Rich Cambodians

While 12 million Cambodian live on less than $1 a day, a handful of people are extremely rich. There is no middle class in Cambodia – only too many extremely poor and a few extremely rich. The Rich Cambodians are richer than can be explained in words. Prime Minister Hun Sen, who took control over Cambodia by mercilessly removing anyone standing in his path became the youngest and wealthiest premier in the world when he was only 33 years old. After killing more than million people, Hun Sen is right up there with world’s most vicious dictators, second only to Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin.

By privatizing Angkor Archaeological Park to keep near a billion US dollars in direct revenue it generates a year for themselves, and by illigal logging and further exploitation of country’s natural resources to keep billions of dollars these generate for themselves, the corrupt government of Cambodia strips their own people of any share in wealth historical, cultural and natural resources of Cambodia provide. These resources should and do belong to all Cambodians, yet the revenue, even though it’s more than one could fathom ends up in pockets of the rich. In a country of estimated 14 million people, a few dozen are extremely rich and extremely powerful. The rest are either barely scraping it or completely unable to make ends meet. Let’s take a closer look at rich Cambodians:

British “The Sunday Times” recently published an article on children of rich Cambodians and high lifestyles they get to live. Their parents are the senior officials of the world’s most corrupt government with pockets so fat they don’t know what to do with all that money, so their children get to spend it. And as is obvious from the article, they do enjoy the privileges of wealth and are not afraid to flaunt it. You can check out the full article on the following link:

There are two countries in Cambodia. One is real Cambodia – full of underprivileged and impoverished people whose first thought of the day is the worry about whether they will have enough rice to feed the family with today. In this Cambodia, 8% of children die before the age of 5 deprived of medical care and any real chance to live decent lives.

The other Cambodia is the country of the rich. It houses a handful of people who keep billions of dollars generated by illegal logging, smuggling, land grabbing and corruption for themselves. Through systematic exploitation of historical and natural resources which should benefit all of Cambodians, this handful of people strips the public of any share of the profits their resources generated and finance their super high lifestyles with it. These rich Cambodians made themselves untouchable as military, police and justice system are all controlled by them to do as they are told.

Children of Rich Cambodians are sent to study at prestigious foreign universities and are given all the money in the world to enjoy themselves any way they please. They wear military VIP stickers on their car’s dashboards which gives them complete immunity. The police won’t touch them and if they get involved in an accident or other dispute, it will always be that other party’s fault.

The life of Rich Cambodians is sweet. Living in heavily guarded Tuol Kuok district in Phnom Penh, rich Cambodians have all the money in the world and keep the power tightly among themselves. Meanwhile, foreign governments keep sending more and more funds which Cambodian government relies on when planning their annual budgets. Why would they bother including money generated by Angkor Archaeological Park or extensive deforestation into the budget? Foreign governments blindly send them money, so they can keep profits from Angkor and illegal logging for themselves. Afterall, their children like to drive half million dollar cars and go on exotic vacations countless times a year.

Cambodia has vast gas and oil deposits but has not started exploiting those yet. Oil rich economy could send a wrong signal to foreign governments that the country makes enough money and doesn’t need donations to plan out a budget anymore. Whereas by keeping the majority of its population below the poverty line by stripping them of the profits generated by their historical and cultural resources, Cambodia appears poor with slow economy so leaders of western countries spinelessly send support funds to strengthen the Hun Sen’s iron grip over the country.

Hun Sen doesn’t have any formal education, yet he’s planned this one out well. Khmer Rouge is dead, but his new, modern version of it with complete control over a nation including merciless removal of any and all opponents puts Khmer Rouge to shame. And while Hun Sen’s opponents are being silenced, his loyalists grow richer by the hour. Ordinary Cambodians have no chance at real freedom for as long as this corrupt government is in power. But with their firm grip over country’s military with all generals being close allies of the prime minister, it would take international military intervention to remove this totalitarian government from power. However, seeing how Hun Sen has it all well played out, it’s not gonna happen anytime soon. He keeps 3/4 of his populace extremely poor so foreign countries feel sympathy and instead of coming with force to remove the dictator, they send annual fundings that reached one billion US dollars in 2009.

Meanwhile, ordinary Cambodians are driven from their lands at gunpoint by government controlled soldiers or military police. Rich Cambodians have it all, the rest of the population has nothing at all. I wonder how much will foreign donations grow into by 2010. Yet the saddest part is – chunk of my own taxes will be in it!

Unprofessional Approach of Waiters in Cambodian Restaurants

This was one of my biggest pet peeves about Cambodia right from the start. In most restaurants (translation – all restaurants, except from upscale, splurge style establishment for extremely rich), you will be breathed down your neck throughout your stay as a patron. I’m saying this without slight exaggeration. Cambodians take excessively wrong approach towards tourists in most instances and waiters in restaurants are no exception. I found it truly hard to accept from the beginning and still can’t get myself to feel easy about it, but I grew to accept it as necessary evil.

Awful Experience Placing Orders

This is what it looks like when you walk into a restaurant with intentions to get something to eat:

A waiter or waitress follows you to the table (or escorts you to it if she got to you before you could seat yourself), hands you the menu and stands there right above you staring at you as you browse through your menu. If you tell him/her that you will take a minute to choose, it will be ignored and the waiter will simply stand there, breathing down your neck, forcing you to make hasty decision just so you get rid of that uncomfortable feeling of having someone stand over you, staring at you while you’re trying to make a decision.

Awful Experience Eating

Once you have placed an order (9 out of 10 it will be a hasty order as you will feel pressure having someone breathe down your neck while you’re choosing), unless you are in an upscale establishment for extremely rich, you will be stared at from a distance. Your waiter will stand nearby with eyes fixed on you, staring you down nonstop. Occasionally, if it’s slow and there are few servers at the restaurant, they may engage at a conversation with each other giving you the room to breathe. But it is very common to have your server stand a few tables down facing you and looking at you non stop. You will feel their breath on you, you will have them within your peripheral vision which makes it really hard to cope with. But this is the way they do it in Cambodia.

Awful Experience Paying

Once you’re done eating and ask your waiter for a bill, you will be brought a little folder with your bill that lists the total for what you have consumed. I have never had any unexplained charges on my bill which is a very positive experience, however… your waiter will wait right there by your side, staring at you as you pull your wallet out, browse through the bills inside and pick what you wish to put inside a folder. The feeling of being pressured and having a person breathe down your neck is unbearable but again – this is the way they do it.

Cultural Differences in Dining Services

Apparently the reason why waiters at Cambodian restaurants put you as a patron through such unpleasant experience is because this is the way Khmer (Cambodians) like it. Khmer people want everything now so servers are always at the ready, never close by, but rather right there.

It is difficult to hold this against your waiters. They actually believe that they are doing you a favour and are providing you with exceptional service by being there for you at any given time. Unfortunately this belief is so deeply embedded that any attempt to try to explain that this makes guests uncomfortable is futile. You will be deemed a weirdo if you express your feelings and ask not to have anyone breathe down your back. Khmer people believe this is quality service. They do not realize that for us westerners this is rather rude and feels like you are not given the room to breathe.

You are likely to experience this type of treatment in one form or another. While Cambodians slowly grow to become a little better behaved, unintentional, yet ill treatment is very common. Unless you are staying in upscale establishment and eat in high class restaurants where western owners train their staff appropriately and maintain standards acceptable by westerners, expect to feel uncomfortable by having your waiter stare you down and breathe down your neck during your stay at their establishment.

Retiring Rich

Most people associate retirement with money and want to retire rich. And I can’t blame them. Before I embarked on my journey to early retirement, I used to think that in order for someone to retire, they must have certain amount of money or else their retirement will stink. Back then, the rat race through life was all about retiring rich, all about this coveted life that’s supposed to come one day in the future. Questions about retiring rich and how to achieve that goal seemed perfectly valid, but it only lasted until I realized the importance of asking the right questions. “How Much Money Do I Need to Retire” is a fundamentally wrong question because as most wrong questions it implies that possession of something (in this case “money”) is necessary in order to retire. But that’s something I have already covered in my How Much Money Do I Need to Retire Early article. So why am I coming back to the same topic you ask? Because I believe it is important to realize that retiring rich should not be the goal, otherwise it will lead to the rat race. Hunt for the riches can cost you a lot of time, the commodity you only have the limited supply of. If you waste your time trying to get rich, trying to achieve a goal that you believe will bring benefits in the future, by the time you are a baby boomer you will be so short on the time left, that even if you have accumulated riches, you will have little time to enjoy them to the fullest. And that doesn’t even take into account worsened health you will have developed by the time you have reached that age.

Retiring rich should not be the goal, retiring soon, preferably now should be. If you make retiring rich your goal, you will set yourself on a long path using the best years of your life working like a slave. Whereas if you make retiring now your goal, you will look towards the ways to establishing a cashflow that will set you free from shackles of corporate slavery and send you on your way to enjoy life.

Forbes Magazine has a list of Rich People. According to their definition, a rich person is someone with annual income of at least $1 Million. This is Forbes’ definition of “Rich” – their understanding of “Rich” has everything to do with the amount of money. My definition of “Rich” would be vastly different as what Forbes considers rich people are simply people with a lot of money to me. Just because they have heaps of money, it doesn’t necessarily mean they live rich and fulfilling lives. But that’s not the point at this time.

Given Forbes’ definition of rich, if you wanted to retire rich, you would be aiming at gathering at least one million dollars before you retire. If you happen to score a good paying job, let’s say one that pays $60,000 a year, you might be able to put away $2,500 each month towards your goal of retiring rich. If everything goes without obstacles and you remain diligent and never fail at putting away $2,500 a month, it will take you 33 years and 4 months to reach your goal and retire rich.

Now – if you take into account that you won’t score a job that pays $60,000 a year right off the college, you may not be able to start with such savings until let’s say – the age of 27. This means that my the time you have saved enough to retire rich, you will have been 60 year old. Great – you’re an old vegetable. How does it feel to retire rich?

Why would you want to make retiring rich your goal? It could condemn you to lifetime of servitude as corporate slave, wasting the best years of your life in a cubicle or wherever your workplace may be so you can have the retirement you desire when you are 60? Let me remind you of the fact that to live it up as though you have retired rich, you do not need much money in your bank account. As matter of fact, you don’t need any money in your bank account and still be able to embark on a journey of a lifetime. What do I base such bold statement on? I base it on a fact that I personally know a guy who retired in his 30’s just like that – myself.

Not only did I not have any money when I retired, I was actually $30,000 plus interest in debt. Yet I’ve wasted no time and set out on my merry way to early retirement and never looked back. How could I do that? Cashflow and belief that I can do it. That is all you need to retire young. Or simply retire at any age. If I could do it, anyone can. Get rid of the notion that you need money in order to retire and quit focusing on the size of your bank account. Because if you keep asking yourself how much money you need to retire, you will be putting your retirement off into the future. And what you put off once, will be put off again. There will always be obstacles, challenges and changes in your life. At one point it will be more money that you need to retire, then completion of the project you are working on, then fill in the blank. If you see it in the future, it will always be in the future. Future is the destination, but that’s not where happiness lies. Happiness is the journey.

Let me recapitulate again why the idea of working yourself to exhaustion so you can save enough money to retire rich is a silly one and why working to save money for the future is a fundamental loss:

  • Being employed provides you with security of a steady paycheck, but at the same time it is the type of income that’s taxed more than anything else and offers little control over how big a chunk of your hard earned money is taken off as tax
  • Going to work requires dedication of your time to job tasks and time is the most precious commodity you have
  • Employment doesn’t come with significant fluctuation of money earned. In order to earn more, you’d have to either work more (take overtimes or second job) or work harder
  • Employment has little or no residual value. You get paid for work performed and/or time spent at the workplace. In order to get paid again, you need to do work and/or spend time at the workplace again

Does the idea of spending your whole life being a corporate slave with the goal that one day you may retire rich still sound appealing to you? Being an employee is to be the most underprivileged member of society. You will be taxed near 50% of your income and you will only have the after-tax left overs to pay your rent with. But the worst thing is that you will spend the days of your life while you are able bodied doing anything but what you want to do. Days you have only so many of before your time is up. If you are going to invest it towards securing your retirement, don’t do it with the goal of retiring rich. Invest it into getting some cashflow happening for yourself so you can retire now, whatever your age and start spending your precious time doing things that matter to you, things that excite you, things that fulfil you. This way, when your time comes and Grim Reaper knocks at your door to end your journey on Earth, you will feel rich. Not Forbes rich, but content with the way you have led your life. You’ll leave this world happy and fulfilled.

Can Money Buy Happiness?

Can money buy happiness? If you asked me that question prior to mid 2009 when I was at the peak phase of my corporate lifestyle, I’d be able to give an answer that’s hard to refute. I’ve been up to my ears in debt since 2006 (yes, still am but not for much longer) and when you spend the best days of your life killing yourself going to work and taking overtimes so you can make ends meet, an influx of money would definitely deliver happiness. Back then I knew for sure that if I had the money to pay off my debt, I’d feel much happier than I was so don’t be telling me that money can’t buy happiness. Yet there’s been leagues upon leagues of people who made it big and became rich, both past and present and they all said the same thing in unison – money can’t buy happiness. So what’s the deal? Why do all those people who lived miserable lives when they were flat broke say that money can’t buy happiness now that they can afford anything their heart desire? Do they know something we who have not reached that level yet don’t know?

This was something I was having hard time accepting. How can money not buy happiness? Have all those people who say that money can’t buy happiness forgot what it was like being poor? And then I started paying more attention to people around me. Especially people with clear signs of affluence – those driving $200k cars, business owners, large entrepreneurs, et cetera. There is hardly anything they can’t afford to buy, yet you look at their faces and they look miserable. They walk around with their Blackberries at the ready because they must be available 24/7 to solve problems. Other people’s problems.

It has quickly become clearer than the sky that money truly can’t buy happiness. Being flat broke is no happiness either, but being rich doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be happy. It will allow you to solve your debt problem or whatever other financial problem you may be currently facing, but it comes with problems of its own. Being rich, just as being poor are the two extremes on the opposite sides of the same spectrum. Happiness lies somewhere in between.

I’m sure you have one of those neighbors yourself. He drives brand new Lexus with leather upholstery and all available extras. Sound system he had installed can be heard from three blocks away. He goes on a five week vacation three times a year yet each time you see him, he looks grumpy. He gets about 5 phonecalls every 30 minutes and always seems to be in a rush to go somewhere. He has all the money in the world, so why is he not happy?

It is because pursuit of money is akin to chasing your own tail. At one point in your life when you are flat broke you see money as the only solution to your problems. You start killing yourself working long hours, your life becomes all about elbowing your way up to the top and work becomes your life. You eventually reach the point at which you are promoted to a position which pays enough to quickly pay off your debt. But as you got consumed by the corporate lifestyle, the only goal you had in your life was to make X amount of dollars and now that this X was reached, you simply set yourself with a new goal and increase the value of said X. The pursuit of money continues.

At this point your bank account is nice and thick and you quit work to start your own company so you can make even more money. The temptation of driving that new Lexus in leather with navigation system is irresistible. The more money you make, the more you want to make. You are on the sure way to working until you die. You have been asking yourself all the wrong questions and because of that it’s not clear in your mind what it is that fulfils you. So you fulfil yourself with work because it provides you with the sense of purpose. You are financially secure, but you continue working to feel productive. Is there any way you are gonna tell anyone that money can buy happiness now that you have all the money in the world?

That being said, if I were to choose between being broke and being rich, I choose being rich. However, when asking whether you’d rather be rich and sick or poor and healthy, I choose rich and healthy. Never compromise your happiness. Happy person is an enthusiastic person. Happiness boosts energy and creativity. As a result, happiness can buy you money. If you set yourself up to living an enjoyable, fulfilling life, your mind will be clear to come up with fresh ideas for financial freedom and instead of wondering whether money can buy happiness, you will find out that happiness could lead you to money.

What Do You Really Want in Life?

When faced with the “what do you really want in life” question, I’ve come to realize that our minds are so affected by mass-media controlled society, that we provide ourselves with wrong answers. Oftentimes where you are faced with the same question, the answer you come up with does not reflect what you really want in life, it reflects what you think will lead you to what you really want in life. Let me give you an example:

I was at my cousin’s wedding and got engaged in meaningful conversation with young gentleman whose outlooks on life were remarkably sophisticated for someone in their early twenties. I’ve asked him what his goals were in life and the answer was ambiguously plain. He said he wanted to be rich so he can comfortably provide for himself. So I asked him how much money he would like to make to feel comfortable. His answer was $100,000 a year. I asked him what he would do with the money if he was making $100k a year? He said if he was making at least $100,000 a year, he would be rich enough to travel abroad and explore three new countries each year.

Once he said that, my brain instantly scanned through the records of my life during the past 6 months and I have been faced with an astonishing revelation. I responded with: “Wait a second. Did you know that in the last 6 months, I travelled to three foreign countries myself? One of them was Iceland, one of the most expensive countries in the world, another one was Cuba where everything is government controlled and prices for tourists are hardly negotiable making it one of the most expensive destinations in the Caribbean and last one was the Dominican Republic where I went through insane adventures every day, including the whale watching, climbing of 27 waterfalls, performing live on stage with local celebrity called Luiggy Luiggy – plain and simple living it up to the fullest every day. On top of these three foreign destinations, within the same period I visited the Canadian Rocky Mountains 3 times, each time at a different location and I made an unforgettable trip to Toronto. Does this sound like the type of lifestyle you would like to be able to have but need $100,000 a year to afford?”

His affirmative stare made me continue with the same breath: “You know what the funniest thing about this is? I did all this and I make one third of what you believe you need to make in order to be able to afford this. And even funnier thing is that it didn’t cost that much either. I was able to finance each of those trips from the leftover money after I had paid for my rent, commuting, day to day expenses and whatever else my body desired during that time.”

This is it. When faced with “what do you really want in life” question, people often respond with wishes of being rich, because they believe that’s the key to the lifestyle they desire. So they basically offer wrong answer because while the answer is “money”, it’s not actually money they want. It’s certain lifestyle they want, but they believe money is the key to that lifestyle so they answer with “money”.

That’s what I used to think too. I always wanted to travel around the world and had a whole list of “must visit before I die” places which seemed so distant because I believed it was impossible to visit them unless I had money. I was telling this lie to myself for near a decade until I eventually decided to take action and once I did, I visited some of my favorite destinations, some of them known as world’s most expensive places and I did it on the cheap without a sweat.

Here are the facts:

  • You believe it is money you want but it’s not. It may be a really nice car you want to be driving, it may be a sail on a yacht across the Pacific you want to take, or maybe you want to learn Muay Thai under direction of a martial arts master in Thailand. These are things what you REALLY want. You only answer “money”, because you believe money will give you the opportunity to engage in your dream activities.
  • You may be surprised that with just a little bit of thoughtful planning, most of the activities which you believe take a lot of money, can actually be done on the cheap. I wanted to visit Iceland my whole life but was putting it off because I realized that it’s a very expensive country and I’d need a lot of money in order to be able to survive there. Yet I spend unforgettable 10 days in the country, rented a car to drive around the island, climbed glaciers, walked behind a waterfall, swam in a cave, visited bubbling mud fields and even had a great night out with local girls in Husavik on Friday night whom I met 5 minutes prior. We partied whole night and went dolphin watching the following day. All this for less that I would be willing to admit.

You have probably asked yourself the “what do you want in life” question several times throughout your life and have probably seen the answer in money as well. Now ask yourself: “What do you REALLY want in life?” and focus on final wishes, not on what could lead you to it. As you explore further, you will find out that you don’t have to be rich to have the lifestyle you desire. I am not rich, nowhere near. Yet I’ve been travelling all over the world and have many more places to go to – and it costs me less than $1000 a month. You don’t need to be rich, you only need enough to get the lifestyle you desire. And this will set you free from slavery of work and put you in the way of life where every day is an adventure you will never forget.