As Khmer New Year approaches, businesses in the city are preparing for a special request from police, firefighters and other low-ranking civil servants—beer.
Many government employees get about a week off for the holiday. It’s a time for families to come together, bless their homes and prepare for the upcoming year. But not all civil servants will be celebrating.
Some, like Peou Puty, a firefighter, will be spending the holiday on call. That wouldn’t be so bad, he said, except that he and his fellow firefighters don’t have enough money from their paltry salaries to buy beer to celebrate. So they wrote a letter to businesses, asking them to donate some spirits to their fire team so that they can celebrate along with everyone else.
“Yes, we wrote to them for some drinking,” he said. “But we did not write it to give them any pressure. If they give it to us, we will bow our heads and say a million thanks.”
Some businesses don’t see it that way.
“This request is made every year for the tradition festival in Cambodia,” said Nguon Leng, vice chairman of a petroleum company. He said his company always receives letters from government officials, particularly from low-ranking policemen in commune or district headquarters. Nguon Leng said his company usually does not donate beer, but he does sometimes give a small amount of money for fear if police or firefighters might not do him “a favor when we require an intervention.”
“We sometimes give them the cash or beer they request because we feel there is Khmer solidarity,” he said, adding, “This now has become a bad practice in our society.”
Local restaurant owner Ou Socheata said she feels pity when police ask her for beer. “If they ask for too much, I cannot do it,” she said. “But if I do give something, it is from sympathy only. They are very poor because their salaries are very small.”
Peou Puty said asking for beer is a small compared to what the “big people” do. “The superior of the police or senior government officials are asking too,” he said. “But the bigs go to the big companies, and the smalls like us ask enough for our stomach only.”