At a foreign restaurant/bar, in Phnom Penh, I witnessed some middle-aged western men vainly trying to persuade a friend of mine, who is a security manager, to get them jobs as security guards. The scene was so pathetic, and raised a number of questions. Why were they here? Why were they broke? Why didn’t they know that foreigners can’t work as security guards? Why didn’t they know that the money they were spending in the bar that night would equal about half a month’s wage for the job they were trying to get?
Cambodia, like Thailand, is full of foreigners with no money, looking for jobs or “opportunities” if they present themselves, and desperate enough to get suckered into any sort of nonsense. I have seen more than one foreigner tell me they were going to come to Cambodia and work in a security company. Security is a huge business in Cambodia, but they only hire Khmer guards, and pay them $85-$130 USD per month. They don’t need or even want you. A foreigners’ lack of Khmer language skills would be a huge impediment to the work of a security guard. The same goes for foreigners who want to come here and work in a restaurant or do some other low-level job. Foreign chefs can be paid fairly well. But they are bringing skills which locals may not have. But the salary for a common restaurant worker is between $85-$120 a month, for a ten-hour shift, 28 days a month.
Other people tell me they want to come here and train in martial arts, offering their labor cleaning the school, in exchange for training. The local trainers are extremely poor and they need your money, not your labor. Your labor, cleaning the school, is worth about $3 a day. But that job can also be done by any of the Khmer students, for free, making you a redundant Whiteman.
Next, they think they will come here and work as trainers at fight gyms, in a country where the national sport is kick boxing. There are only about 5 gyms in Phnom Penh, and they already have their trainers in place. Others think they will start some sort of business, which entails a lot of lunches in restaurants, a lot of meetings, nights in bars, a lot of talk, and no actual business or money.
There are a few good jobs here. For example, teaching in an international school pays well, anywhere in the world. But you have to be qualified. You need a master degree, experience, a teaching license, letters of recommendation, and specific international school experience. But these are not the people who are contacting me about working here. NGO work can pay extremely well, but you have to have a skill that they need. And many will not hire locally. Remember, this is a country where foreign doctors and medical specialists from top hospital often work for free. You have to be hired from overseas. Basically, the rule of thumb is if you are a zero back home, if you find it impossible to earn a living in a rich country with a vibrant economy, where you were born, where you know people, where you speak the language, and have the legal right to work, don’t come to a poor country, with high unemployment and incredibly low wages, offering them NOTHING, and hoping to earn more than locals.
Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a PhD candidate at Shanghai University of sport, writing his dissertation on comparative forms of Chinese wrestling. He is martial arts and adventure author living in Asia, the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey’ and “The Monk from Brooklyn.” He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.
The Monk from Brooklyn, the book which gave Antonio his name, and all of his other books, the book available at amazon.com. His book, Warrior Odyssey, chronicling Antonio Graceffo’s first six years in Asia, including stories about Khmer and Vietnamese martial arts as well as the war in Burma and the Shan State Army, is available at http://www.blackbeltmag.com/warrior_odyssey
See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on http://www.blackbeltmag.com
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Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)