Mates are more important than anything else for Paul Ouk, an Australian-born and raised ethnic Khmer.
“It’s not about the money, it’s about the people,” says Ouk, who owns Me Mates Place, a guesthouse on Street 90 and a restaurant and bar on Street 88 called, appropriately enough, 88.
Ouk was born in Melbourne, where his parents had settled after fleeing the Khmer Rouge. During his school years, he never felt motivated and was unsure what to do with his life.
“I thought I wanted to be a businessman, but I had no idea what a businessman was” he says.
When he finished school, Ouk worked as a landscape gardener on weekends and washed dishes in a reception centre at night.
During this time of doing odd jobs, he got a job as a mail clerk at the National Bank of Australia.
“I tried to get the job at the bank. It was something I thought I could get a career out of, because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life” Ouk says.
Luckily for him, the manager of the bank saw potential in him and offered him an internship to study there.
“I studied finance and worked in debt collection and litigation for three years until I finished my studies.
“After that, I was hired and worked as a financial planner, but I soon realised that kind of life wasn't for me. I hated it,” Ouk says.
He decided to travel to Canada with his Canadian partner, but stopped in Cambodia to visit his ethnic homeland. While here, he and his partner designed, and began building, Me Mates Place, the guesthouse they now own.
When they returned to Cambodia from Canada, Me Mates Place was ready to be up and running.
“I wanted it to be clean, comfortable, have good info and good food,” Ouk says.
“I didn’t come here for the money. I came here to develop the place, and my business allows me to bring in young Khmer guys and give them skills they wouldn't get anywhere else.”
Four years later, Me Mates Place had become very successful and young Khmers were lining up to work for Ouk. “I needed another project, because I wanted to employ more people, so I opened 88,” he says.
“I wanted a place with a relaxed atmosphere, and I think I've achieved that at 88.”
The bar has a pool table, a swimming pool and a fine selection of food and drink, but the defining feature is the relaxed atmosphere.
Ouk works as a consultant for people trying to do similar things. He works on many things, from property to agricultural development, and is currently helping with the construction of a school on Diamond Island.
To contact the reporter on this story: Abe Becker at [email protected]