Looking back at life via the World Cup

As you get older, and spend more time working in an office day in, day out, it’s harder to remember what you did each summer. When I was in my early twenties, I could probably tell you what I did every summer holiday since I was 12.

Nowadays, I don’t even recall what I did last summer without some deep probing of my memories. ‘Summer’ is no longer six or more glorious weeks away from school or university. In fact, living in Thailand, ‘summer’ doesn’t really register with me all, because of the year-long hot climate.

But there’s something about the World Cup that makes a summer memorable. It’s only every four years, and there’s an atmosphere of excitement and emotional investment in a team. It’s time spent with others over beers, and sharing (often in the case of England) commiserations.

With the World Cup going on right now, it’s prompted me to remember what I was doing during the last tournament, and tournaments before that. The memory of each World Cup summer allows me a little snapshot of my life at a particular moment.

Four years between World Cups is a long time, and it’s been interesting to reflect on how much has changed over time. Here’s are the snapshots of my life over the last five World Cup tournaments, spanning 16 years.

World Cup 2002

I’m done with my first year of university and living independently! I’ve somehow blown through the first installment of my student loan (it must have been all the drinking and new clothes). No worries though, I’m putting in a lot of hours working as a catering waitress in London for £6 an hour.

There are many fancy weddings to work this summer, and some of them happen to have celebrity guests. I also get to get work at state banquets and private parties. There’s plenty of money flying around (just not amongst us wait staff). I head back late at night to my cheap house share in Peckham and watch the World Cup highlights with my housemates. We buy cheap booze and cook up cheap meals. We’re all broke but happy.

World Cup 2006

I’m in Dhaka, Bangladesh doing an internship with an NGO. I graduated from university the year before, and I’m dipping my toes in the world of international development. I’m fascinated by the inner workings of the organisation, and the politics of the country, so I do my best to learn everything I can while I’m there.

My weekends are spent volunteering with street children, and my evenings are spent with privileged expats and local elites. I don’t need to worry about money at all; my host family lend me their driver and car, my dinners are paid for. I’m hugely conflicted about my comfortable life of privilege even though I probably only have £500 in my bank account in total.

My partner is working for the World Cup organizers in Germany and offered me a ticket to go see the final! But I can’t go. Instead I invite friends to watch the Cup Final in the home theatre of the mansion I’m staying in.

World Cup 2010

It’s a glorious London summer. The sun is out, and the nights are long. My partner and I have just moved into our adorable, but expensive flat in Islington and enjoying the afternoons and evenings drinking overpriced pints in our local pubs.

I’m also in the middle of finishing my Masters thesis, while working a four-day week for a non-profit that makes me want to bash my head in. I’ve been working there for 2 years and hating it from day one, but I force myself to stay there for the stable income. A possible move to Singapore is on the cards, but this isn’t final yet.

Money worries are on the periphery of my mind, but I push them further out. After all, it’s the summer, it’s the World Cup, and I need to try out all the fancy restaurants and pubs in my area, right?

World Cup 2014

I’m enjoying a mini retirement in northern Thailand. I quit my high-stress and low paid (but highly rewarding job) earlier in May. I have no idea what/where my next job will be, and I don’t care. Money doesn’t worry me very much because I started taking saving and investing seriously the year before. Instead, I’m taking the time to do things I’ve wanted to do for a while, but couldn’t due to being tied to full-time work. So I go on a ten-day silent meditation retreat, take a course on sustainable living at an organic farm, and go to a music festival in Borneo.

Meanwhile, Thailand has just undergone a military coup and declared martial law. I wonder how a 10pm national curfew is going to work when the World Cup matches are on late. Thankfully the self-appointed National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) relax the curfew just in time. I watch the Germany-Argentina final on an outdoor screen through a curtain of rain (it’s rainy season).

World Cup 2018

I’m living in Bangkok, my home for the last three and a half years. I found my perfect job, but I realize it’s time to leave it behind. So I’m in transition, getting ready for a three-month travel adventure around Asia, before finally making the big move back to Europe. I’ve been steadily building up my savings over the last few years to give myself the time to figure out the next step in life. But I’m also slightly stressed about not having income coming in after September.

I’m not particularly fussed about watching the World Cup this year due to the time difference, plus I might have developed a gluten intolerance which means I can’t drink beer! (But England making it to the quarter-finals has got me excited).

World Cup 2022??

It’s hard for me to project four years ahead. I have never been great at life-planning – I tend to let life happen to me. During each of the World Cup summers just described, I could never have imagined where I would be four years later. Back in 2002, I certainly wouldn’t have imagined I would be writing this post in Bangkok 16 years later. Perhaps the lack of life-planning has enabled me to make such crazy career and location moves.

But money has also become more important to me over these years; especially as I’ve realised that financial independence can help me continue living a life untethered from traditional work. I also know that as I get older, it will be harder to follow my passions without that financial security.

So while I don’t know where I will be, or what I will be doing in 2022, I do know how I want to feel in four years time. I want to feel more financially secure and independent, closer to family, passionate about whatever I’m doing, and perhaps settled somewhere longer-term. It’s now up to me to try break down these vague feelings into actual SMART goals and taking action…

Over to you! What were you up to in the last World Cup? Where do you want to be in 2022?


June 2018 Update – reluctantly going gluten free…

Can you believe we’re halfway through 2018?! Knowing that we’re entering into the second half of the year has me both excited and nervous. Excited that I’ll be soon leaving work and embarking on a three-month tour of Asia, but also nervous that I won’t be generating any income for the foreseeable future.

I’ll be eating into my net worth and savings, so I need to start mentally preparing myself now to see my net worth go down, after five years of tracking and working hard for it to go up each month.

A perfect evening of cocktails and sunset in June

An Enforced Health Break

I’ve been feeling quite poorly since the end of May, dealing with what’s likely a flare-up of a chronic condition. I’ve had to make some lifestyle changes to see if that has any effect on my symptoms.

The main change has been related to diet. I’ve been making an effort to cut out gluten, dairy, and coffee to see if it makes any difference. As a lover of cheese, cake and chocolate, this has been a major challenge, especially as my partner just came back with a suitcase full of the stuff from Germany!!

It also turns out that wheat/gluten is present in a whole lot of things I wasn’t aware of, so I’ve also accidentally ingested it several times over the month. No wheat also means no beer, so I haven’t been down the pub watching the football as I usually would during the World Cup.

Cutting down on gluten and dairy seems to be working to some extent, but I’m hoping I only need abstain this temporarily until I feel in tip top shape again. In addition to these dietary restrictions, I’ve also made an effort to do more exercise, and I’ve started taking time to meditate before bed.

Since I’ve been prioritizing my health in June, not as much energy and focus has gone into my work, blogging or progress on other goals, but I’ve tried to keep things ticking along.

June Highlights

June was a fairly low-key month for me. My partner was away in Europe for half of it, and I spent a lot of time at home. That said, there were still some nice relaxing days and evenings out with friends.

We spent a lovely Sunday afternoon in the old part of Bangkok, going to Museum Siam to see an exhibition on gender and sexual identity. The exhibition gave visitors a quick overview of the rights of LGBTQi people in Thailand (summary: there’s a long way to go), and the activist groups pushing for change. The best part of the exhibition was the collection of personal objects that gives some insight into the lives of Thais who have struggled to assert their true identities. The exhibition is on til end of September, so I’d highly recommend it to those in town.

Gender Illumination exhibition at Museum Siam

On my birthday we went to a vegan restaurant to celebrate. Since the weather has cooled down a little, I also exercised in the park a bit more, often with friends. I think working out with friends is my favourite frugal hack: you get fit, catch up friends, and it doesn’t cost a penny! At this point, I’d way rather spend my time with friends doing this instead of binge-drinking in the pub.

I also went to a three-day work conference near my home. It was a good opportunity to reflect on the sector I’m working in, and figure out if I want to continue working in it or not. The conference was held in the Marriott, and it took quite a feat of self-discipline to not eat all of the cakes and cookies on offer throughout the day.

My sewing course also wrapped up this month. I’m not sure I’ll be whipping up beautiful dresses any time soon (let alone something vaguely wearable), but I look forward to getting my hands on a sewing machine when back in the UK, and trying things out. It does make me want to continue making stuff with my hands, but arts and crafts courses tend to cost quite a lot of money in BKK. Now that I have my full weekends back, I will try to channel that time, energy and concentration into exploring Bangkok, and looking into side hustles.

I made a pair of trousers!

June 2018 numbers

Reported in Thai Baht (THB) and UK Pounds (£)*

Income: 74,926 THB / £1,665.02

My income is my monthly salary from my full-time job (after taxes and a 3% contribution to a provident fund), plus some modest allowances for housing and phone/internet costs.

Expenses: 25,769 THB / £572.63

CategoryCost (THB / £)Explanation
Rent11,000 THB / £244This is my half of a fairly small one-bedroom condo unit in a central location.
Groceries and regular meals out3,654 THB / £81.20Regular meals out are cheap meals I eat in canteens, food courts, or street food stalls. These tend to cost between 30-50 THB (67p – £1.10), and make up most of my usual meals in addition to what I cook at home.
Eating out and treats1,545 THB / £34.33This includes special meals on date nights or with friends, and little sweet treats
Drinking195 THB / £4.33I include both alcoholic and other drinks like bubble teas and coffees in here. I couldn't really drink much this month.
Entertainment270 THB / £6.00This usually includes cinema tickets, and other entertainment costs
Transport: Commute948 THB / £21.07I use the BTS and MRT systems to get to and from work
Transport: Non-Commute879 THB / £19.53I might grab taxis or motorbikes from time to time
Utilities / phone174 THB / £3.87Internet, electricity, water, and phone
Toiletries / personal care234 THB / £5.20Toiletries and some make-up
Health / fitness5838 THB / £129.73Medical consultations, tests, and medication
Gifts / Donations0Guess I wasn't feeling generous this month!
Holiday0No travel plans made this month
Learning432 THB / £.59Kindle books

Savings rate:

66% (January – September 2018 goal = 60%)

June was a cheaper month for basic costs than usual because I couldn’t indulge much in beer, coffee, or pastries. But two trips to the doctors upped my expenses. My insurance covers 2,000 THB per outpatient visit, but with the consultation and tests, it came to over 4,500 THB each time I went. I could have gone to a cheaper hospital, but I needed a specialist.

I’m averaging a 56% savings rate from January to June, so I’m close to my overall target. But I know there’ll be some big costs coming up in the next couple of months, including flights for later in the year.

My hospital is quite fancy

Net Worth:

Up 17.7% from December 2017 (2018 Goal = 20%)

Barring any major disasters in the markets, I should hit my goal by September before my net worth starts to decline again.

July plans

Even though I feel like I’ve got my current life on frugal autopilot, I realize I haven’t been actively trying to save as money as I can. I only have two whole paychecks left before I leave my job, and I keep going back and forth about whether to save the most of it as possible, or to use it to make the most of Bangkok in my remaining time here.

But I’ve also just come to the realisation that making the most of Bangkok doesn’t necessarily mean spending a fortune. For me, it means exploring new neighbourhoods, rather than checking out the latest trendy restaurant. I’ve just signed up for the Uber Frugal Month with Mrs Frugalwoods (for the second time), so I look forward to embracing the challenge of making the most of Bangkok in July on the smallest amount of money.

I also need to start thinking about making the big move. Deciding what needs to be donated, what should be sold, and what’s coming back with us. Thankfully work covers my relocation costs, so I’ll have to start talking to them about booking my flight back to the UK in December and looking into freight charges.

Ok that wraps up the monthly update! How was your June?

*I’m not too fussed about using an accurate exchange rate each month, as long I use the same rate for income and expenses. I’m using a rate of 45 THB/GBP.

My top 10 vegan and vegetarian places in Bangkok

It was my birthday this month, and instead of going out drinking and partying on the dance floor, I asked a few friends to join me for a civilised meal at my favorite vegan restaurant in Bangkok. I suppose I’m officially grown up!

This was my birthday meal at Veganerie

For a Buddhist country, Thailand can be surprisingly difficult for vegetarians and vegans. Luckily there is a word that encapsulates the vegan diet – jay/jeh – derived from Jainism, but this goes even further than veganism by omitting garlic and onions. Jay restaurants tend to compensate for the lack of flavour by using lots of oil and salty, mock meats. It isn’t necessarily healthy, but it’s nice to eat every once in a while.

Depending on my mood, I’m either a vegetarian or pescatarian. Eating fish while living in Thailand makes things much easier. I don’t worry about the fish or oyster sauce in my food, and I can indulge in my favourite Thai dish, gaeng som, a thick tangy soup that usually comes with either fish or prawns. My partner isn’t vegetarian, but he limits his meat-eating to when he’s eating away from home.

Gaeng Som – NOT vegan friendly!

When cooking at home, we mostly go vegan. Meals tend to revolve about beans and fresh vegetables, with some quinoa or brown rice thrown in for bulk. Even our baking and dessert-making tends to revolve around vegan recipes.

When we’re eating out, we tend to go to vegetarian places that are also vegan friendly. Most of the ones in malls are of the jay variety – serving typical Thai dishes cooked without meat, or with mock meat. But there are other vegetarian restaurants catering to the large Thai Indian community, and to the middle class/expat vegan crowd.

My top 10 vegan and vegetarian places in Bangkok

Here are my favourite spots, four of which are in food courts, and six of which are restaurants. Listed by price, low to high.

Vegetarian/vegan stalls at food courts:

Terminal 21, Asok

Terminal 21 has to be my favourite mall – each floor is themed on a different city, so you have a Tokyo floor, and a London floor for example. I end up there quite often for the food court. There are so many options and the meals cost around 30-50 THB. I usually head straight for the the vegetarian stall where I can get brown rice with two servings of veggies or curry for just 33THB. I then go and sit by the window and take in the amazing view.

MBK, Siam

I hardly go to MBK; I don’t really like the vibe and run-down feel, but I do occasionally go to the food court on the 6th floor. There’s a vegetarian stall there that sells all sorts of noodles, vegetables and curries. You can get seriously full on just 50THB.

Emquartier, Phrom Phong

This is the food court I frequent the most since it’s in my neighborhood. It’s bright, lively, and the vegetarian stall has noodles, which some other veggie stalls don’t have. Brown rice and two sides costs just 80THB, while a bowl of noodles costs about the same. Emporium on the other side of the street has the same vegetarian stall in their food court, so we go there as well sometimes.

Central World, Siam

I never knew Central World had a food court until about last year. It’s hidden behind the food hall on the 7th floor. There’s a vegetarian stall there that has more options than other food courts, and things are mostly made fresh to order. It’s slightly pricier with dishes costing upwards of 80 THB.

Vegetarian/vegan standalone restaurants

Punjab Sweets, Pahurat

We go to the Chinatown/Pahurat end of town on occasion to stock up on almonds, seeds, and dried fruit. When we’re there, we always stop by Punjab Sweets. In addition to the mouth-watering sweets they serve, they also have Indian street snacks like pani puri and chaat. Their dosas are also very good, and very affordable at less than 200 THB.

Thamna Hometaurant, Samsen Road

This was one of the first restaurants we ate at on our first trip to Bangkok seven years ago. It’s a tiny little place, and feels so cozy (the ‘hometaurant’ description is very apt), and the food and fresh juices are just so good.

May Veggie Home, Asok (vegan only)

This place is conveniently near Benjakitti park, so if I’ve been there for outdoor yoga, or a jog, I tend to stop by for a healthy vegan meal. They have typical Thai dishes, including delicious curries and soups, as well as vegan sushi and burgers. I usually pay around 250 THB.

Saras, Phrom Phong

Saras is a vegetarian and vegan restaurant serving the large Thai-Indian community around Sukhumvit. It has food from all the different regions of India, plus Indian-style Chinese food, which is apparently something quite specific. We tend to share a large thali and a starter. Each day they have about 6 different thalis, and these change according to the day of the week. That means they have 42 thalis to try out!! Saras is a bit more expensive than other Indian restaurants nearby, but the quality is worth it. We usually pay around 350 THB each.

Broccoli revolution, Thonglor (vegan only)

Broc Rev is a bit hit and miss with their vegan food, but I always end up going back for their broccoli quinoa charcoal burger. The place itself is very nice: plants cascading from a high ceiling, and with a lively atmosphere. We typically pay around 350 THB.

Veganerie Concept, Phrom Phong (vegan only)

This is the place I took my friends for my birthday. It’s located right behind Benjasiri park, so it’s a nice walk to get there, and it’s in a quiet spot with a really chilled vibe. They have dishes all brunchers would recognise: avocado toast, acai bowls, and vegan versions of fry-ups. For lunch and dinner, they have wraps, burgers, and yummy Buddha bowls with spiralised courgette. I usually follow up with a more indulgent vegan dessert or shake. With dessert, we usually pay around 450 THB.
A vegan mint choc chip shake

Other notable mentions:

  • Eat Thai @ Central Embassy vegetarian stall
  • Gateway Ekkamai food court vegetarian staff
  • Barefood Bangkok in Ekkamai for amazing vegan cheese
  • Honey Bear Bistro in Ekkamai – this is not a vegetarian place, but their Buddha bowls are vegan friendly
I hope that Bangkok becomes more vegan and vegetarian friendly; not just by opening more expensive vegan places, but by making healthy, vegetarian food an affordable option for everybody.