Our first Cambodian member, Somchat ‘Oak’ Chan-Ngoen, takes some time out of running his bar in Phnom Penh to speak to i-genius about his initiative and inspiration…
Editor: What is your story?
Oak: I come from a poor family in Bangkok. I studied languages at High School and went to Ramkhamhang University where I studied marketing. I worked part-time in bars and a cinema. I then moved to Cambodia to do teaching and worked with a actress before opening my bar.
Editor: Why did you open a gay bar in Cambodia?
Oak: Although Cambodia is changing very quickly, it can still be difficult for gay people to meet others. I hope my bar will help them. I am very happy trying to make Cambodia a better place. I like Cambodian people. Sometimes I think they are like Thai people, only the language is different. This country needs foreigners, it needs tourists.
Editor:Is it easy to run a bar in Phnom Penh?
Oak: I designed my bar with the help of a Kumar friend and with the help of a English friend called John. I have to teach staff how to serve customers. Its important to smile and make eye contact and to have good hygiene. Me and my business partner help staff to go to university. I think this is important. Food and accommodation is free and I give them time and space to study. Everything is fine here except for police corruption. They came to me and asked for money and in exchange I would get a piece of paper saying I was ‘protected’. I said, “I don’t want any paper. I know your problem. You are paid very little. If you need money for food or your family, just ask me and I will give to you. But I don’t want any paper”. They never returned. I think they were embarrassed or feel ashamed.
Editor: That’s an amazing story. Do you feel optimistic about the future?
Oak: I am making money and I am successful but money is not so important. I care about making my customers, whether they gay or straight, happy. My bar has a family feeling. Maybe in the future I would like a bigger place with a restaurant and disco. I am thinking about increasing my prices by 10% to have money to help children. Maybe create a language school for kids. I have good friends and family. I really appreciate the help I have had and want to thank my partner and staff.