For Dieter Billmeier, returning to Germany is not even a question. The pensioner has emigrated from his home country in 1972 and moved to Cambodia with a Khmer wife and two children 14 years ago.
“We will stay in Cambodia,” he says, stressing that he has no plans to go back at all. “I was always very fond about Cambodia because I have travelled a lot to Cambodia since 1989 on humanitarian reasons,” Billmeier says.
Nevertheless he is certain about his origin.
“I am a Bavarian,” Billmeier says. When introducing himself “I say I am a Bavarian first, and they say where is it, and I tell them it’s a part of Germany.”
Dieter Billmeier was born in Bamberg, around 50 kilometres away from the former East German border. His higher education concentrated on finance and banking. He joined the Commerzbank in 1971, having senior positions in Germany and later overseas in London, New York, Chicago, Paris and Hong Kong.
He met his wife in 1979. Together with other family members, she had fled the Khmer Rouge.
“We met in Paris and we fell in love in Paris and we married in Paris.”
In 1990, he started his own management and financial consulting business in Hong Kong.
“And I did that quite successfully for another 10 years,” Billmeier says.
On the day of the German reunification, Billmeier and his family were in Hong Kong. He said he and his wife opened a bottle of Champagne to celebrate.
“Of course I remember that. It was a great day,” he said.
After the Chinese took over Hong Kong in 1997, Billmeier and his family moved to Phnom Penh in 1999.
“No job, no nothing but with two kids,” he says, but adding that “I always wanted to live in my wife's country and this is one of the most interesting countries for me because it is her country.”
In Cambodia he continued to work as a financial consultant and advisor to the European Commission, German and other international development organizations, specializing in the field of general banking, micro finance and small & medium enterprise development.
From October 2007 until just recently Billmeier worked as vice president and advisor to the board and senior management at Canadia Bank in Phnom Penh. But he suddenly fell ill this year, taking him out of his daily routine at Canadia Bank for almost four months.
“I am in perfectly good shape again,” he says. “I came back from treatment in early June and then I told them I retire. I do not want to work every day anymore.”
Billmeier wants to spend the rest of his life in Cambodia.
“I am very fond of what’s going on in Cambodia,” he says. “Even though it is sometimes very slow, but I have seen the development the last fourteen years and I think the ruling party did a lot of good," he says.
According to Billmeier, one reason why many other foreigners decide to stay in Cambodia is because it is easy to do business here.
“For everybody who has brains, for everybody who has innovations, everyone, no matter whether you are German or anybody else, can do business in Cambodia, it is very easy,” Billmeier says. “Cambodia is one of the least difficult countries in my opinion to do business.”
He says he does not really miss Germany. Having found the places where he can buy rye bread and sausages, he says he rather prefers going to France every two years with his wife.
Although he decided to stay in Cambodia for good and not come back to Germany, his two sons are returning to their father’s country of origin. The youngest son, 19, will head off to Germany soon to study, while the older one, 27, has almost graduated from university in Frankfurt.
But Billmeier says he is still very interested in Germany because “Germany itself, of course it’s my birth place, I was born in Bavaria,” he says.
“I am extremely interested in what’s going on in Germany through the internet, so I am probably more interested in politics and economical points about Germany than any German I might know in Germany,” he says.
Today, Billmeier still works as a consultant, but at his own schedule and pace.
“I am enjoying life,” the hobby cook says. “I really enjoy life.”