Cambodia's cash-strapped cyclo drivers treated to pedal-in movie

The movie was a hit among the drivers. PHOTO: REUTERS

PHNOM PENH (REUTERS) - Presented with a movie, meal, medicines and a US$20 (S$26.50) cash handout, Cambodia's cyclo taxi drivers received a rare treat at the weekend, and a brief distraction from hard times as the coronavirus takes a toll on tourism.

Hundreds of drivers who are struggling to make ends meet were seen sprawled out in their pedal-driven vehicles during the special screening last Saturday (Jan 23), when a makeshift movie theatre sprang up in a grassy yard in the capital Phnom Penh.

They were shown the new film Fathers by local director Huy Yaleng, about a cyclo driver's daily battle to support his family.

"I teared up. I remember how I had to do anything and everything to support my family," said Mr Sun Sokhorm, 67, a cyclo driver for 34 years. "The story felt like my own story."

Cambodia's cyclo drivers have long been a popular choice for visitors keen to take in the sights and enjoy the buzz of Phnom Penh at a leisurely pace.

But the coronavirus pandemic's devastating impact on global travel has seen tourist numbers plummet, even though Cambodia has reported less than 500 cases, with no deaths.

Mr Sokhorm earns about a third of what he made before the pandemic, sometimes as little as US$3 a day.

"There's not much left over, but I can survive," he said.

The movie was a hit among the drivers, one of whom was 93, born just a few years before cyclos first appeared in the former French colony in 1936.

The pedal-in movie was the idea of student Taing Huang Hao, 20, who met Mr Sokhorm last month and has helped organise fund raising on social media for cyclo drivers.

In the latest round, he teamed up with the director Yaleng to raise US$5,000 to distribute at the private screening.

"They can see themselves inside the hardships portrayed by the movie, so they don't feel like they are going through this by themselves," he said.

"They are the storytellers of the city," he said.

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