So, you’re bored of the 9-5 drudgery of life in the civilized western world of say the UK, USA or Australia. The weather sucks, the women are fat and gobby and the price of an unhealthy lifestyle is astronomically expensive. That pension plan is worthless and any investments once thought wise and safe are rapidly dwindling away to sweet Fanny Adams.
How can one turn life around? The Eurozone is screwed up big time, so the Costas are not as appealing as a few years back, South America is brimming with gun-totin’, crack smokin’ drug gangs and paramilitaries, but SE Asia seems a good bet, with a warm climate, white sandy beaches and pretty girls and boys. Moreover, you don’t need to remortgage the family farm just for a good night out on the sauce.
Thailand is a good place to start, but with the pesky visa regulations and a government which seems to function more or less efficiently, a fleeing expat needs to have at least a bit of a clue and a modicum of sense. For those lacking these, or chaps with more adventurous spirit, Cambodia, just next-door, is a Mecca for the dissatisfied, dispossessed and, as often as not, the purely batshit mental.
Now, what to do when you arrive? There’s the old teaching gig, of course. Spurned by many because, despite persistent rumours, you still need to show an iota of intelligence, turn up on time and work in unison with a bunch of semi-educated natives who get paid peanuts in relation to white man’s bananas, and are understandably a little peeved by this disparity of income.
Then there’s business. Cambodia is described as a 3 pillar economy; relying on agriculture, textiles and tourism. Farming is bloody hard work for very little reward, unless you have a few million dollars and plenty of time to invest. Textile factories have already been sewn up by the Chinese and again, who wants to own a factory? This leaves tourism, ideal for you, because it involves dealing with people who are mostly your own skin colour and culturally similar. Guesthouses are a good idea, but they need a bit of capital in order to buy things like beds.
Tourists sometimes die in your rooms, which is a pain, and you need to employ cleaners who actually clean and not indulge in petty theft from your valued customers.
A bar is the numero uno choice of providing yourself a little nest egg to drink and while away the hours with witty banter amongst happy groups of travellers who flock from far and wide to sit and enjoy your company. Build it and they will come to sample your best-in-Asia secret burger recipe.
How do I do this? I hear you ask, what tips can a wise sage offer to a middle-aged, divorcee with a few grand in savings and a burning itch to start anew?
1. Location, location, location
The Penh is the cosmopolitan of Cambodia – too busy, with too much competition. Thieving bastards lurk on every corner. A sweet talking taxi girl (or boy) may steal your heart along with all your stock and monthly takings. Avoid.
The same goes for Sihanoukville and Siem Reap. What you really need is an up and coming place, a growing town with a favourable page or 2 of reviews in Lonely Planet.
Found your town? Good, now find the place for your new enterprise. Ideally you should look for a western run, already failing business (move in tomorrow!), sandwiched between 2 locally owned restaurants. These places are staffed by family members or indebted slave labourers (bad karma), their $2 noodle dishes are obviously waaaytoo cheap to be considered safe to your average backpacker, who will instead be drawn toward your extensive and expensive menu. You get what you pay for; quality comes at a price. Every fool knows this.
Image is everything. . Choose a name for your watering hole – be wacky and original as you like, but you can also use the words ‘Funky’ ‘Khmer’ ‘Gecko’ ‘Mango’ ‘Coconut’ ‘Lucky’ ‘Buddha’ or ‘Monkey’. The self-obsessed or uninspired can simply give an eponymous title.There are no copyright laws in Cambodia, so you can always just use another bar’s name from a different part of the country and hope their good luck and reputation rubs off on you.
An obnoxious fluorescent sign to hang above is a must! Lurid pink, yellow or green are the current ‘in’colours. Make sure there is at least one spelling mistake.
Before you open to the public, it is vital to purchase some papa san chairs for customers to sit on when being hassled by limbless beggars and glue-sniffing street urchins.
Buy some green bamboo for that authentic jungle feeling. A crappy plywood pool table is a great way to attract local youths to hang about your establishment and not buy drinks. Attract bleeding hearts by adding the words ‘Social Enterprise’, if you so wish: nobody will ever check and everyone spends more when it’s for chariidee.
3. Gauge your competition
It is inevitable there will be a plethora of other businesses in the local area which are catering to your preferred clientele. Visit them all in turn, buy a drink and then go home to make 20 Trip Advisor accounts. Write disparagingly negative reviews about your competitors.
4. Opening night
Advertise your grand opening with free beer. This will draw in all the local expat drunkards and penniless English teachers. It’s useful to recognize these faces so you can ban them over the next few weeks. Only order one barrel of draught so everyone is forced to go home or buy $1.25 cans of warm Anchor.
Now you’re up and running you need to get the word out! Traditional methods such as printing flyers and word of mouth are incredibly passé in the age of the internet. Spam as many forums as you can with your entire menu. Don’t forget to use out of place adjectives and plenty of exclamation marks!!!!!!! This will make people think you are wacky yet approachable.
Also return to your 20 fake Tripadvisor accounts and give yourself ALL the stars, using key phrases such as ‘Best in Asia’, ‘Fantastic’, ‘Friendliest Bar’. Don’t hold back on self-edifying portraits to your own brilliance in the comments – remember ‘Wacky’ ‘Friendly’, ‘Approachable’ and ‘Honest’. People believe what they read; no-one will ever suspect it’s you, even if you keep your same, barely literate writing style on each review.
6. Staying in the game
Hire staff you wish to sleep with and fire them if they refuse to sleep with you.
Labour is cheap and locals are mostly useless, lazy and expendable. Reduce the price of draught to less than everywhere else. It’ll lose you money to start with, but speculate to accumulate – customers won’t just take advantage of 50c beer, they’ll feel obliged to spend a tenner on your home created cuisine. Create another 20 Trip Advisor accounts and use them wisely.
Berate any expats (whom you haven’t banned) in the street for not visiting with their cash as regularly as you need to stay afloat. Be sure to mention the shortcomings of your rivals to any passing trade.
The best way to do this is to tell anyone who’ll listen that ‘at X bar they’re high on crack’, ’Y bar waters down their spirits’ and ‘ waitresses at Z bar are riddled with VD’.
Make the neighbours up their game by coughing ‘Dysentery’ and ‘Human traffickers’ whenever tourists glance through their menu.
If you follow these 7 commandments (7 seems to be a lucky number on these pages and I couldn’t actually think of any other rules), you will be able to relax and enjoy your new lifestyle in the sunshine.
OK, it might not work out as well as first imagined, but hang on in there and think how envious all your mates back home must be, as you sit alone outside, grinding your teeth staring wistfully at the group of 12 French hippies chowing down $2 noodles on formica tables the other side of your bamboo curtain.
Pray for another half-baked entrepreneur, who, like you, will come along with a fist full of dollars and grandiose dreams of turning the place into something (move in after the money transfer is complete). Maybe you’ll luck out and get a slice of your original investment back.
Even if you do have to shut up shop and crawl back to your homeland, tail between your legs, in some ways you can hold your head high – you tried your upmost in the face of adversity.
Anyway, the locals and expats who run the town like a mafia were both jealous and afraid of you.
Yet, for those heady few months, be proud of what you achieved. Only through your own hard work and determination were YOU were ranked #1 on Trip Advisor!!!!!!!