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A Year In South East Asia
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My First Month in Bangkok and Laser Eye Surgery

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

My First Month in Bangkok and Laser Eye Surgery

It’s one month since I moved to Thailand.

I haven’t posted for a while, so I thought I’d throw up a quick narcissistic update to confirm that, no, I haven’t been digested whole by a black widow ladyboy, and yes, I will be posting about affiliate marketing (the alleged theme of this blog) very soon.

In the meantime, here’s a quick rundown of what I’ve been up to since the STM London meetup.

(There’s a subtle clue in the title and header image.)

A Skirmish in London

Unfortunately, I only caught the first day of STM London.

A cracking day it was, though.

I’ve never seen so many affiliates in one building.

Don’t get me wrong. There are larger affiliate events held around the world. But you’ll find a conspicuously small percentage of actual affiliate marketers at most of them.

(And an abundance of hot air.)

One of the things I appreciate about STM gatherings is their ability to attract Internet Marketers who operate daily in the trenches. It’s a ‘clued in’ crowd; some might say cynical.

That’s good.

Anyway, the first night was a blast. It was a pleasure to meet so many new and old faces.

As for the rest of the week, that was a different kind of chaos.

While the rest of the affiliasphere was gallivanting merrily around old London town, I was playing a furious game of Sell, Chuck or Donate with my entire belongings.

It’s not easy condensing a house full of clutter in to one 20kg suitcase to be exported to your new home on the other side of the world.

It’s even more problematic with two very live dogs who are coming along for the ride.

Alas, we have made it to Bangkok, and we have spent the last month settling in to our new home.

Even the pups have adjusted to the searing heat:

Pups in pool

Before moving, people would ask me, “Why Thailand? What’s the appeal of Asia? Wait– you’re not one of ‘those’ guys, are you…?”

I would try to answer, “For the beaches! The food! The weather! The way of life!”

Well, I can’t be bothered to elaborate anymore.

My short answer? Because it’s fucking awesome out here, that’s why.

Seriously, Bangkok feels alive.

Like it’s crawling up your shorts alive.

For some guys on Soi Cowboy, it probably is.

The New Apartment

You get a lot of bang for your buck in Thailand.

I’m paying 60,000 baht (around £1275) for a 250 sqm, 3-bedroom apartment on Sukhumvit Soi 31.

It’s a great area with a ton of amazing restaurants at a stone’s throw. Plus, a pool and a gym downstairs.

Living area soi 31

apartment in Sukhumvit

viewonsoi31

Special thanks to Don at Bangkok Real Property for hooking us up with a fantastic place to live.

Our apartment is in the Japanese district.

I have a karaoke club directly across from me.

I suspect it will remain untouched.

Partly thanks to my lack of dulcet tones, and partly because I think it might also be a brothel.

You can never be sure. The Japanese are unpredictable — especially when they’re horny.

Karaoke and sushi bars aside, this is a really cool place to live.

Awesome coffee shops, amazing restaurants and 5 minutes access to Phrom Phong BTS, which is becoming one of the trendiest hubs of Bangkok, and not only because I’ve just moved in to it.

We’re also close to Craft: the second most handsomely stocked bar in Asia for ales and draft beers.

(I have no idea what the first is.)

It’s like a tiny beer festival nook in amongst the chaos of Sukhumvit.

Craft received a visit from the famous Daniel Thaiger burger van over Songkran.

Now, this burger… is kind of a big deal.

Daniel Thaiger burger

I didn’t know what the fuss was about until I ventured to an affiliate meet up organised by Nickycakes and a group of Internet Marketers in BKK.

Seriously…

I’m no food blogger, but I’ll tell you this much for free:

If the opportunity arises, grab a fucking Thaiger burger and stick it in your face.

You will not regret it.

They are sold every day at the Game Over Lounge, which is a sort of restaurant slash bar slash ultimate nerd station with pool tables, a pile of board games, giant screens of Fifa, and lots of western expats.

Very good fun.

Fixing My Eyes

It was over a particularly strong 8.7% IPA at Craft last Sunday that I decided to book an appointment for laser eye surgery.

It’s not the first time I’ve tried to have my eyes repaired by lasers.

I had a consultation back at a London clinic in 2010.

Back then, I couldn’t have the surgery because my eye pressure was too high.

Ironically, I ended up spending the money that was supposed to go towards LASIK on moving to Thailand the first time.

Anyway, why laser eye surgery?

I’m not against wearing glasses, but they have always been an inconvenience.

If you want to play any kind of sport, say snooker or golf, they are a big burden. Likewise, if you want to swim in the sea…you better pitch a flag where you left your towel.

Many people settle for contact lenses, but I have never been able to insert them properly. Mainly because I am the ultimate pansy when it comes to things touching my eye.

It’s not that it physically hurts. I just instinctively blink, or twitch, or refrain.

All of my attempts to wear contact lenses failed miserably, so last Sunday I decided to go for the jugular, get over the fear, and book in another LASIK appointment.

One week later and here I am, three days after surgery, with the crispest long distance vision I’ve ever had in my life.

It’s an amazing feeling.

I’ve had a few people ask me about the surgery itself, so here’s what happened.

LASIK in Bangkok: Consultation to Operation

My initial consultation was on Thursday at Bumrungrad Hospital.

I had my vital signs taken, plus a basic vision test and an eye pressure measurement (it was fine this time).

After meeting the doctor and discussing the risks (“In thousands of operations, we have never lost an eye” — I should fucking hope not!), it was off for more tests aimed at measuring peripheral vision, the strength of my cornea and the composition of my tears.

I then had my pupils dilated whilst the doctor disappeared for lunch.

It’s funny, but Thais don’t often differentiate between breakfast, lunch or dinner. They call all three meals ‘Eat’.

And they are pretty bloody adamant that you do not fuck with ‘Eat’.

Woe betide the poor bastard on life support as the clock strikes feeding hour.

This break gave me about 45 minutes to stumble downstairs in to Au Bon Pain for a motivational Whoopie Pie.

After one more eye examination — the most awkward of them all, where the doctor inserts a weird lid on to each eyeball — he gave me the sweet music to my ears.

“You are a good candidate for surgery.”

Followed by a strange Thai hard-sell, “You want it – yes or no?”

I was delighted just to have passed the tests, “When’s the earliest I can have it?”

“Tomorrow, 4pm.”

Well fuck a rubber duck, OK then.

I was relieved to get a slot in the next 24 hours.

It gave me no time to worry about it.

I went home with sore eyes, ate at Au Bon Pain for the third time in a day, then sloped off for my first Thai lesson.

Surgery Day

My girlfriend had work so I went in for the surgery alone, marginally bricking it.

My vital signs were taken again — blood pressure through the roof.

No surprise.

The doctor gave me one last examination then sent me outside with a cup of water and some Valium.

A gift from the Gods.

A few sips later and I was being hauled out of the building in a wheelchair and whizzed over to the 5th floor of the adjacent hospital.

This was news to me.

I thought the surgery took place in the clinic.

I wasn’t expecting to be wheeled past intensive care, asked to change in to full hospital garb (with an ill-fitting pair of pyjama bottoms that I had to hold up) and then parked in a busy ward.

The valium definitely took the edge off the experience.

I was transferred on to the trolley, and then rolled in to the operating room.

Very strange seeing the fluorescent hospital lights passing above you. Eerie, even.

I was pretty relaxed.

Relaxed, but still not happy to be there.

The nurse scrubbed my face down and applied a couple more eye drops.

The eye drops were local anaesthetics. They burned initially, but pretty quickly my eyes were numb and being drawn on.

The doctor then talked me through the procedure, which involves staring at a blinking red dot while the machine clamps around your eye, lifts a flap in the cornea and surgically corrects the retina.

You don’t feel pain, but you certainly feel the dull pressure of machinery at work.

It was uncomfortable and took a lot of fist clenching to keep my head steady and eyes from twitching. But ultimately, it was over pretty quickly.

5-10 minutes per eye, I’d guess?

When the laser went to work, I lost vision completely.

All I could see was a fuzzy haze of stars fluttering.

The doctor then cleaned up, ‘brushing’ each eye as my vision returned and the red dot reemerged — sharper, clearer.

Good signs, I thought.

As I was wheeled away from the machine, I didn’t want to open my eyes again — they were streaming and shell-shocked. But when I did, the operating theatre was in sharp focus.

The results were good, and the valium took over immediately.

I just laid there, let the nurses wheel me back, plastic cones taped over my face.

They gave me 30 minutes rest; took me to fetch my clothes.

Not easy getting dressed immediately after laser eye surgery.

Think my bare arse was parked in the sink at one point.

My girlfriend had arrived from work by this point.

I delegated all existential functions to her, kept my eyes closed and felt myself bundled in to a taxi home.

Post-Operation

A lot of people have asked about the initial 24 hours after surgery.

I was encouraged to go straight to bed when I got home (it was 8pm), and I did.

I had trouble sleeping from the mental exhaustion, and the awkward position required by plastic eye protectors taped to my face.

When I woke up, my eyes felt sticky and sore.

A bit like conjunctivitis.

Not painful, but again, I didn’t want to keep them open.

The discomfort went away within an hour or so.

I started looking around my apartment, looking outside, focusing on Terminal 21 in the distance.

And it was amazing.

Seeing clearly, for most people, is an afterthought.

Something you take for granted.

Not being able to has troubled me since I was 14 or 15, when I would struggle to follow notes on the school whiteboard.

I remember my vision declining rapidly through school, but being too self-conscious to get reading glasses. My grades would suffer. I’d dread the classes where I wasn’t sat at the front.

(Try algebra with bad eyesight.)

I would squint, and deny, and squint, and deny, and laugh about how bad my eyes were but never actually address it.

Well, it’s only April. But getting 20/20 vision for 80,000 baht (around £1700) is the soundest investment I’ll make this year.

Since the operation, my long distance vision has continued to sharpen to the point where it’s now as close to perfect as I could wish for.

The downside?

  • My near-distance vision is blurry, and will remain so while my muscles heal.
  • I have to wear sunglasses almost constantly for the next month.
  • I can’t wash my hair for 4 days (it’s a bit like Glastonbury, except I can’t get rat-arsed either).
  • I can’t use my pool for a month.
  • I have to apply eye drops, four times per day, for ten days.
  • I have to limit my time at the computer for the next two weeks.

Oh, and I have to wear these fucking things to bed for the next two weeks:

Bug eged Finch

A great look!

All in all though, zero regrets.

One of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

If you’re considering LASIK, I’d say… go for it.

There are a few hairy moments along the way, but nothing too bad, and the end result is life changing.

That’s what I’ve been up to.

Loving life in Thailand so far.

I’ll be back posting affiliate marketing bollocks in May.

Rayong sunset

On beach Rayong

Beach time Rayong

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