By CSULB Senior Seminar Reporters Ryah Cooley and Angela Ratzlaff
Like most immigrants chasing the American Dream, husband-and-wife business owners Tony Lim and Lily Chong started a business in hopes of living a fulfilling life on their own terms. Eighteen years and several hundred-thousand dollars later, the Cambodian immigrants are still living the dream.
After moving from Cambodia to Salt Lake City while she was in junior high school, Chong lived with her uncle. She later moved to Long Beach, where she obtained her diploma from Millikan High School.
Chong met her husband, Lim, during a visit to Cambodia. Lim moved to Long Beach in 1996 before they got married in 1998. Chong bought the business, Asian Pacific Travel, from previous owner Sophie Hong in 1995.
“There was already a community here [of Cambodians],” Lim said about working in Long Beach’s Cambodia Town. “We like Long Beach.”
The couple works together to book air travel for Cambodian Long Beach residents to visit their homeland. The journey from Los Angeles International Airport to Taiwan is a 14-hour flight, Lim said.
Working in a Cambodia-rich area provides the business with a lot of opportunities, Lim said.
“We get a lot of clients, a lot of referrals, a lot of deals from Cambodians because the office is in Cambodia Town,” he said. “There’s a lot of business in this area.”
There are about 400 Cambodian businesses in the Anaheim corridor between Atlantic to the west and Junipero Avenue to the east, according to The Cambodian American Business Association (CAMBA) treasurer and event director, Remy Hou. CAMBA started in 2009 and helps immigrants find resources like networking opportunities that can boost business relations.
“What we did was to organize an event that solely focuses on businesses for our local community,” said CAMBA President Anthony Kim.
Since CAMBA’s inception in 2010, Asian Pacific Travel has supported CAMBA, Hou said. Lim and Chong also participate in CAMBA’s annual business expo, which allows Cambodian Business to unite and promote their products or services.
“[CAMBA] is a good organization because of the networking,” Lim said.
“The life of the local business in the area is attracting more people to local businesses through the expo,” Kim said. “We want activity in [the] Cambodia Town section to promote the area.”
The CAMBA expo, which was first held in October 2010, also celebrates Cambodian culture through food, dance and music. Lim and Chong said they like the fact that Cambodia Town maintains traditional Asian culture.
“We’re happy doing business here in the community,” Kim said. “We have the community support. We try to do good service for the customer.”
Cambodia Town received new parameters that extend to Junipero to the east and Atlantic to the west, Kim said.
“One thing I can say is that back in the 80s that corridor used to be very dead back then, a lot of people moved in that area and put business in that area,” he said. “They are happy and excited about that designation.”
Working out of Cambodia Town, Lim and Chong, who have two children, said they have been successful so far. They make anywhere from $5,000 to $7,000 a month combined.
However, Chong said there are common difficulties that come with owning a business and that the couple has to overcome.
“I wish people wouldn’t bargain so much,” she said. “We feel like we put in a lot of hours on the booking and then they keep on bargaining. Even though it’s high season and the seating is pretty limited and they still demand a discount. That’s frustrating sometimes.”
Even though working at the travel agency can be tough, Chong said they are always happy to help Cambodian Town residents save money to visit their families.
Depending on the time of year, the cost of travel from Los Angeles to Cambodia can range from $1,100 to $1,600, according to Lim. The couple works together to help customers save $50 or more when they work through Asian Pacific Travel.
“The margin is pretty slim with us, we only mark up one percent or so,” Chong said.
Currently, CAMBA is a volunteer-based nonprofit organization, but Kim hopes that one day the organization will be able to financially aid growing businesses.
“One of our goals hopefully, when we have grants and we can assist financially,” Kim said. “[We will] see what we can do in the future.”
While Lim and Chong always helps others travel to Cambodia, Lim said they don’t have time to go to their home country as often as they would like. He has only visited six times ever since he came to America in 1996.
“I miss my friends and relatives in Cambodia the most,” he said. “We don’t have time to go much because we have to take care of the business and the children here.”
However, the Cambodian environment and satisfied customers leave Lim and Chong content with their lives in Long Beach.
“[I like to] just … make people happy when they travel,” Chong said.