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Category - Life of Finch

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A Year In South East Asia
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Thoughts on Bangkok and Staying Productive Abroad
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My 2 Weeks in Bangkok and Hua Hin

A Year In South East Asia

It’s been a while.

In fact, it’s been so long since I last updated this site, I’m betrayed by my own strapline:

“I’m a 26 year old high school dropout.”

Well, it was true two years ago.

Now I’m a 28 year old high school dropout.

Having to share a platform with the candid thoughts of your much younger self is one good reason not to sustain a blog for almost a decade.

Before I rip up this site forever, here’s an update on where I’ve been, what I’m working on, and how I’m surviving in South East Asia.

Thailand: 12 Months On

This blog has — at times — descended in to farce as I’ve tried to justify my jumping around: moving to Thailand, moving back to London, moving to America, not moving to America, moving back to Thailand, and so on.

Last March, I sold (or gave away) 95% of my possessions and moved to Bangkok with my girlfriend and two small dogs.

It’s been an amazing year. The best of my life.

I didn’t really know what to expect.

Our intention was to spend 12 months in Asia and ‘see how we felt at the end of it’. If it wasn’t fun anymore, we’d move back home.

It’s still fun, so we’re still here.

There are times where I get nostalgic for a British pub, or the predictability of Old England compared to the Thai Junta, but there’s no mistaking: our lifestyle out here is infinitely better than what we left behind.

I feel healthier and happier despite the utter chaos that passes as normal in Bangkok.

As any visa runner knows, a year in Thailand is ample opportunity to explore your local surroundings.

It’s practically a rite of passage to spend a shit four days in Laos.

So here are some thoughts on the places I’ve visited recently:

Hong Kong

Hong Kong Victoria Peak

My girlfriend summed up Hong Kong perfectly: the Clapham of South East Asia.

Packed with history, character, and the guffaws of yuppies.

I expected the British/Chinese fusion, but it’s surreal nonetheless.

From the English street names, to the ‘little green man’ at crossings, to the entire swathes of downtown Hong Kong that feel like London pitched on a steep incline and ridden of its kebab shops and pissheads.

My highlight was climbing Victoria Peak for one of the most outrageous panoramic views of any city on earth.

Lowlight was getting an exceptional case of the shits on the last day — with 15 hours to burn between hotel checkout and boarding our flight.

Fucking painful.

I wouldn’t wish the experience — the profound lack of emptiness — on my worst enemy.

Macau

Macau mini golf

Macau’s casinos are impressive, but soulless.

They reminded me of Dubai.

You can build the most majestic buildings in the world; but you can’t buy character.

The place reeks of cashed up mainlanders gallivanting for the weekend. Most of them in Man United shirts and tour groups of 80.

My highlight was playing pitch and putt, in the rain, on the roof of the Venetian. It summed up my overall impression of Macau: “OK cool, I don’t know why you’ve built this, but OK cool.”

Penang, Malaysia

penang

I didn’t see much of Penang on my last visit.

This time I stayed in Georgetown, which had much more going on — and some cracking chicken biryanis. We found plenty of good food and some interesting Japanese bars which reminded me just how much I don’t miss life before the smoking ban in bars and clubs.

The city has lots of British-style architecture as remnants of its colonial past. A nice place to walk around with beautiful Mediterranean style weather.

We used an agent to get our visas renewed while we were here.

You know it’s a funny year when you’re sitting in a hotel lobby, wearing sunglasses, waiting for Abdul ‘the runner’ to come and pick up your passport.

You wonder what the doorman’s thinking as he sees the money change hands; as he catches you mutter: “Here, tomorrow, at 3? Don’t be late — we’ve got a flight to catch.”

Vientiane, Laos

Laos

Would I recommend a visit to Vientiane?

Sure, just like I’d recommend shutting your balls in a car window.

We stayed in a hotel that I later discovered had been busted for child trafficking. This mute point hasn’t affected its lofty ranking on Trip Advisor, which says a lot about the competition.

And the Gary Glitter types congregated around the pool.

(I purposefully didn’t shave for the entire holiday.)

There are some nice temples, cheap markets and a massive fuck-off river with some history behind it. All things somebody with a little culture might appreciate.

Alas, I spent most of the time patching in to BBC Sport to keep up with the cricket.

Saigon (HCMC), Vietnam

vietnam

I really enjoyed Vietnam.

It felt like a Bangkok of 20 years ago.

A neon lit sprawl of mental traffic, bedraggled tourists and a thousand coffee shops.

The War Remnants Museum was worth a visit for its (one-sided) account of America’s crimes during the Vietnam conflict.

Although it doesn’t have a scratch on the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia, which is by far the most affecting war museum I’ve visited. The stench of death there gets under your skin and lives on in your dreams.

We made a huge tourist error in boarding a taxi parked up outside the museum. Of course, the meter was obviously going to be rigged.

The fare started bouncing upwards within a couple of minutes, leading to a classically British display of anger: politely asking to pull over whilst openly discussing how much to pay the scammer.

We eventually decided: nothing.

And ran away.

But not before I found time to take this photo of the chancy prick:

meter-scammer

We should have known better.

Tourist 101. Never get in a parked taxi outside a tourist attraction in South East Asia.

Balancing Work and Bangkok

Between trips abroad, and seeing various parts of Thailand, there comes the small issue of work.

One of my biggest concerns about moving to Asia was, “What’s going to happen to my productivity?”

I am, admittedly, a creature of habit.

Back in London, I couldn’t function in the morning until I’d conquered my daily routine:

  • Feed the pups
  • Have a shower
  • Head to the ‘Petch (my affectionate term for a Petrol Station that stocks Costa Express and vanilla muffins)
  • Scan The Times
  • Wallow in coffee beans and rifle through my inbox

This routine guided me to a moment of spark at about 10:25am when I’d suddenly think, “Shit, hold on, am I not supposed to be… working on campaigns?”

And with a nervous fart, I’d assault the day.

In Thailand?

Not much has changed, except the scenery and my choice of breakfast.

For those who give a shit about daily routines, here’s how I design mine.

I divide the day in to four periods:

  1. Before Breakfast: 8:30 to 10:45
  2. After Breakfast: 11:00 to 12:45
  3. Before Lunch: 1:00 to 2:00
  4. After Lunch: 3:00 to 7:00

(Yes, I’ve managed to associate eating to literally everything I do.)

I also divide my work in to four distinct ‘phases':

  • Management
  • Creativity
  • Production
  • Autopilot

I assign them like this:

Before Breakfast
8:30 to 10:45
Management Phase

Here I’ll take on management tasks like briefing my team, responding to emails, tracking projects, and viewing the trends of campaigns. I’ll examine my scorecard (KPIs) of the previous day’s stats, which gives a breakdown of performance across my entire business.

Whatever needs following up gets assigned and scheduled.

By the time 10:45 arrives, my loins are quivering for coffee beans.

It’s off to Au Bon Pain, Wonderwall, or some other random establishment on Sukhumvit Soi 31.

After Breakfast
11:00 to 12:45
Creativity Phase

After breakfast I enter my creativity phase.

This is when I will carry out any writing (e.g. Premium Posts), lay out ad copy, and find solutions to problems in websites and campaigns I am working on.

If I’m writing, I can blast out 2000 words in this period.

I find it easy to experience ‘flow’ in the morning — in coffee shops — so I use the opportunity to attack any task that needs my full concentration.

I wish I could do more of this work, but it requires an intense focus the likes of which I can only muster for around two hours per day.

One thing I’ve learnt is that two hours is all you need to achieve more productive work than most people manage in their entire week.

Before Lunch
1:00 to 2:00
Execution / Production Phase

The walk home is a good chance to mentally reset.

I now have two pomodoros to charge through production related work. This could be making campaign changes, preparing websites, tweaking landing pages, or — most often — split testing ad combinations.

I like to restrict the window to just a single hour since this work is very easy to conflate in to half a day if you give it the chance.

My irrepressible rumbling gut assures that I get through this work fast.

After Lunch
3:00 to 7:00
Autopilot Phase

…Then I go out for lunch, usually with my girlfriend.

After we’ve eaten, I’ll disappear to another coffee shop and enter the longest period of the day:

Autopilot work.

This is the stuff I need to do that doesn’t occupy any significant brainpower.

I find that my mind and body naturally crash after lunch, so this is a good chance to crack out Spotify and cruise through the afternoon with a series of easy wins.

I assign any tasks that don’t require major decision making or creativity to my Autopilot phase.

This is the session for detailed emails, or phone calls, or follow-ups. It’s where I evaluate the work from my team and provide feedback or new instructions. I’ll also carry out research to support the rest of my phases.

At some point between 6 to 7pm, I’ll head downstairs to the pool or the gym.

After which, surprise suprise, I’m hungry again.

Fat bastard.

Could I follow this same routine in London?

Probably.

The main gains I have in Bangkok are:

  • The food is amazing
  • The location is inspiring
  • The weather is glorious
  • I have a pool and gym downstairs

The small things add up to a daily routine that suits my lifestyle perfectly.

Plans for 2016

We’re staying in Thailand for at least another year.

Next stop is back to London to see friends and family in April.

One of the things I learnt when I moved back from Thailand in 2011 was that while you miss people, naturally, the pang doesn’t justify relocating 5000 miles just to be permanently ‘near’ them.

Quality time together is better than the false comfort of knowing somebody is 5 miles away and yet still not seeing them.

Some of the places I plan to visit in 2016:

Mount Kinabulo (Borneo), Australia, Cambodia, Germany (for AWE) and one of the major US conferences — probably ASE in New York City.

Plus, I want to see more of Thailand, particularly the north.

It’s a stunning country.

Stunningly flawed in so many ways, and yet still an amazing place to live.

Plans For This Blog?

None.

I’m releasing a new volume of Premium Posts next month, which is likely to be the final post on FinchSells.com, and my last ‘public’ contribution to the affiliate industry.

(So it will be a bloody good one.)

Work is busy, life is good.

I hope you all have a great 2016!

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Khao San Bangkok

Thoughts on Bangkok and Staying Productive Abroad

Thailand is one of the Internet Marketing capitals of the world.

Every day I hear of another affiliate moving here.

It’s an exciting place to come, but there are obvious challenges.

Most notably… The P word.

Productivity.

This post outlines some of the impact living in Thailand has on your productivity.

Needless to say, if you are a 60-year-old sexpat who spends his days propping up the bar in Nana — productivity is the least of your concerns.

Please exit this blog and return to ThaiVisa Forum.

Advantages

Let’s start with the advantages.

These are my net gains compared to London.

It’s Easy to Be Healthy

salmon-royal-oak

If you can’t live a healthy life in Thailand, you should probably stop trying.

As people who know me can confirm, my middle name has never been Mr. Vitality.

It used to be simply: Village Pizza.

The guy who would order a Meatfeast, whilst still at the pub, then sprint off in to the darkness after spotting the delivery bike, caught perilously at a red light, enroute to his empty home.

I’m over that shit.

In Thailand, my diet is much improved.

I eat well. I swim and exercise daily. I sweat out enough toxins to drown a small kitten in a bath of poison.

Because it’s so easy.

This country provides the perfect building blocks for a healthy lifestyle: bar a shit load of traffic fumes, and the constant threat of decapitation via motorcycle.

It’s easy to feel great when the tools to defeat inertia are sitting on your doorstep.

That inertia bossed my suburban life in London.

I barely made it to lunch without a trip to the local petrol station for a muffin and a Costa Express.

Think Alan Partridge’s life choices infected by the apathy of Keith from The Office.

Vitality is important for any job, but especially one with such high demands on your decision-making.

When you move here, your general health will improve.

It will have a positive effect on your work performance.

Thailand is Buzzing with Young Go-Getters

One of the more demoralising aspects of Suburban London, for me, is the infectious dawdle of life as it meanders from one season to the next: from childhood, to graduation, to getting a job, to marriage, to kids, to retirement, to a care home, and eternal buggery.

On an eventful day, I’d look out my window and what would I see?

A granny capsizing in a pothole as she battles to collect her pension. A few mums returning from their school run. Then little else for miles.

By contrast, Bangkok feels alive.

The young crowd is here by choice.

It’s like New York City.

Aspiration wafts through the street stalls and creates an environment where you can taste the hunger of other expats, all driven by the same core values: to escape the predictability of their childhood homes; to live for now.

If you are an affiliate, you’ll be shocked by the number of us that are already here.

Thailand is a melting pot of affiliate scumbaggery.

It’s fitting that the biggest conference in our industry’s history will be held in Bangkok this December:

Affiliate World Asia

Plenty of Co-Working Opportunities

I know many affiliates are put off by the idea of living alone in a foreign city, and especially working alone.

It’s not that bad.

The large Internet Marketing community provides opportunities to network and meet people with the same daily struggles.

There are a ton of co-working spaces, like The Hive, where you can leave your apartment and leverage the buzz of an office environment to get more work done.

You’ll also find plenty of Skype groups with a constant stream of spare desks offered.

The good thing about this community?

It shares the same work genes.

The networking opportunities are there — both social and professional — if you want them.

But there’s no pressure to conform to the nomadic playboy bullshit so often spouted by know-it-all degenerates on their first journey out-of-state.

“Bro do you even travel?”

If you want to stay in your man cave and focus on work, that’s fine.

The Perfect Base in East Asia

Bangkok on map

There are many countries in East Asia that are great to visit, but the trade-offs of living in them are higher — or complicated by visa accessibility.

China, Japan, Cambodia, Singapore, Vietnam etc.

Thailand is a perfect storm of Asian culture meets Western comforts.

You can settle quickly.

The infrastructure is designed for tourism, meaning you can live as you would in any other major city.

English is widely understood.

Communities of expats have been embedded over decades.

My girlfriend tells me that Jakarta is the ‘next breakout city’ in the mould of Bangkok.

That will be interesting to see.

Until then, Thailand is the perfect base to explore the rest of Asia whilst having somewhere that resembles a home.

Some people can travel from country to country with a laptop in tow.

Try it if you fancy.

My dogs would disown me.

Disadvantages

Thailand isn’t quite paradise yet.

Once the honeymoon period is over, you will have to contend with some cultural differences that can be hard to reconcile.

Foreign Investment is Smothered in Red Tape.

Thailand treats foreign investment like a plane carrying Ebola.

Want to buy a condo freehold?

You can, but only if 51% of the units in the building are Thai-owned.

Want to get a job?

You can, but only after submitting an essay titled “Why This Job Could Not Be Performed by a Thai”.

Any business must then abide by ‘homegrown workforce’ rules:

For every foreigner hired, the company must employ four Thais.

It can be baffling to witness a situation where a) the company wants to hire a foreigner, and b) the foreigner wants to work for that company, but in order for a work permit to be issued… an arbitrary four new jobs must be created.

My girlfriend had a media visa refused after the embassy decided it would no longer apply for both newspapers and magazines — only newspapers.

The rule was changed 2 days prior.

The advice given?

“Apply again next month, we change the rules back.”

If you are not Thai, you are treated with suspicion, or forced to jump through any number of hoops.

This passive aggressive obstruction of un-Thai development is understandable for anybody who has stepped foot in a soulless metropolis, like, say, Dubai.

But as Bangkok rolls out its umpteenth luxury shopping plex — built-to-order, the chrome guise of an Arab’s wettest dream — I find myself asking:

What part of Thailand is the endless red tape designed to preserve?

The more time you spend here, the more likely that bureaucracy will get in your way.

Inevitably, visa issues will affect your productivity.

Decision Making is “Thailand Only”

There’s a saying in this country used by the natives to express their bemusement over shit that passes as normal:

“Thailand Only”

Thais are known for their great hospitality.

They are fiercely proud of their country.

Whilst they will welcome you with open arms, any suggestions on what might be improved are likely to go down about as well as a busker sipping Chang at Emquartier.

Thais will acknowledge problems, but they will often shrug at the solution.

Chains of command are rarely broken.

To question too loudly, or to criticise and cause one to lose face, is the ultimate sacrilege.

This can leave the average westerner scratching his head at some of the remarkable inefficiencies on display.

You have to accept:

There are plenty of ways to improve Thailand, but Eastern collectivism is a different beast to the individualism we celebrate in the West.

You won’t change a culture that has such contrasting values at its core.

Don’t take it personally.

“Thailand Only.”

The Heat is Sapping

When I post on Facebook that it’s too hot, I’m met by ridicule from Brits back home.

“You’ve got a problem with 40 degrees, have you? Felt the need to post about it, did you? Fuck off, you twat. Don’t come back.”

I love a scorching day by the pool, yes, but sweating buckets is not the optimal state for productivity.

At best, it’s a recipe for a gigantic electricity bill.

I spent 13,000 baht (about £250) on my AC last month.

If you take a trip out for lunch, the ferocious heat can wipe you out for the rest of the day.

I make a conscious effort to get the bulk of my work done in the morning before I expose myself to the elements.

The Thai summer is b-r-u-t-a-l.

The Traffic and General Lateness

Bangkok Traffic

Oh my god, the traffic.

As a general rule of thumb, if you have made plans for the evening, and those plans involve catching a taxi near Sukhumvit Road at 7pm… cancel your plans.

Go home.

Read a book, have a wank, or paint your nails.

The night is over for you.

Likewise, if you are one of those guys who arranges his schedule in to 15 minute chunks, Jenga’d together, and endangered by one wet fart… don’t set foot in Bangkok.

This city will eat your best laid plans for breakfast.

Sometimes I emerge from my apartment in awe that Bangkok is actually beneath me — and not 15 minutes away, running late, with a gob full of street food.

Want to measure the priorities of a city?

Look at how fast people walk from A to B.

A tortoise could migrate up Everest with greater zest than a Bangkokian between meals.

There is simply no rush.

If you value punctuality, be prepared.

This country will leave you sweaty, angry, and ten degrees hotter than the laughing locals.

Conclusion

You know what?

Fuck it.

Move to Thailand.

Any criticism I have is not borne out of dislike.

I believe if Thailand fixed its flaws, it would be the best damn place to live in the world.

I’d probably never leave.

The good far outweighs the bad.

There is so much that is right about this country.

The shit that is wrong stands out like a Japanese tourist lost at Nana Plaza.

Would I recommend this place for everybody?

No.

You have to be at a certain point in your life for moving abroad to hold appeal.

For many people, that moment never comes.

For others, Thailand is an assault on the senses. It’s too crazy.

Personally, I love it here.

But I know I won’t be in Thailand forever.

I try to use that as the lens for how I view my productivity.

Even if I get 10% or 20% less work done, it’s a period of my life that I’ll never forget.

Isn’t that supposed to be the point?

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My 2 Weeks in Bangkok and Hua Hin

Want to feel energised, more productive and ready to take on the world?

Take a holiday.

My advice: Go to Thailand.

I am freshly returned from a 2 week hiatus spent lolloping on beaches, soaking in the blistering heat of a subtropical summer at the peak of its powers.

Some random observations:

Jesus Christ, it’s hot

Thailand in April is hot with a capital HOT.

I should have remembered this from living there.

Given zero chance to acclimatise by London’s damp fart of a spring, I can tell you that 38 degree heat is a recipe for an extremely sweaty afternoon.

On the hottest day I had to stop my routine of reading by the pool because I couldn’t control the amount of sweat that was dripping in to my eyes.

Hot.

I’m pretty sure you’d find more salt on my sun lounger than in the entire Gulf of Thailand by the time I’d dragged my scorched carcass back to the pool.

Hot, hot, hot.

I miss it already.

Westerners and their Thai brides

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a guy moving to Thailand, retiring, meeting the cliche ‘Thai bride’, and starting a new chapter in his life.

I can see how and why it happens.

What I find distasteful is that for so many Westerners, this type of romance isn’t built on reality.

It’s a power trip.

Many times I would catch sight of a Brit treating his Thai wife or girlfriend as if she were sub-species. Just because you can exert that control and get away with it, doesn’t mean you should.

Thankfully there’s a younger generation of expats in Thailand who aren’t committed to fantasies of domestic totalitarianism straight from the 1930s.

But for the crustaceans who are… good luck if you ever run out of money.

Mental breaks from work

It’s amazing how the mind slows down when you disconnect physically from your work space.

I don’t mean to take a walk, or go to the pub. But to eject yourself completely from anywhere that resembles work or its associated habits.

By spending entire days away from the computer, you get a fresh perspective.

I often find that it takes this distance to allow myself to drop projects that are going nowhere, or to align my focus on those which actually mean something to me.

Reading fiction instead of non-fiction helps.

Escapism is the best distraction.

Japanese tourists and cameras

I swear to God, what is up with Japanese tourists and their infatuation with taking pictures?

In Hua Hin, one couple would sit in silence for breakfast, occasionally taking bites but mostly interested in snapping each other.

Constantly.

From every angle.

In eerie still silence.

Who needs to talk, or take in the stunning views, when you can just sit there vacantly taking pictures to live through when the experience has already gone?

I really don’t get it.

One of the group even stopped to watch me make a cup of coffee on my balcony, presumably because I was only wearing my boxers.

Normally if I caught this, I’d challenge them, “Why don’t you take a picture? It’ll last longer.”

Pretty fucking irrelevant if they already are.

Shameless!

Songkran public target number one

You’ve got to admire how the Thais celebrate their New Year (Songkran).

Bangkok turns in to a gigantic water fight with water guns, buckets and even fire hoses.

In possibly my favourite moment of the entire holiday, my girlfriend and I were wandering towards Emporium when a nervous, smiling Thai officer approached us with a tin of what looked like Quality Street chocolates.

We were already completely soaked through, so we knew the drill.

I ducked my head and winced.

“Sorry, sorry!” he pleaded, before walking straight past, tottering up to my girlfriend, and slowly pouring a full tin of water straight down her top.

It was one of the politest pre-meditated street assaults I’ve ever seen.

It got me thinking though.

What if you were visiting Thailand for the first time and you didn’t know what Songkran was?

How do you react when a Thai wanders in your direction, blasts you with a SuperSoaker, and carries on walking without taking his eyes off his phone?

I’d probably get back on the plane.

Old people and flying

If you are over 75, with a dodgy bladder, and extremely bad hearing… I’m sorry, but I don’t want to sit behind you on a 14 hour flight.

Old lady: “We’ve been flying for 9 hours.”

Her husband, shouting profusely, clearly deaf as a door mat: “I know. I’ve pissed myself twice.”

There’s something comical about hearing an old couple bicker, oblivious to their incredible decibels, marbles long gone and replaced by wholly British arguments, like:

Why is my blanket wet? I want a dry one. No, not that one. I want a dry one, dunn’ae.”
“No YOU ask the lady. I don’t bloody know why it’s wet do I? I probably pissed myself over India.

But after 14 hours sat there, awoken at one point by a strange outburst of applause and hollers — Old Man’s reaction to the end of Phantom of the Opera — I did want to kill myself.

I flew Malaysia Airlines, by the way.

You could sense the palpable hearts in mouths every time the plane changed course on the tracker, especially in turbulence.

Can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for cabin crew in the days immediately following MH370.

‘Cuties’ on the BTS

Ever wondered what Nicky Cakes is up to these days?

Well, here he is, captioned as Justin Timberlake (Timbercakes?), appearing on a Facebook page titled ‘BTS CUTE GUYS’.

Timbercakes

Un-be-lievable.

I won’t lie. I did check the page to see if I’d made an appearance.

Not a god damn whisper.

So what happens when you go viral as a ‘BTS cute guy’?

This, apparently:

Timbercakes FB

I expect Cakes will be extending his visa.

Seduced by Thailand again

It’s difficult to leave Thailand.

Every time I visit, I question what ever convinced me to move back to London.

In reality, there were a number of factors. But it doesn’t stop the mind from wandering.

You think of the weather, the people, the food (God, the food), the beaches, the pace of life.

It doesn’t get any better.

Does it?

If you haven’t visited Thailand, I highly recommend it.

Pics from the trip

A collection of pics from Bangkok, Hua Hin and Samphram, April 2014:


Copyright © 2014.