Life After Thailand – Being Unemployed in Farangland
Okay, before anyone jumps to the conclusion that I’m a rather cynical and jaded person (why would any reader think that, when the title for my first ever submission to Stickman is so happy and positive?) I’d like to just say that I’m in fact generally a very upbeat person, it’s just that – let’s face it – after Thailand, life in Farangland positively sucks. No two ways about it.
Ah, Thailand – that magical land of tropical beaches, palm trees, amazing food and beautiful women. Where a large Singha beer can be bought for less than £1, and an entire meal for only slightly more and where any semi-solvent western man can live like a king. Ah, Thailand – a place where fantasy truly becomes reality!
So, who am I? Sorry, let me introduce myself – I’m 23 years old, a recent law graduate from a redbrick university, and up till recently worked in the City of London, the heart of Britain’s financial district, the UK’s answer to Wall Street. Oh, and did I mention I have a beautiful Thai girlfriend who’s not a bargirl?
But, before you get too jealous, let me elaborate on a few things and give a few home truths about myself – although I did graduate with a law degree from a very good university, I only managed to scrape a 2:2. Given that the UK is already overrun with out of work graduates (who have 1sts or 2:1s) this means that a lowly 2:2 simply doesn’t cut the mustard anymore, and meant that I was ineligible to pursue either of my two dream occupations – namely law and investment banking – which sadly both require a minimum of a 2:1.
As a result, after several weeks of intensive job hunting, the best job I could possibly find for myself was as an “Investment Consultant” for a rather dubious financial services company in the City. My job as a consultant was to essentially act as what bankers and Cityboys would call a “marketmaker,” and what everybody else would call a “middleman.” Yep, a middleman, i.e. somebody who is more or less useless to a given process, and simply creams off commission in the middle (hence his name.) Our firm’s role was to help struggling businesses find financing with big banks, and we’d then take a cut of whatever loans they got. In reality this meant me spending hours and hours on the phone in a bleak London office every day, talking to various bankers and Cityboys and trying to persuade them to lend money to our clients, spouting off tons of bulls**t (pardon my language) about what a great opportunity it was and how “underappreciated” our clients were in today’s economic climate. Most of my salary was commission-based on how many deals I pulled off – despite me being a ‘cityboy,’ my basic salary… well, let’s just say it was barely more than one million baht a year, and I mean barely.
Did I mention that I started this job the day after I got back from Thailand? Yep, that’s right – after 3 months of blissful backpacking with one of my university friends around Southeast Asia, I arrived at Heathrow Airport after a 17-hour flight at 10 PM. I then had to wake up at 6 AM the next morning to take a 2-hour train ride to London. Fun times! It was on this 3-month adventure that I met my current girlfriend, April, who worked as a waitress in a restaurant in Phuket (not Patong, I hasten to add!) This wasn’t my first time in Thailand – I’d also come over the summer last year with other uni friends, and to say it was a real eye-opener would be an understatement! But, anyway, April – she was something else entirely, as soon as I saw her I just thought ‘wow.’ As soon as she came over to take our order, I was flirting like crazy. She spoke pretty good English and, although quite shy, seemed pretty receptive, and my mate and I went back there four days in a row (my mate had his eye on another pretty girl who worked there.) Anyway, abruptly my mate decided he wanted to go to Ko Phangan for Full Moon, which if I’m honest I wasn’t that keen on (I came to see Thailand and Thai people, not a load of drunk western backpackers) so I stayed in Phuket whilst he went on.
With my friend away, April and I quickly became inseparable – I took her out to the cinema, to expensive restaurants, jet skiing, and also to a fair few local temples. After two weeks in Phuket I was itching to move on, so I asked her if she’d come travelling with me around Thailand and Asia. She was, understandably, pretty hesitant and mulled it over for a couple of days, before finally agreeing on one condition – we met her parents for their approval. So a trip up to rural Isaan followed, which was a pretty awesome experience in itself let me tell you! Their house was little more than a hut, so me and April would stay at a nearby hotel and the dad would come and pick us up in his rusty pickup and then drop us back at the hotel late in the evening. It was during that time that we started sleeping together properly – although we’d shared a hotel room before going to Isaan, we’d never ‘gone the whole way’ as it were.
Once we had mum and dad’s approval we travelled to Laos, then Vietnam and finally Cambodia – it was easily the best 2 months of my life! The majestic sights of Angkor Wat, the sleepiness of Vientiane, the lush landscape of Halong Bay – well I won’t bore you with too much detail, as I’d imagine most Stickman regulars are more than familiar with the sights and sounds of Southeast Asia! Suffice to say it was absolutely incredible!
Anyway, enough reminiscing, back to the everyday reality of Farangland – where was I? Ah, yes, in a gloomy London office chatting to snooty bankers and brokers over the phone for a living. I’d worked in this ‘profession’ (if you can call it that!) for just over 3 months now, and every day all I could think about was Thailand and my beloved teeruk, who was now back in Isaan selling sticky rice from the family farm at the local market. She hadn’t been able to get her old job at the restaurant back, which I kind of felt responsible for, so I admit I do send her money – not much at all to be honest, a couple of thousand (baht) every few weeks, here and there, it’s not really a regular thing. She never asks for money, but I know she appreciates it, and to be honest I’d only go and waste 2,000 baht (£40) on some useless consumer product I don’t need that all my colleagues at work are all seemingly obsessed with.
To be fair, I used to be the same – in fact I own a whole bunch of designer clothes from before I went travelling, but after seeing how people in Thailand live and what you can get for your money over there, buying all this crap just seems like a waste of money. For the last three months an IPhone 3G has been my sole indulgence – bought it second hand on eBay for a couple of hundred quid or so. I also used to be quite the party animal at uni, but since meeting April and seeing the nightlife in Thailand, clubbing in the UK just seems a bit mundane (and more than a bit overpriced!)
Oops I’ve digressed again, sorry about that – yep, so I’m in a gloomy London office after 3 months in Farangland. Every day I wake up and drive to the train station in darkness at 6 AM, and by the time I get back to the train station at 8 PM the sun has long gone again. Weekends are the only time I get to see my house (well, my parents’ house, since I live at home) in daylight. I also only get to talk to April at weekends mostly, since the time difference means it’s too late to phone when I get home, although I try to chat with her over Skype for ten minutes or so in the mornings before I leave for the train station.
But all that’s about to end – and not in a good way, as in a promotion or the climate of the UK dramatically altering so that there is sunlight at 10 in the evening. No, I mean I’m about to get fired. Canned. Ditched. How ever you want to phrase it.
The preceding week before had actually been a high point for me – after weeks of seemingly fruitless toil, I had closed several largish deals, and next month I’d be due a hefty commission (in the region of several thousand pounds.) Although I had a hefty amount of travelling/student debt to pay off (I owe about £4,000 in credit cards and overdrafts) in my head I was already planning to take a well-deserved week of holiday and head over to Thailand to see my beloved April – ah, what a thought! Away from this over-priced, over-policed, overly cold country and back to the Land of Smiles! With these thoughts in my head for once it wasn’t a problem getting up and heading for the shower at 6 AM.
All that changed once I got into the office and discovered my phone was ringing off the hook. This wasn’t good, I thought. Of course it wasn’t – my largest deal had decided to tank in dramatic and diabolical fashion. The firm we’d lined up for getting a big wedge of new financing had got the new money from the banks we set them up with, but obviously things were a lot worse than I thought as the company had just gone and declared bankruptcy! So I had the banks ringing me up and shouting all kinds of threats down the phone at me for negligence (as their money had just vanished in a puff of smoke) and, even worse, the busted business had chosen to go into liquidation before they’d paid our firm’s fees! So our firm (so my boss, the owner) was out of pocket for expenses, I was out of pocket for my hefty commission, and the lenders were out of pocket for all the money they’d lent! I honestly don’t know who was more pissed off that day! <Seems all this banking bullshit is continuing despite what politicians may say – Stick>
I knew the big cheese bankers would be giving an earful to my boss, and I knew then that my time was up. Although this sounds like my fault, it really isn’t – I just match up lenders and borrowers, it’s the banks job to do due diligence and check that the person who they’re lending money to is financially sound. But I was clearly going to be the scapegoat.
My boss didn’t say anything to me that day, but still, I knew it was game over. What made things worse is someone else in my division (a pretty nice guy to be fair) had closed a huge deal and my boss declared that we would all go out celebrating at the local pub. Naturally, I was required to attend.
Now being the pretentious City of London firm (or pretentious ‘wannabe’ should I say) that we are, when we went out celebrating it wasn’t to a nice, quiet, pub filled with historic character – no, it was to this place called CBK. To this day I have no idea what the acronym stood for, but all I can say is that it was the tackiest, pretentious and overpriced pub/nightclub (as there was also a large dance floor) I’ve ever been to. A ‘no denim’ policy meant come 6pm on a Friday it was filled with wealthy drunken Cityboys in their designer suits, and slaggy western girls ‘on the make’ for an older rich guy to sit with them and buy them a drink (not that different at all from Nana Plaza in that respect I guess.) Anyway, I was in no mood for celebrating, so having to pay 350 baht (no I’m not exaggerating!) for a pint of Stella Artois after queuing up behind a bunch of suits swigging champagne wasn’t ideal let me tell you!
One of my more annoying colleagues then came over and started chatting to me about something which I could tell he thought was of the greatest importance, but which I considered to be utterly mundane. When I told this guy about my travels to Asia, his reaction was “why would you ever want to do that? Anywhere outside Europe’s just too dangerous!” And that isn’t putting him in a harsh light either – his life revolves around the next mobile phone he’s getting on his contract, or what pair of overpriced jeans he’s going to buy for £100 (5000 baht)!
Thankfully I was saved by catching the eye of a rather attractive Middle Eastern girl, who to my surprise returned my smile and came over to chat to me. Whilst I felt obliged to buy her a drink at the modest price of £5 (250 baht) it was well worth it to get away from my dreadfully vacuous co-worker. We chatted for a little bit – her mum was from Lebanon, and she was born in Wimbledon and worked as a hairdresser in Covent Garden – and she ended up giving me her phone number. Let me just say that I’d never dream of cheating on April, but it was nice to be flattered like that. Until it dawned on me – she wasn’t interested in me because I looked like Brad Pitt. She was interested in me because I was one of the youngest, slimmest guys in a pretentious City of London bar full of middle-aged, overweight businessmen, and because I was wearing a (reasonably) expensive suit and was nursing a £7 pint of Stella – for these reasons she thought I was a catch. But the reality is – this suit’s the only one I’ve got, I earn next to nothing, I’m about to lose my job, and my net worth is literally less than zero. I think if she knew all she might have reconsidered about the middle-aged businessmen.
Sure enough, on Monday I was ‘canned’ – my boss told me to collect my things from my desk, and by lunchtime I was back on the train home. On the bright side, I get to chat to April more – she’s my one ray of light amidst the gloom of the UK, but on the downside I’ve got no money.
It’s Tuesday now already – time to finish this submission and get applying for some new jobs I guess, after all I’ve got to get back to Thailand somehow!
Here's hoping that April will wait…