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Move to Cambodia: A guide to living and working in the Kingdom of Wonder

By: Robert Starkweather Posted: January-22-2013 in
Robert Starkweather

People talk about it at the water cooler, or over drinks after work. They talk about tossing it all in and buying a one-way ticket to someplace else. Maybe somewhere overseas, to some rustic third-world capital where the living is cheap and the weather is always perfect.

There in the real world, where economies are lumbering along like stoned elephants, making the big escape looks more appealing now than ever. Student loans, credit cards, a 40-hour workweek, two-week vacations ,a mortgage, retirement, death. All horribly boring. Utterly predictable. And completely terrifying. At least to some.

American writer Lina Goldberg threw it all in 2 years ago -- leaving a perfectly sensible job (account strategist) at a perfectly sensible company (Google) – and relocated to Phnom Penh, where she has found the living easy, even if the weather is not always perfect.

Her first book, Move to Cambodia: A guide to living and working in the Kingdom of Wonder, is much less a how-to manual than it is a handbook for self-preservation.

Cambodia, in case you haven’t noticed, can be a treacherous place to live. World-class food is deliciously inexpensive. Booze is foolishly cheap. Gambling is pervasive. And taxes and laws are virtually unenforced. It’s a genuine nightmare for the undisciplined. And that’s just the legal stuff.

The book is divided into 4 parts: Welcome to Cambodia, Planning Your Move, Living in Cambodia and Working in Cambodia. Each section contains enough information to get newcomers landed and on their feet without spoon-feeding them with overly specific directions.

Part one, Welcome to Cambodia, covers the expected fundamentals, such as an introduction to the country and its basic history, and includes notes on currency and climate. In sections such as “Face,” “Corruption and Bribery” and “Bargaining,” Goldberg shares hard-won insights, seasoned with a dash of cold realism that years in the country have afforded her. Even most long-termers are likely to take something away.

“The culture of corruption in Cambodia is compounded by the corruption in Cambodia,” she writes. “Because the government generates so little revenue through legitimate means (most revenue is siphoned off by corrupt police who don’t give real tickets and corrupt tax officials who don’t make anyone pay their bills), it can’t afford to pay those police and officials enough to motivate them not to demand bribes. It’s a vicious circle with no end in sight. Foreign aid, which comprises a solid half of Cambodia’s GDP, is also susceptible to the endemic corruption (and some might say a cause of it).”

The Planning Your Move section covers necessities such as visas, movers, vaccinations and budgeting (“The answer is: not much”). There is also fairly extensive information on the price of common goods, services and utilities – eggs, moto rides, kilowatts -- which can be handy for getting a feel of pricing, or better understanding how awfully your “nice” landlady is gouging you on electricity (Hint: it’s 720 per kilowatt; if you’re paying more, you’re being fleeced).

Part three, Living in Cambodia, spans nearly half the book, or about 80 pages, and includes critical information necessary for keeping your sanity while coming to grips with the Kingdom’s idiosyncrasies.

Under Dealing with the police, Goldberg offers yet more cool-handed advice on dealing with corruption and bribery. “If you know what to expect, it doesn’t have to be a big deal.”

In Sex and Dating: “Male expats who move to Cambodia generally find themselves an object of desire in a way they have never previously experienced, a situation that many find difficult to resist. It’s true that many Cambodian women are willing to overlook qualities that are important in the West – age, weight, looks, etc – in exchange for financial stability. It’s also true that they may be searching for said financial stability in more than one wallet.”

Punters. Take. Note.

The fourth chapter covers work, and touches on things such as starting a business, taxes, visas and teaching English. A final section titled Resources lists dozen of useful books and web sites for information beyond the book.

Goldberg’s crisp prose lends itself to the guidebook format, and it makes the book a quick and effortless read. The ebook format, too, only enhances the guide’s usability. Chapter titles are clickable, and most good readers offer the ability to make notes in the margin. Immigration officials would be well-served to issue a copy in conjunction with every business visa.

If there are things lacking in the book, they are minor, or being rectified.

The photography, for instance, could be better, and given the book’s current format, adding more and bigger photos would appear to come without cost. Goldberg is an adept photographer, and more of her photos would contribute to the book’s visual appeal.

Move to Cambodia is also currently available only in ebook formats -- epub, mobi and pdf – which makes it a great gift option. But for those without the digital gear, the print version will not be available until after Christmas.

For anyone planning to move to Cambodia, Goldberg’s volume should be required reading. Its value is immense, and buyers will easily save ten times the cover price in heartbreaks, headaches and cash. And that’s good money for country’s cheap food and untaxed liquor. Or if the wheels come off -- as the undisciplined often discover --on a plane ticket back to sensibility.

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Move to Cambodia: A guide to living and working in the Kingdom of Wonder
By Lina Goldberg
175 pages. Imaginary Shapes.
Epub, mobi, pdf: $8.95; Print $14.95
Available from Amazon

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