Main story: It has been more than a month since Abi Subba, 23, has been in the capital in pursuit of an employment after not qualifying for a bachelor’s degree in the country.
Unlike other students that are either opting for further studies or seeking an employment in private or corporate firms, Abi Subba is doing something different. He is working as a parking fee collector, a job many young people of his age are not attracted to.
Abi Subba found out about the job after his friend recommended him when he reached Thimphu. After being recruited, he started working near the city bus parking, opposite to the Changlimithang Stadium for three days. When his employer found that he was genuinely interested in the job, he was given a permanent spot near the Centenary Farmers’ Market (CFM).
Abi Subba wakes up early every morning and gets to his working spot before 9am. Since the weather becomes colder after sunset, Abi Subba dresses warmly with comfortable shoes, a cap over his head and a facemask to cover from dust.
On this particular day, Abi Subba is all dressed up in black, a go-to colour among the youth these days. He looks mysterious with the mask hiding his face. Since it’s a weekday, there are not much vehicles plying that area and Abi Subba sits sunbathing and sharing oranges with the few people in the vehilces that are parked beside him.
As soon as a vehicle parks in the area, Abi Subba rushes and slips a small paper behind the wiper of the vehicle. Before doing that, he notes down the time.
Weekends are the busiest time and one is usually left dumbfounded with the limited parking space. This is where Abi Subba and his colleague comes in, not only collecting the parking fees but assisting the drivers with backing of the car and other small helps that usually go unnoticed.
“Despite what others say, I love doing this job,” Abi Subba says. “There is a perception among young people that parking fee collector’s job is menial but I don’t think that way. It saves me from staying idle and, most importantly, it doesn’t keep my pockets empty.”
Abi Subba has to pay Nu 1,000 to his employer on Monday and Tuesday, after collecting from the parking space. If he earns more than that, then he is liable to keep it. He earns around Nu 400 to Nu 500 as extra in a day. During the weekends, he has to pay Nu 2,000 to Nu 5,000 to his employer, and whatever he earn as extra he keeps it to himself.
“The only challenge I face at the job is the weather. We have to work come rain or sunshine except for Monday, which is my holiday,” Abi Subba said.
Abi Subba is a young father and his daughter is a year and a half old. His family is back home in his village in Dagana. He lives with his cousin in Thimphu.
“I have the responsibility to look after my daughter and give her a good education,” Abi Subba said. “In the future, I want to return to my village and start organic farming if I can’t continue with the current job.”
On the other side of the CFM is Sangay Tshering, 42, with a green cowboy hat and friendly smile, which distinguishes him from other parking fee collectors. Sangay Tshering has been working as parking fee collector for the past three years in the same spot. He has seen many people come to work as a parking fee collector and the same leaving the job.
“Many find the job challenging, especially women due of the nature of the job. We have to work under any kind of weather. More than that, there are instances where we encounter rude people that refuse to pay the fee,” Sangay Tshering says. “When we face such challenging situation, we have no choice but to leave these drivers. If we go after them, we lose others that are willing to pay.”
Despite being a challenging job, Sangay Tshering says there are others that not only pay the parking fee but also gives him tip. “With experience, I have come to like this job plus it helps me look after my four children. Two of them are studying in a central school in the east.”
His wife and two of his younger children live in Samtse.
Today, the parking fee collectors are paid Nu 6,000 to Nu 7,000 every month.
“From whatever I earn, I have to spend on my children’s education and family back home,” Sangay Tshering says. “Living in Thimphu is difficult but I have no choice when it comes to employment because I didn’t study when I was younger. So I have to work whatever I get today.”
The number of vehicles has increased over the years, says Sangay Tshering. “There weren’t a rush for parking space when I started working but now it’s difficult to find a parking space especially during the weekends.”
And Sangay Tshering is correct. From the total 84,297 registered vehicles, more than half, which comprise of 43,652 is registered in Thimphu alone as of December 31 last year.
Lunchtime is almost near. Sangay Tshering and two other parking fee collectors discuss who can take a break for lunch. Sangay Tshering goes first. He visits a small restaurant near the parking space and quickly grabs something to eat. He returns to the spot and the next collector goes for lunch. Soon all return and resume their work until the day ends.
Its 8:30pm and freezing, and hardly any vehicles are around. This is the perfect time for the parking fee collectors to head home and wind the day off before beginning yet another long day tomorrow.