Pholin’s cafe life is the Kiwi dream
When Pholin Nem arrived in New Zealand he had $20 to his name.
‘‘It was in case I needed to buy anything at the airport,’’ the softly spoken Cambodian refugee said. ‘‘I didn’t spend it at all.’’ After 25 years he has built himself the Kiwi dream, owning a home and a cafe in Tawa.
‘‘I thought to myself, ‘I am going to make it’, and then I made it.
‘‘Some people came at the same time as me, but they still have nothing. You have to have a plan for your life, and know what step you are going to do, step by step.
‘‘Not just waiting. You have to start from $1 to $100 and then you get $1000.’’
It’s a far cry from the life he escaped in Cambodia during the civil war.
‘‘It was terrible and there was fighting all the time. They wanted me to be a soldier and I didn’t want to hold a gun to kill anyone. And if you are not going to kill someone, someone would kill you.’’
Nem said the night he escaped across Cambodia’s border to Thailand, aged 24, it was raining bullets.
‘‘All the shooting when we ran across the border was like rain. So many people died. You just ran and kept running and running.’’
He snuck into a refugee camp, where he learnt to speak English, and waited for a country to accept him, trying first the United States then New Zealand.
It’s obvious Nem is proud of BB’s Cafe as he speaks about what led him to buy it.
‘‘I saved a lot of money because I was used to working hard in Cambodia and here. I worked seven days a week and 12 hours every day; only on public holidays did I stop. I just work like crazy and even when I am sick I am working, working.’’
When he arrived in Auckland, he spent six months on a course to learn about New Zealand and how to live here. He then moved to Wellington, where he started working at Woolyarns in Lower Hutt. He stayed there for 16 years. The bullets and empty pockets are a long way behind Nem these days, but he’s passing on what it taught him to his 17-year-old son.
‘‘When I began I had to work hard. It was not easy.
‘‘That’s what I teach my son; You have got to work hard every day and don’t waste your life.’’
Nem is content with how his life has turned out, but dreams of buying another cafe. I would like to just carry on the coffee shop.’’
New Zealand accepts about 750 refugees a year.
Pholin Nem came to New Zealand with nothing in 1990, but now owns a cafe.