60 seconds with Monica Chhay

Wine lover, General Manager and team motivator at ‘Proud Mary’ cafe.

What are you enjoying doing at the moment?
I’ve been getting into gardening. I’ve just moved out to Northcote and I’m really into becoming more sustainable and actually knowing where produce comes from. It’s very important. People have lost touch with where everything comes from and it’s good to support local farmers and local businesses instead of big companies that take pretty much everything.

If you were a super-heroine, what powers would you like to have?
I’d probably want to talk to animals so I can talk to my cat, ‘Le Ginge.’ If he could speak back to me he would sound like Seu Jorge from ‘The Life Aquatic’ soundtrack.

What talent would you most like to possess?
Just to be really calm and not be angry at all … to be one of these level-headed people all the time. I’ve just come back from overseas and it was inspiring seeing monks over there who dedicate their lives to not caring about material things. And now I’m back worrying about first world problems!

If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
Be on a self-sustaining farm making my own cheese.

What would you work for instead of money?
Wine and cheese.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australian culture, what would it be?
I’m not sure but it’s quite different here. I found it a bit of shock because in New Zealand from a really young age you are taught Maori culture and language and you can go to bilingual classes. You’re taught that it’s very important. I find it bizarre that over here there isn’t any emphasis put on that at all.

When was the last time you laughed out loud?
Ten seconds ago.

Your most cherished memory?
Probably my last trip – I went to Hong Kong, Cambodia and Vietnam with two of my best mates.

Tell us about an amazing woman you know
My mum’s Cambodian but was raised in New Zealand. Mum was adopted into a family and she was actually the first refugee in New Zealand in the 1970s. I only found out a couple of years ago. And my adopted granny was the first female dentist in New Zealand… she’s awesome.  She became really good friends with my real grandad when he came to New Zealand to take an English course– he’s trilingual – and he wanted to learn it so he could teach it in Cambodia. So they lived together and became really good friends. And then when the whole Pol Pot thing blew up she adopted my mum. My gran is a tough lady … really hard core. She ran a homestead with nine people while running the dentistry school. She’s a super super lady.

What does multiculturalism mean to you?
To me it means now. I mean, in my circles, it’s actually more of a shock to see something like racism than not, which is pretty amazing compared to say, thirty years ago. It’s such a short space of time but we’ve come a long way.

Do you think Australia is multicultural?
To a certain extent I do. I guess it’s not everywhere … In the big city centres, it’s OK to be totally who you are but if you go further out or go to other countries maybe not everything is so well-accepted.

Finish this sentence: “We need feminism because…”
women do a better job (laughs).