Our work here this year focuses on Silk Island, where many people make their living weaving silk.
Since 2010, when I came to Cambodia for the first time, changes have been rapid. There are many more vehicles on the street, causing huge traffic jams in the morning and evening rush hours. And much better cars too.
Products in supermarkets are marked in US dollars, and the prices are comparable to those in Hong Kong and the USA. Imported salmon seem even more expensive than those in Hong Kong.
Yet the salaries are roughly an order of magnitude lower. A school teacher makes 100 to 300 US dollars per month. A tenant in the slum in Stung Meancheay proudly told me he makes 300 dollars a month working in a casino, more than most secondary school teachers.
Yet a carton of milk can cost him a full day’s salary.
On the other hand, an expatriate teaching English as a second language can expect to make more than US $1,000 per month.
Obviously the clients of these supermarkets are not the local teachers. And equally obviously, there is no lack of clients who can afford these products. My students wonder who these clients are and how they make their money.
Consider on the other hand the lives of people on the Silk Island.
A hand-weaved scarf takes many hours of work. Yet it fetches only US2 on the Island, just enough to buy a dozen eggs but not enough for a carton of milk.
Many of the households on Silk Island do not have electricity or running water.