One Chinese lady in Phnom Penh who has done well for herself is Eva Chen, sales and marketing manager at Campubank Lonpac Insurance, in the Campu Bank Building.
Chen was born in the city of Xuan Cheng, in Anhui province, in 1980. Her father was a financial officer in the government and her mother a teacher in public schools.
Like many of her generation, she is an only child.
Following an education in “typical Chinese public schools”, Chen enrolled in Anhui University as an English major and graduated in 2002.
“I wasn’t a hard-working student, but my family was very open-minded and we talked a lot to each other,” she says of those days.
During the course of her English studies, Chen discovered a Chinese lady writer from Taiwan called Sun Mao, also known as Echo.
“She had travelled to about 20 countries, spending most of her life travelling, and found a German husband, but he died scuba diving.
I really admired this lady because she was travelling so much,” Chen says.
Sun Mao became an inspiration for Chen, who also felt like an unconventional person.
“I grew up with all her books,’’ Chen says. “She is similar to me, because when I was young I didn’t like science; I liked arts and language. She was like that.
“In China and Taiwan, you need to be good at everything so you will be admitted to a good university. You can’t be good at just one thing.
“Especially in China, when you go to university you have to pass a very tough entrance exam. You have to be good at everything.
“Echo hated that, and so did I, because I really didn’t like maths and physics and all that. I wanted to become like her one day.”
Chen loved talking to foreigners during her Anhui University years, and never hesitated to do so.
“One American friend at university told me she was really quite surprised that I had come up to her and talked to her. She said I wasn’t like millions of other Chinese.’’
The American woman, who was an English teacher at an international school, admired Chen because she went out of her way to communicate and made her feel welcome. Chen also worked part-time for the school.
As a result of such successful personal interactions, Chen was recommended for a job at the TCL company, China’s largest producer of mobile telephones.
Even though she should have been happy to have the job, she knew it might not be the right thing for her in the long term.
“At that time, I didn’t like the system and it wasn’t the life I wanted – to go to university, then work for some big company – but I knew I must comply and survive,’’ she says.
“But in my heart, I was telling myself, ‘This is not the life I wanted’, that one day I would pursue my dream when the time came.
“ When I graduated, I didn’t want to depend on my parents for financial support.’’
During her time at TCL, Chen found an announcement about jobs outside China, choosing between South Africa and Cambodia.
She arrived in Cambodia to work for a Chinese joint venture with Cambodia, but I left the company after only a month and went to work for a Singapore company she liked.
It wasn’t easy making the transition, but Chen persevered. “They needed some salespeople and they told me they wanted Cambodians, so I went there every day,’’ she says.
Chen found the name of the sales manager and caught her walking out of the office. Chen asked for a few minutes of the sales manager’s time and told her she really wanted the job. Her pitch hit the right chord.
“She was touched, and talked to the managing director, and said: ‘When she comes, I will ask her to see you.’ So I was waiting, and finally the MD came to Cambodia.”
Chen worked for the Singapore company from 2003 to 2007 and did the very best she could for her new employer. At the same time, she studied the insurance business and gained a certificate in that field.
During that time, Chen met her husband Cao, who is also Chinese but from Hebei province. He runs his own trading business in Cambodia.
Chen and Cao were married in May this year, with one wedding his Cao’s home town and one in Chen’s.
Now in the fullness of time, having travelled around the ASEAN countries, Chen feels as though she has become more like the Chinese lady writer Echo who inspired her all those years ago.
“I have been travelling around ASEAN countries these few years and have built up my network here.
“I have kind of achieved my dream when I was little to travel and see the different parts of the world and see the different people,” she said.
Chen loves living in Cambodia and acknowledges it is very different from China.
“Cambodia is very different from China, not very developed and with very simple relationships between people who work together.
“In China, the competition is very fierce, everything is expensive and a lot of people complain, but Cambodia is much happier.
“It’s very easy for expats to make friends in Cambodia – everybody is eager to make friends. People are very cool in China; they don’t want to talk to people.’’
After four years in her job at Campubank Lonpac Insurance, Chen is busy, loves what she does, and is obviously good at it.
“We have general insurance, property, liability, marine and car and other kinds of insurances. We have a lot of individual customers, and loans have to have insurance too,” she says.
“People come to us because of the brand. We are building up the brand.”
Chen is proud to have helped build up the company from four people when she started to 29 today.
“Cambodia Public Bank is a very well-run company and the largest bank in Malaysia,” she says.
Regarding her thoughts about her homeland of China, Chen remembers dreaming of travel when she was a little girl. “Now my outlook has changed,” she says.
“My dream is to go back to China to contribute whatever I have in my professional experience and teach other people.
“I would like to go back one day to groom the young insurance people of China and tell them what to do. This is more like work within the insurance profession.
“I would like to change people’s minds through my efforts. This is my passion for my country.
“Chinese people are open-minded. China is going to change for the better. The young people are more open minded, and there are millions of Chinese going abroad every year.
“They also change and learn the good things, then go back and influence the people at home.
“Let the people in English-speaking countries know about the young generation in China.
“We welcome people going to China, and we also would like to improve ourselves.”