By Lee Min-young, Video by Kim Kang-min
To take care of his old parents and young sisters financially, being the first child, and as well the sole financial provider in the family, Lokin toils at work for more than 13 hours of day. He works as a waiter at a restaurant in Cambodia, a valet parking agent, also part-time as a photographer and graphic designer to earn as much money as he can. Hard-pressed for more cash despite his already tiring day, Lokin jumped into modeling, hoping he could become famous one day to not only provide his family with a comfortable and big enough home, but to also become a proud son.
Lokin, 19, is the winner of the Face of Cambodia, a local search for models to represent Cambodia to vie for the Face of Asia title at the finals to be held in Seoul, Korea. He is staying at a hotel in Seoul with the rest of his fellow contestants from all Asian countries where they receive training and do auditions for designer brands before the final. He was busy doing auditions and shooting his profile photo, but he was able to make some time to sit down and share some of his stories with The Korea Times after his schedule ended at around 10 p.m.
"I work really hard to support my family and myself. I first saw posters of male models just a few years ago and I thought, 'I can do that, too. I can do better,' and from then on, I have put a lot of effort into building up my body, practicing walking and posing in front of the camera. And now I'm here, as a model to represent my country." Lokin said, excitedly, saying he could not have imagined getting this far several years ago.
"I was a bad kid," he said, carefully disclosing some of his darkest moments when he was going through puberty, "I once used to be a rowdy boy, part of a youth gang. I drank all day, roaming the streets with my motorcycle like a crazy kid. I got into some fights, too. I made my parents cry. I caused them so much pain."
However, he has now become a new person, working so hard for his family day and night.
"I changed myself into a completely different person. My father has grown too old to work anymore, so I have to take care of the family." He said. Lokin's father was a boxer in his early days but soon had to retire as he aged. He then worked as a driver and also flew here to Korea from time to time for some construction work but now he cannot even do that as his health is deteriorating. "I did not want my parents to think that I am a useless kid. I wanted to show them that I could contribute to the family. I want to do good things for my family, for the people I love," Lokin said with a light smile, a smile pure and innocent, as if he really meant it.
But his pursuit of a modeling career which he believes would be a good opportunity for him to get closer to becoming, in his own words, a "superstar" in Cambodia and hopefully also in many other countries, did not go without a hitch.
He first had to persuade his parents who were appalled by photos of their son posing in speedos, even to the point where they thought their son has gone "gay" for money ― a reaction understandable to some extent given that they are both from an older generation in the conservative Cambodian society. "I worked harder and harder, squeezing in time to go to the gym and build up my body while doing all other work at the same time. They now support me a lot, knowing that I want to do this so badly," Lokin said.
His agency gives him a lot of work, but the only problem is his other jobs, which make it impossible for him to make it to all them. "Modeling is becoming more and more popular in Cambodia and there is a lot of work for models, with the number of models rising to meet the greater demand, so I think the industry is growing fast." he said. He is confident that Cambodian models and fashion designers will get a better chance to be introduced to the world stage than before. "Cambodian models have the ability and talent to represent global brands and that is what I want to prove," he said.
Commitment, he says, is the key to his success. "I still have a long way to go to get closer to the kind of person I aspire to become, but if you ask me what is the most important quality I think makes a good model, I would say commitment because modeling is not an easy job. You have to be fully committed to represent your own country. Be committed, be confident about yourself, and take pride in your country's fashion, because you are the face of Cambodia."
Lokin sees himself in photography in 10 years' time. He wants to set up his own studio in Cambodia after his modeling career ends and spend the rest of his life taking profile pictures for young Cambodian models who, just like he did, aspire to become a big-time model.
"I love taking pictures, especially for other people," he said. "I want to take nice pictures for young Cambodians so that they can use them to achieve their dreams of becoming a model. I would love to be part of that dream."