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?

 

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.
Chaat!

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.

Using geoarbitrage to maximise value for money when shopping

If you’ve seen my cost of living breakdown and monthly reports, you’ll know that Bangkok can be a very affordable place to live. Basic expenses  – rent, transport, utilities and eating out – are a fraction of what I would pay back home in London.

But beyond these essential monthly costs (and the occasional massage), Thailand often doesn’t offer great value for money. This might be a surprise to those who come to Thailand for cheap shopping and expect bargains. Yes – those fake Adidas shoes may be cheap, but they’re not made to last, which means having to make a repeat purchase. That’s not a bargain at all, and is a huge disservice to the environment.

Over the past seven years living in Thailand, I’ve learned tips and tricks to make the most of my trips back home to the UK to save money on shopping. I suppose this is one way of using geoarbitrage to maximise value and minimise spending.

Using geoarbitrage for better value shopping

What I take on my trips back home to London

Before I make each trip, I usually fill my suitcase with little treats that I know my friends and family would like, and that represent good value and novelty. These include:

  • Mama noodles – creamy tom yum flavour (the BEST flavour)
  • Tao Kae Noi seaweed snacks – soooo good
  • Northern Thai coffee
  • Thai cooking sauces – these are much more authentic that those in UK supermarkets
  • Sheet masks – these cost much more in the UK than over here
Everyone loves these mama noodles

After I distribute these gifts, I’m usually left with an empty suitcase because I have enough clothes still in the UK to wear when I’m there. I proceed to fill that suitcase with items that I know are much cheaper in the UK, or represent better value for money. Since the UK pound has dropped against the baht in the past two years, my money also goes further!

What I bring back to Bangkok from the UK

Clothing

Markets in Thailand sell fantastic looking clothes for very little money. I myself was seduced by the cheap and on-trend clothes being sold in the various market stalls (it seems whatever appears on the catwalk is on Bangkok markets the following week).

After a couple of years of buying cheap garments and having them fall apart soon after, I learned to buy for quality and durability instead, which is often found in more recognisable brands. Unfortunately in Bangkok you pay a premium for this due to import taxes. Zara and Mango – which are not exactly known for their great quality either – are almost seen as premium brands in Thailand, and have price tags to match. Thankfully Uniqlo seems to deliver quality on a lower price price point, but I don’t like the fit of all their clothes.

Meanwhile, shops in London seem to be perpetually on sale. No matter the timing of my trip – around Christmas, spring, summer, or autumn, it seems there’s always a sale on. I buy little, I buy smart, and always with something in mind.

Shoes

Bangkok is not kind to shoes what with the dirt, rain, uneven pavements. I walk a lot, so my shoes get a lot of wear and tear. Again, Bangkok offers great looking shoes for a few quid, but I want to be kind to my feet. It’s important to me to find quality shoes that are breathable, comfortable, and supportive (since I’ve had problems with plantar fasciitis).

I’ve tried buying shoes from Bata, which are everywhere in Bangkok, but they don’t really last long. So when I’m in the UK I go back to what I’m familiar and comfortable with – Clarks, M&S, or Adidas shoes. And since there always seem to be a sale on, I’m much more likely to find comfortable, quality shoes for a much lower price in the UK.

Underwear

Good underwear is so expensive in Thailand!! As soon as I’m in the UK I head back to M&S to restock. Enough said.

Tea

Is it any wonder that as a Brit I fill my suitcase with teabags? I grew up drinking PG Tips, and it’s just one of those creature comforts I love to indulge in. A box of 40 PG Tips teabags in Bangkok costs £4.50. For the same price, I can buy 240 bags in the UK. That’s less that 1p per tea bag, versus 11p in Bangkok! I also stock up on herbal teas like peppermint.

Chocolate and biscuits

Everyone needs some chocolate or biscuits to go with their tea, right? Give me Cadbury’s over fancy Belgium chocolate any day. They do have Cadbury’s here, but it doesn’t quite taste the same, and they sell tiny bars for 50p. Whereas I can go around Sainsbury’s and pick up four bars for £1.

Cheese

If I’ve bought any clothes in London, they’ll be stinky on their arrival in Bangkok because of all the cheese I’ve packed alongside. I looooove cheese, especially mature cheddar, stilton, camembert, and halloumi, all of which practically sell for peanuts in comparison to the mini fortune they cost Bangkok.

Chia seeds

I had no idea how much cheaper chia seeds could be in the UK until a friend asked me to bring some back from London. You can buy 2kg of chia seeds from Amazon for £8.99. The equivalent in Bangkok would cost £45!! I also used to buy things like sunflower seeds and flaxseed from the UK. But I’ve since found some amazing vendors in Chinatown that are the equivalent of Holland and Barrett and have good prices.

Makeup and Toiletries

I’m not big on makeup, but occasionally I’ll need to replace my Mac concealer, which I’ll do at the airport duty free. I do invest in skincare however, and for some reason basic face creams in Bangkok cost much more. So if I see a good deal on products I use from Soap & Glory, or Botanics, I’ll pick them up. I also bring all of my contact lens solution from the UK. I have gas permeable contact lenses, and finding the solution and cleaner for them in Bangkok is too much of a challenge.

Final thoughts

I realise that even after so many years abroad, I still crave the familiarity of recognisable foods and brands! It’s no wonder I miss home.

As I’m making the big move back to the UK this year, I won’t be needing these shopping hacks anymore. Instead I’ll be thinking of what I should be bringing back to the UK from Asia. I expect sheet masks and seaweed will be filling in the crevices of my suitcase.

How many packets of seaweed will fit in my suitcase??

Over to you – have you put shopping geoarbitrage to use? Have you found unexpectedly good deals or false bargains when shopping abroad?