Living in a developed country might be the ultimate aim for many people. Ly Meng has experienced that, but still feels that being in his home country is where he can find real happiness and live life fully. It is the place where he has the greatest opportunity to contribute to the younger generation as well as start a business. Having spent about seven years in New Zealand, Mr Meng has experienced a lot. He realised that the power of sharing is important to developing one’s humanity. Mr Meng shares his story with Youth Today’s Say Tola.
YT: When did you leave Cambodia for New Zealand and why?
Meng: With my mother’s support at age 15, I left Cambodia when I was about to reach Grade 12. At that time, my father had stomach cancer. My family spent lots of money treating him, yet what he wanted most was to see his children receive a higher education as well as studying abroad, as his generation couldn’t pursue that due to war and internal conflict in the country.
I don’t really know where the inspiration came from. I just thought that if I was to live in Cambodia, I wanted to contribute to the country’s development. Yet at that time, I didn’t really know what I could do.
YT: What did you do in New Zealand?
Meng: The school system there is really different from here, meaning that they have 13 grades and I had to start from Grade 11 again. I couldn’t pass the exam, so I started studying for an associate degree and then continued to a bachelor’s degree.
It was tough, yet I received a good education. Their system encourages students to find a strong argument and debate the ideas they read in books. I learned to question the things I had been told. I soon started to get homesick and wanted to come back to Cambodia, though my father didn’t want me to do so.
While studying, I worked as a dishwasher and cleaner for two years. After graduating from high school, I was encouraged to study hospitality. I didn’t know what it was, yet I was strongly interested as I heard that I can wear a beautiful uniform all day. I then got a chance to intern for 10 days at a four-star hotel. On my first day, I broke a glass and cut my arm. Due to my strong passion, I tried to keep doing it, but I was told to leave. I found that sometimes people like the idea of doing things, but they aren’t sure once they do it in practice. Once you have been challenged, you will know whether you really belong in a field or not.
I didn’t get a job there, yet I was later offered an opportunity when the manager there met me at university, as I had done my best. (His university had an opening for students to find work by welcoming guests from many hotels). I believe that good things you do today don’t necessarily pay off immediately; but they will pay off someday.
I got a job as a bartender and worked really hard. Six months later I was promoted to supervisor at the age of 19, while others took two years at least to be promoted. I found that being a bartender is like being an artist, meaning that it requires an artistic approach to attract the customer. I think it requires not only skill, but also heart and passion. It also requires creative thinking.
YT: Why did you decide to return?
Meng: It is human nature. I realised that I did miss my family, food, arts and culture and my country. Living there changed me a lot. Before that time, I didn’t like Khmer classical songs or arts, but there, I even listened to Cambodian songs from the 1960s and would sing them. That is the reason that I can still speak Khmer fluently.
The lifestyle was really rushed in New Zealand; I didn’t even have time to eat breakfast as I started working early. I had to get up at 3 am, spend 30 minutes getting ready and 30 minutes walking. Actually, the work started at 5 am, yet I wanted to prepare for my work well. Another thing I like about the Cambodian style of living is gathering with family.
Besides that, I see great opportunities working in the hospitality and tourism sector, and startups. I personally believe that you can’t wait for opportunity to present itself; when one comes along, grab it.
After working for Le Mont Hotel in business development for a while, I decided to open the Domrey Lounge when I was 23. Though it is small, I hired 11 youths to work there. That is my small contribution to the community. They are all my neighbours and youths who are students from universities.
I’ve gotten to know that the education sector is really important in developing a country. As I am inspired by my friends who are teachers, I started teaching staff in the hotel both soft skills and technical skills every weekend.
YT: With a busy schedule managing the hotel and the lounge, how do you still find time to share your knowledge with the young ones? What drives you to do it?
Meng: It comes from my compassion. I realised that everyone is busy, yet if you have a strong passion for doing such things, whatever happens you still try to overcome it. However, I can share my personal experiences to inspire people, which doesn’t take a lot of time.
YT: Do you think this power of sharing will change people’s mindset towards the hospitality field in Cambodia? How do you implement it?
Meng: I personally think that Cambodians are really qualified and have potential. Sadly, they sometimes lack an inner feeling for sharing. That is why I empower them with soft skills. People prefer to act in their own self-interest, yet one entity cannot grow unless they join hands and do it together. My strategy is to build team spirit in the beginning.
I’ve seen lots of positive change regarding this skill nowadays. I started a training class, yet I changed it into a sharing and discussion session to engage them to be more active and understand each other. Aside from that, everything must start with the self.
YT: How do young Cambodians perceive sharing of knowledge and skills with others? Are they active in giving other people ideas based on their expertise?
Meng: From my experience in doing public talks; knowledge-sharing sessions; and training work at the Hotel, I found that young Cambodians are passionate about sharing and helping their peers, or simply about giving back to society. I think they all understood the importance of teamwork, which motivates them to be active in sharing their ideas and expertise. Sharing knowledge and skills is an important key to spreading love in our society; in particular, it will help us develop the society we live in.