Collecting hand-painted signs from Kratie

Transporting the loot

I’d been considering buying a handful of signs that I really like for a couple of weeks and had even got as far as opening negotiations with a couple of the owners. I then had to go to the countryside for a few days with work and came back to a fantastic surprise. My wife had cunningly been extracting information about the ones that I really like and taking money from my family to buy them for me as birthday presents. The result is four hand-painted signs from Kratie now adorning my living room. Amazing!

Sam Roberts at home with his original hand-painted signs of Kratie

Me and my signs

The whole idea of collecting them was inspired by Joel Montague who did something similar in the 1990s. I had already asked for his advice which, among other things, consisted of finding a local to help you bargain, not saying you are a collector and avoiding turning up to buy one sign with another already in your possession. It seems like my wife sensed most of this intuitively and this haul is evidence of her success in doing so. There was some tough bargaining involved and all the key targets were secured with the exception of the coveted flying pig whose owner would not budge from an extortionate $150.

In another case an offer of $65 was made but the owner was adamant that the price was $50 – no complaints from my wife there, deal! After securing the purchases there was the practical aspect of removing the signs from their mounts. In one case this involved hiring a metal cutter and its handler to saw the sign off its post using electricity borrowed from the adjacent shop. After its removal the top portion of the pole was lobbed off for a clean cut sign to take home. (The scarf around the worker’s head is the traditional chequered multi-purpose Krama which is seen all over Cambodia.)

Worker removing the top of the pole after cutting down this hand-painted sign in Kratie

Neatening up the removed sign

One of the signs that I now own is the one shown below. I had always seen it displayed showing this side and had no idea there was another treat in store on the back. The second sign is in better condition but I’ll save sharing it until the publication of the book in November.

Cambodian hand-painted sign showing a retro women's hair cut

Thank you to Gilly, Nipun and Coline for organising an amazing surprise and to Mary and Anne & Derek for your generosity in financing the purchases. It will be interesting to see if the shop owners take the hand-painted route again for their new signs, or whether our actions will lead to their replacement with new printed formats. I’ll update as soon as I see any of the new signs appear…

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