deemed it moral not to do so.

My first impression of the ward was that it was aesthetically appealing and equipped with ample security systems to monitor and prevent the admittees from wandering off-site.

This second establishment that we visited (I, together with Mr. Tan and his wife) right off the bat earned our assumption as a better-off ward than the first one I had mentioned. Hence, I did not offer to do anything for the center. But just like the first center, I asked to be in the ward where the mentally impaired children were staying. And in there, I spent 25 minutes in complete stillness and silence.

Here are the events I quickly jotted down after my 25 minutes inside the ward, where the mentally impaired children were roaming freely:

One boy wouldn’t stop talking to himself. He was very impassioned in his speech. But he was talking to no one.

One girl came close to me such that there was only a few inches of space between us. She stared into my eyes and kept humming. She waved her arms left and right and slowly rested them on my forearm, and was seemingly curious who i was. She returned again and again.

Another boy sat upright against the wall and wouldn’t stop jerking against the wall. Thump! Thump! Thump! But no one knew what the reason behind his doing was and no one tried to stop him from possibly hurting his own back.

Two kids, one lying flat and dormant, another lying normal to him and rested his head on his stomach and rolling his entire body back and forth while blowing raspberry. The dormant boy stayed the way he was

One boy would not cease intruding on Mr Tan’s wife, taking hold of her arm, leading her to the back of the room. After once, Mr. Tan’s wife hesitated. After approaching her a few more times, she had no choice but to leave the room.

One kid, in shorts, shirtless, was walking about aimlessly. It does not take a genius to perceive the damages his underlying conditions have done to his mental state and bodily figure.

A few boys would every so often slip their hands into their pants and shorts and rub their genitals.

Some were able to communicate with the wardens and joined them in folding clothes.

Another boy would always be lingering around me. He looked the most unaffected; none of his facial or bodily figure was ravaged by any of developmental disorders that had others. He was so intrigued by my watch. When he pressed the buttons and the watch beeped, he gave it the attention of the world.

I later learned that this boy was autistic; he was one of the few that did not deserve to be amassed in such a space….This last boy  was one of the remarkable that could possibly gain his social and life skills to mingle with the rest of his generation.

Over a month after, I still think about his gleaming eyes when he stared at the watch with his undeterring excitement. It reminds me of how a learning process should be and how a pursuer for an answer should be as relentless and focused to the degree as that boy had displayed.

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Figure 1. the watch that fascinated the young boy in the ward.  Picture taken inside a coffee shop in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

After witnessing the ward and conditions of the admittees, I have a strong belief that things could definitely be done to improve the quality of life for each individual in there.

I spent 25 minutes in there, and although I am not diagnosed with any of mental disorders (hopefully never), I could feel my consciousness and will-to-live slowly being extorted from me just by standing in there. An already impaired mind, deprived of its own command of its actions and will, being trapped in such a place will only have its essence further unwilfully drained from it.

It’s true to acknowledge the void you have and seek help. This is most-often heard in relation to those feeling depressed. But from whom to seek is also a factor that could determine recovery or deterioration. In the case of this mental ward, it will do the patients more good by re-designing its care programs to make them more individualized or condition-oriented; a Down-syndrome child may need assistance round the clock in aspects of taking care of oneself and managing his/her hyperactivity, but this program may not be necessary for a child of autistic conditions. Instead, a program to teach him/her to become the master of his/her own concentration and the application of this special attention may be crucial in determining recovery or deterioration.

There is a popular euphemism that associates with mental conditions, in that they are a form of gifts. And it is true. Many famous figures including Albert Einstein and Issac Newton also lived with autism of one form or another. And they grew up to be remembered, but by having developed in the right conditions. In other words, although autism may be a gift, it needs the right set of hands to untie the ribbons to unwrap the true capacities that are trapped within.

Although autism may be a gift, it needs the right set of hands to untie the ribbons to unwrap the true capacities that are trapped within.