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French expat Andre, his Khmer wife Saly and their children. Family gargen, Sihanoukville.

Cambodia. A suitable place for retirement?

"Retire", according to the dictionary, means to "withdraw from society, public or active life, business, profession, etc; to go into seclusion or to bed".

This hardly describes the lifestyle of the retired expat community in Cambodia, enjoying the Asian version of the Costa Geriatrica. They mostly lead very active lives exploring jungles, rivers, coastlines and of course the myriad tropical, sun-kissed island paradises that make the coastline of SE Asia, one of the most romantic and colourful in the world. Others enjoy their sports: a game of lazy late afternoon beach petanque for the French, deep sea fishing trips, sailing, or perhaps a leisurely beach stroll and welcome swim in the blue, clear, warm coastal waters. Some may enjoy voluntary work, such as teaching enthusiastic young Cambodians English, or, even part-time work. No longer having to work for a living, they simply expend their energies on the things they enjoy doing. The last thing the retired expat in Cambodia wants to do is curl up and have a sleep! This is not a Russian dacha!

The Russians of course, know a thing or two about "retirement." An estimated 60% of Moscovites retire to their country homes every weekend during the summer months. The Russian world is divided into dacha dwellers and doubters. Doubters of course, will point to the endless hours of traffic jams, the toilets at the bottom of the garden, swarms of mosquitos and a bucket of ice-cold water instead of a hot tub. While the dacha dwellers are fully prepared to overcome all obstacles, for those few precious hours out of civilization, away from the noise and car fumes, ugly high rise buildings, crowded metros and drab streets. The dacha means unity with nature and an "oasis of freedom". An oasis where you can enjoy a hammock, an extended lunch in an apple orchard, or, at night, relish a Russian karaoke, by engaging the gypsy in your soul and serenading the lady of your choice. Russians take their retirement seriously.

Likewise in England. In 2007, nearly 250,000 Londoners packed their bags and left for good, escaping the creeping urban decay and crime, for a happier and healthier life elsewhere. They call it the "White flight" syndrome. Many of these began a new life overseas, joining an estimated 1 million British pensioners. With the British grand tradition of globetrotting, baby boomers are becoming increasingly adventurous in their choice of retirement location. Searching for happiness in their sunset years can be fun. Happiness can also extend your life considerably.

According to The Journal of Happiness Studies (2008), research at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, Holland suggests that, "Happiness does not heal, but happiness protects against falling ill". Happiness can add from 7-10 years to our lives, in the opinion of professor Veenhoven. In view of the preceding statistics, this begs the interesting question: Why are people, blessed with material wealth in developed nations, no longer satisfied with their lives? As Veenhoven notes: "Growth in material wealth adds little to happiness once buying power hits $10,000 per annum". The missing ingredient? Not surprisingly, "Happiness is bolstered by friendship and human community". Happy people also intuitively lead healthy lifestyles. They are more active; more open to the world; more self-confident, build better social networks and make better choices. Without wishing to blow my own trumpet, this sounds just like your average Cambodian expat retiree.

Cambodia has lots to offer in terms of retirement. The geography, the climate, cost of living, amenities, price of property, social life, and, that most important factor: a burgeoning and supportive, expat community. Cambodia is described in tourist brochures as, "The Kingdom of Wonder". This is an apt description. However, many of us retirees here feel towards Cambodia as Russians feel towards their precious dacha: An oasis of freedom. An oasis where one can find true happiness. Cambodia still has its problems. But, those are for doubters; not for dwellers.

By Tony Valenti

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