I have collected Seikos for a while now and my last acquisition was the Seiko “Frankenmonster” which I eBayed in from Hong Kong. 6 months after I received it the crown stem seemed to go rendering it almost impossible to change the time. The hands would move a bit but not circumnavigate freely as they should and the result was that I could not get the watch set at the right time. Then I came up with what I thought was a brilliant idea. USE A MAGNET TO STOP THE WATCH ! I can hear any watch aficionados out there groaning as…well….it turns out this is an absolute no no . Whilst it seemed to fix the watch in the short term about a month later it stopped altogether and shaking it revealed something was indeed loose and rattling around inside.Bugger. The official Seiko agent as at the Hotel Cambodiana so I went there only to be told it would take months to “possibly” get the parts and of course, postage would be huge.
So my beloved diver got put into a drawer and I reverted to another Seiko Diver and forgot about it for a while. Every now and then I would see the Frankenmonster ( so named for it’s beefy size ) in the drawer staring at me saying FIX ME FIX ME and the other day I thought I would take a chance and give it to an old guy at the local market who I had used to change some custom straps on some watches previously. I thought I would treat it as an exercise in trust,faith and a test of Cambodian artisans. If the old chap saved it, wonderful, if he didn’t I was prepared to wait until I was in country where I could get it fixed. I was actually quietly confident because the old man had an air of ” I know what I am doing” about him. With his tiny little work bench littered with tools and screws so tiny even I struggled to see them and watch faces and movements and all manner of bits and bobs, he reeked of ancient knowledge.
So I arrived with the watch and Boo ( as old men are called here on Cambodia ) is sitting down with his family eating lunch. I tell him of my woes and tell him I do not want to interrupt his lunch and can come back and he stops eating and says he wants to have a quick look at it. Whilst Boo sits at his bench and starts disassembling the watch with all the precision of a neurosurgeon, I chat with his grandson who tells me his 76 year old grandfather has been working on watches since he was 14. Boo tells me that Seikos and Rolexes have always been the most popular watches with Cambodians and during the dark Khmer Rouge era, sometimes a man’s watch and his ability to use it as a bargaining chip was the only thing between him living and dying. Seikos (whilst less valuable) were more popular because they could be worked on. I tell the son to pass on the information about using the magnet and Boo shoots me a look with his merly blue eyes like my father shot me the day I backed the tractor into the Landcruiser on our farm. After 15 minutes or so it is announced the watch needs a thorough cleaning and can I please come back in a few days.
I arrive back some days later and again I catch Boo having his lunch. Again he stops eating for me and as he slowly makes his way over to his bench I am full of anticipation. Has he done it ? Has he bought the monster back from the crypt ? The drawer is opened and hands me the Seiko with a slow smile. Via his grandson he tells me ” I had to fix a very small wheel inside but now it has been running perfectly for 48 hours already. I guarantee it for one year”. I am ecstatic. The old guy has come through for me and has even cleaned some paint off it that was a leftover from when I painted the front wall of the house. A final surprise is to come when I ask him how much I can pay him for this fantastic service ? He says it will cost me 40,000riel or…..US$10. I give him the $10 and then peel of another $5 and I tell him “loy tip” but he gives me a little Khmer lesson ” we call it Loy tuk tea” which translates literally as money water tea but basically means “tea money”. I load the watch onto a Nato strap and we all smile as it is placed back on my wrist. Boo gives me a brand new zip lock bag to put the temporary Seiko dial I had been wearing in and I shake his hand warmly and head off stoked that my faith in Cambodia and it’s people has yet again paid off.