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Khmer-Japanese Businessman Builds Small Empire in Former Hometown

Khmer-Japanese Businessman Builds Small Empire in Former Hometown

Teng Vitou, whose Teng Group realty signs seem to outnumber all rivals, is hoping

an augmented Japanese presence in Cambodia, boosted by the arrival of Japanese peacekeeping

troops in October, will provide a lift to the worrying sag in the property rental

market.

Rents have dropped $U.S. 1,000 to $U.S. 2,000 in the last month or two, he says,

which amounts to a sizeable shave when you are handling more than 100 properties.

Teng declines to say just how many of these he owns himself; many he rents from the

owners and then sub-lets, assuming more risk than a broker normally does. After spending

18 years in Japan, he will clearly enjoy an inside track on the Nipponese market

niche.

In the spring of 1974 a Japanese government scholarship airlifted Teng, a freshly

minted university student, to Japan, where he completed a doctorate in architecture

at Nagoya University several years later.

Fierce competition in the design world soon persuaded Teng to go into a business

easier for gaijin (foreigners) to break in to.

A decade later Teng Foreign Languages school in Nagoya has approximately 1,000 students,

studying 30 languages including Khmer and Vietnamese. On the side Teng manages a

Cambodian restaurant, Angkor Wat, also in Nagoya.

Upon returning to Cambodia in January this year, he took a page from his success

in Japan and established a language school as his first undertaking. Part of the

Phnom Daunpenh High School; it now claims almost 300 students learning Japanese and

English from 10 native speakers.

A small Teng company that builds furniture and door and window frames dovetails with

Teng's construction of what he calls "share houses" in which property holders

have new buildings erected for them, with a mirror half reverting to Teng's ownership.

In this way he develops property without having to buy land.

An import/export company is on the agenda in the future. Construction materials such

as cement and steel and interior decorative items would be imported from Japan while

Cambodian wood is the most likely export.

"Our country will develop very quickly," says a saronged Teng in the top

floor suite he maintains at the Cambodiana Hotel. From this corner suite squatters

facing eviction from their derelict casino home are on clear display six long floors

below.

"In just the last few months there has been so much difference," he insists

bullishly. "We have many, many things to do but everybody is trying to work

hard."

A brawny man, with a certain samurai stolidness, he seems most animated talking about

developing the country's human resources, particularly in sending young Khmers to

Japan for study and training. That's the function of still another yet-to-be-established

company.

"There are at least 10,000 [families] who are already rich now who can afford

to train and study abroad," he notes. Japanese government grants aside, he adds,

"We can only help the rich now."

Teng's own background-his father was the chief officer of the Ministry of Construction

in Kompong Thom province during the Lon Nol era-was not entirely modest.

His early escape formed a lasting tie with Japan, which he considers his first home

now. "Cambodia is my second home," he says. He is keeping it that way even

though he insists that "UNTAC must leave Cambodia in peace."

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