Climbing the Palm | God's World News
Climbing the Palm
Science Soup
Posted: May 01, 2024
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    Chin Choeun climbs a palm tree in Trapang Ampel village, outside Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (AP/Heng Sinith)
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    Chin Choeun cuts palm flowers to extract sap. (AP/Heng Sinith)
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    A farmer drops palm fruit from a tree. (AP/Heng Sinith)
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    Chin Choeun carries sap collected from palm trees. (AP/Heng Sinith)
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    Chin Ith, left, adjusts a pot of palm sap in Trapang Ampel village, outside Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (AP/Heng Sinith)
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    Chin Ith checks her pot of palm sugar. (AP/Heng Sinith)
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Do you love to climb trees? Could you climb them for 12 hours every day?

Chin Choeun does. And he’s done it for 36 years in a row!

Mr. Choeun says he’s one of the most skillful palm tree climbers in all of Cambodia. He collects palm sap. He and his wife turn the sweet substance into palm sugar.

The work isn’t easy. Mr. Choeun plans to retire in the next couple of years. “It was a job that I took over from my father,” he says. “It was his legacy, and I don’t want it to end because of me. But I know that it will be over after me.”

Why will it end? Because his sons and grandsons don’t want to take over the hard, dangerous work. Young people in Cambodia’s rural areas have other dreams now. And they have more chances than their parents had. Many move away in search of jobs in big cities. Some even relocate to other countries like Thailand, South Korea, or Japan.

What would you think of this type of job? As a climber, Mr. Choeun cuts into the stump that holds the fruit. He ties a bamboo container to the tree. It collects sap overnight. The next morning, he makes another climb to collect the container. Mr. Choeun’s wife, Chin Ith, boils the sap over an open fire. She stirs it until it’s just right.

Mr. Choeun starts work at six in the morning. He comes home at six in the evening. One day’s sap turns into 22 pounds of sugar. Mr. Choeun earns around $25 each day for his work.

The laborer deserves his wages. — 1 Timothy 5:18

Why? New opportunities give young people safer and better-paying work, while traditional work may fade away.

For more about tapping trees for sap, see Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls WIlder in our Recommended Reading.