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February 2019 update – Life in the slow lane
February came and went in a flash, as it seems to do every year. I spent the month in a familiar part of Thailand, waking up to the smell of burnt sugar cane, cooler temperatures, and the sounds of roosters and dogs.
Back when I lived here, I worked long hours for community organisations led by inspiring ethnic leaders; people who have been forced from their villages in Burma as a result of civil conflict starting from as far back as the 1940s. The work was challenging, often frustrating and exhausting, but it was one of my best career experiences to date.
Yet despite the work being great, I eventually grew tired of the town. The lack of things to do outside of work – except drink copious amounts of beer while gossiping about work or other people – led me to the bright lights of Bangkok.
So it’s been an enlightening experience coming back, this time with control over my time, and a fresh perspective. I spent my mornings in the gym listening to podcasts, and scheduled some minimal work/hustling around catch-ups with friends and old colleagues who are still deeply committed to the struggle.
Yangon, you’ve changed
Towards the end of the month I took a 12-hour long bus ride to Yangon, the capital of Burma (Myanmar), to hang out with friends. I remember my first trip there in 2012, with crisp $100 notes ready to hand because ATMs didn’t yet exist. With sim cards costing over $300 each, only the rich could afford mobile phones, while the rest used old-school telephones resting on tables manned by people on the side of the street. International brands, like Coca-Cola, hadn’t yet entered the market, so there were colourfully-named local alternatives.
I’ve been back to Yangon on a handful of occasions since then for work and pleasure, but this trip really brought home how quickly the capital has changed. Shiny malls have sprung up out of nowhere, while stylish expats and locals lounge around chic bars and cafes. The beautiful decay and street-life of downtown Yangon coexists with a new and conspicuous level of wealth, but also incredible opportunity.
I chatted with a young and ambitious tour guide, who is learning how to fly drones and edit videos from YouTube, while updating her Instagram with impossibly beautiful photos taken with just her phone. She’s a hustler and entrepreneur, using the same tools as other Gen Z kids around the world to ‘build her brand’.
This Yangon is unrecognisable from the one I saw just seven years ago. It’s fascinating, yet mildly disconcerting to witness the old Yangon slowly disappear and warp into a version of Bangkok.
This month I took the accelerator off my goals, and decided to lean into having free time to travel, reflect, and enjoy the company of others. I did do something ‘productive’ most days, but also didn’t berate myself on days when I wasn’t trying optimising every single hour of my time.
I spent some time tinkering with Etsy and adding a couple new products. Sales were slow in February, so I decided to gather and analyse data on sales so far, and start with some A/B testing. Even though Etsy will never be a big earner for me, I’m really enjoying developing this micro-enterprise and experimenting with business techniques I’ve read about but never had a chance to use in my non-profit career.
I also continued with some freelancing: writing a couple of articles, doing social media marketing, and also proofreading and fact-checking a long research paper. All in all though, it wasn’t much work over the month, and from Thailand/Burma I didn’t have a chance to continue with matched betting.
In total, I earned £88.47, although as I use cash accounting, this is based on what actually hit my account in February. It was more than enough to pay my half of the rent and bills in Thailand, which came up to just £62 for the month! If I wasn’t so keen on moving back to Europe, I could definitely survive in rural Thailand for a long time with little need to work.
My Kindle died, and I didn’t want to lug many books to Thailand, so I brought over a large tome on decolonisation in Africa, but it lay neglected on the bedside table. Unfortunately I didn’t have access to other books, and I probably spent more time on news sites, YouTube, and mindless browsing than I should have. I’ll have to redress that in March!
On the German-learning front, I discovered a YouTube channel called Learn German with Anja. Anja does such an amazing job with breaking down German grammar I wish I’d discovered her earlier!
I finally did some research on ethical investing, and wrote it up in a post here. I was kindly referred to other ethical investment resources by fellow bloggers, which makes the realm of ethical investing seem even bigger than my initial research findings.
I’m trying not to fall into the trap of analysis paralysis and feeling too overwhelmed by all the information to make any changes, but I still don’t feel informed enough to make a decision as to how I’ll invest. I’m using the fact that I’m currently abroad as an excuse, but I’m back in the UK in a week, and will have to make some decisions.
And that was February! How did your month go? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.