Four years ago, when Kinley Wangchuk scored 49% in his class 10 final exams and therefore did not qualify for higher studies, he wasn’t too disappointed.
He had already mapped out plans to travel to the city of his dreams– Thimphu. But on reaching Thimphu, his dreams fizzed out quickly when he encountered real life.
Today, as Kinley drives his red Alto car to work from his home in Olakha, he still remembers how his friends sneered at him when he told them he was going to become a parking fee collector.
“They told me I was a ‘tsagay’, to work as a fee collector after completing class 10,” Kinley says with a smile. But for him, a job was a job, and he didn’t mind any kind of work as long as he could earn money to support his family.
At 23, Kinley is the eldest in his family, with a younger brother and two sisters. Kinley says that he had a tough life even as a boy, in his village in Samadingkha, Punakha. His father decided to dedicate himself to religion, and the responsibility to support his family fell solely upon Kinley.
“Survival in Thimphu is scary,” he says sticking a parking ticket on a white Maruti 800 car. Kinley pays Nu. 5,000 a month for his 2-bedroom apartment in Olakha, where he lives with his mother and sisters. He is paid a salary of Nu. 8,000 a month, on the condition that he deposits Nu. 3,500 to his office from parking fees every day.
“If I cannot deposit Nu.3, 500 daily, my pay gets deducted, but if a day’s collection exceeds Nu. 3, 500, I get to keep it,” he says with a smile.
He says with some amusement that he began as a supervisor, but later chose to collect fees instead because the money is better, even though the title is less fancy.
Returning after chasing down a car to collect Nu. 30, Kinley says his three-year experience as a parking fee collector has taught him a thing or two about human nature.
Sometimes people refuse to pay him, and there have been those who do so with anger, referring to the fees as ‘gunda tax’.
“Once a man lost his temper when I stpped him from leaving without paying. That night, he sent two boys to threaten me,” he says, mystified at this reluctance to pay.
However, he admits with a grin that people sometimes leave a tip.
While the job is interesting, Kinley expresses dissatisfaction over the feeling that he isn’t able to do enough for his family. He hasn’t considered getting married– he’s too busy trying to ensure that his siblings have a better future.
“I can’t think of extending my family and adding to my responsibilities,” he says. His brother works in a workshop in Thimphu and his two sisters are still in middle school.
Kinley says that he has no expectations from life. “I just want a good life for my sisters. In this life, that would be enough for me.”
He feels that the general attitude towards jobs like his is changing, and people have more respect for it now. “If everyone goes to offices, who will clean the streets and do other work?” he asks, adding that he has several friends now who have, like him, studied till class 10 and become parking fee collectors.
In a day, Kinley collects money from more than 200 vehicles parked in the Mojo Park area. “This is a busy spot– it is tough to find free parking space here,” he says. On an average, he saves around Nu. 6,000 a month from his earnings.
Kinley observes that the number of vehicles have increased drastically in his collection area. “Our daily deposit to the office depends on the spot. In Jojo’s lane I had to pay just Nu. 2, 000, compared to Nu. 3, 500 here.”
Kinley is right about the increasing number of vehicles. Of the 71,681 vehicles registered in Bhutan as of March 2015, 50% of the vehicles are in Thimphu.
If you are in the Mojo Park area, it is very likely that you will see Kinley, running with tickets and money in hand, and often with a smile on his face. Perhaps you will even see him on a movie poster soon– Kinley says that he has been given a part in an upcoming Tshering Wangyel movie!