Fireworks Sales Skyrocket During New Year

Just past Pochentong Airport next to Men Saroeun’s roadside shop hangs a rusty blue sign with faded white letters. “All types of rockets for sale,” it reads.

And this, Men Saroeun, 58, said, is fireworks season. He does a brisk trade year-round in selling fireworks, but at no time are sales better than the Khmer New Year.

“The best sellers are the 12 millimeters, 18 millimeters and 80 millimeters. I have 300 pieces in stock of the 12 millimeters,” Men Saroeun said, taking a cardboard sheet with shredded corners—his fireworks price list—from his wallet. Prices range from $1 to $50 per rocket.

Of course, there are drawbacks, he said. “For the 120 millimeter and the 130 millimeters, it will take three days in order to get them. But very few people look for them,” Men Saroeun said

In spite of the good news for vendors like Men Saroeun, residents of Phnom Penh have some bad news: Fireworks are not allowed inside the city limits.

“We do not allow families to use fireworks, even for birthday parties. We do not have the proper places like those in the countryside,” Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara said.

It’s nothing personal, the governor said, adding that he enjoys fireworks himself.

“We set fireworks for the water festival and Independence Day. Back in 1994, we spent around $50,000 on a three-day fireworks display. I like Khmer-made fireworks because that helps our local makers get markets,” Chea So­phara said.

That is exactly what attracted Men Saroeun, he said. Earning around $2 per day as a motorcycle repairman, he turned to fireworks sales to help feed his seven children, Men Saroeun said.

“Last month, I made $60” on fireworks, he said.

Men Saroeun said he buys his stock from a family in Takeo.

“They make good fireworks. If you keep them away from water, they’ll last a long time. One year, guaranteed,” he said.

But even in the countryside, where they are legal, fireworks can cause some trouble, Takeo Governor Kep Chutema said. Dur­ing his first year as governor, when people began a barrage close to his office, he at first thought he was under attack.

“I was terrified,” Kep Chutema said, laughing.

Ever since, authorities have asked people to let them know when they are going to be launching the rockets.

“So far, people enjoy them and no one has gotten hurt. At Phnom Chisor, we plan to launch 15 millimeter fireworks in the Khmer New Year. I hope the area will see more visitors this year,” Kep Chutema said.

And while business is good this year, Men Saroeun said, it could always be better.

“I hope this year, many people will buy more,” he said, smiling.

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