Mr. Ka is Asia
It was the year 2000 when we arrived in Cambodia for the first time. We had worked in many countries so we had long ago developed a sense of excitement for new cultures and environments. We hit the ground running.
A friend also working on our project had arrived just before us, so we moved into Golden Gate Hotel where he had set up camp.
We thought we would stay a few weeks and then move on to larger quarters, but as fate was to have it , we stayed at “the Gate" each time we returned over the next 5 years.
This is where we first bumped into Mr. Ka, at the foot of the stairs as he shouldered our suitcases for the trip to the room. Twenty –six hours in cattle class on obscure airlines had left us groggy, but in spite of this we each had a clear impression of Mr Ka.
We remembered Mr. Ka, a pudgy little man with bright eyes and and a natural smile that made us feel upbeat and lucky to be in “his” hotel. He was the hotel luggage lugger and fac totum, and they couldn’t have found a better fellow.
Our contract finished and we went on to other countries, but in 2 years, there we were at the bottom of the Golden Gates steps looking for Mr. Ka. No Ka. We were told he’d bought a moto and now was a taximan for the guests.
He had moved up in the world. A Moto ride is half the price of a tuktuk and sitting on the jump seat, you are really part of the street. Most of the locals take this.
Mr. Ka had saved every Riel he could squirrel away for luggage lugger tips and made his first big economic leap. He worked hard, was always available, was fair with prices and had that magnificent warm smile. So he became the transport default for shopping trips and quick dashes to the vegetable market.
On our third trip to Cambodia after a further 2 years a quick scan of the moto stand revealed no Mr. Ka. They said he was busy moving to his new house.
Our friends at the front desk told us that he had bought a house just a bit outside of town. He organised it so that his wife had a small store on the ground floor with household necessities in the classic Mom and Pop tradition.
Not only that, the inimitable Mr. Ka had upgraded to a tuktuk and was bringing in serious money….maybe, 5 to 10 dollars a day profit.
He saved what he could and on our arrival this year on a new contract, there was Mr. Ka, sent to the airport in his new car (new to him….a ten year old Toyota thumper.)with a smile that made us feel that the Prime Minister had sent him to greet us.
Hotels now use him to pick up guests in the airport or bring them out of town recognizing his utter reliability, good humour and determuined, if not elegant driving. Mr. Ka is now better dressed, has put on a bit more weight and has a business card to promote his car service.
How did Mr. Ka do it? There were many others at the Golden Gate with him when he started and are still there today even if they had better jobs than Mr. Ka, the luggage boy. Here are the things I observed of Mr. Ka:
He works hard. No complaints from Mr. Ka ever. No begging as well. Some of his peers think of various ways to milk the faring of their dollars. Not Mr. Ka. He provides a service and he gets whatever is paid him. He never talks about his family unless asked.
He observes and listens. He does not talk too much. No brags from Mr. Ka. He learns a lot by listening and observing other people.
He does what needs to be done. When things need to be done, Mr. Ka is there to do it or to help out.
He saves his money. He has clean clothes but no fancy sunglasses.
He is always fair.
He always helps the guests with no hand out, and so receives decent tips.
He must be able to swallow pride occasionally, but he has a clear objective in mind: his children will not be luggage luggers and with clear goals, he wins where others fail.
In fact, he has the same determination and attitude that our parents and grandparents had of personal responsibility for creating a positive future for his family.
A vision with a workable attitude seems to triumph every time and built on the Mr. Kas, this is why others in Asia are gaining economic momentum, while others languish.