Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bangkok & Bankers

22-25 January 2010 – Bangkok, Thailand. Garden at the Old Charm Hostel.

I stopped in Bangkok for a few days on my way back to Phuket. The Atlanta was booked so I scoured the internet for cheap digs and found a funky happy hostel in the heart of Bangkok.[bxA]

The Old Charm was a great find at 800 baht (US $24) for a sweetly decorated room with soft sheets, air con, wifi and a view of a peaceful little pond. The only catch was no en suite bathroom which meant a short outdoor trek around the corner to a small building that also housed the loos for a neighboring pub. Live music played until the wee hours, but the music was good and the drunk loo visitors weren’t too unruly. Oh and there was no hot water, but cold showers are fine in hot weather.

I’d returned to Bangkok for an art exhibit that opened in January (and I had hopes of reconnecting with a stranger at the Atlanta regarding music composed by the King, but that’s another story…)

But first I needed some farang stuff from the malls so I started in Siam Square…

Then onto the National Gallery…

…where the exhibit was super cool and made me glad I returned to Bangkok again. (My first two trips to Bangkok were exclusively about renewing my passport under fairly stressed circumstances.)

The artist says ‘the empty holes [in the chests] represent voraciousness, greed and man’s insatiable desire for more.’

Speaking of …the end of January always conjures up all kinds of existential madness in banker world as performance reviews and force rankings are cemented and the only thing left to learn is…drum roll please….February bonuses.

After a year away from it all, I was surprised and thoroughly delighted by the swarm of emails I got from banker friends right about the time I landed in Bangkok. I’m amazed by how genuinely supportive everyone has been of me and my potentially reckless decision to just say Phuket. I stumble across people who try to spew that cliché on me about bankers and corporate workers being slaves to the grind, wanting nothing but the money etc…but that’s, well, in Texas speak, total bullshit. People for the most part are inherently good and everything in life is a trade off…but I’ll save my rant in defense of the cliché because it’s not worth it. Suffice it to say, my corporate friends rock.

Thus, I spent many Bangkok hours snuggled up in the softest bed of the coziest room I’ve enjoyed in ages, chatting on in-room wifi (a rarity), reconnecting with my former life and fielding lots of questions about how I did it, what it’s like, what’s next etc.

Cubicles on Canary Wharf - London, England (October 2008)

I remember banker Januaries well …wondering if the last twelve months were worth it, if I could do it another twelve months, if the bank would step up for once in its life and pay me what I’m worth, or wondering if I’d be defeated and insulted by a pittance of a bonus and a bunch of excuses from a board of directors who just pocketed millions. February always brought my conflict to conclusion, delivering a pile of money just enough to make me feel disappointed, defeated, insulted, relieved, euphoric, profoundly grateful and thoroughly confused.

Vincent Van Gogh’s Prisoners Exercising

To all of you who reached out these past few weeks, all I can offer is that careers are like relationships…they work for you until they don’t anymore. Some people find one that works for them forever, the rest of us struggle with the daily deliberations of thinking it’s still kinda working and maybe if I tweak it I can make it as good as it used to be…or maybe I’d be better off moving on. Then it is not a question of whether to make a break for it, but when. And no one can answer that question for you.

Canary Wharf, London, England (December 2008)

Still, I love fielding all the questions so keep’em coming. It helps me to remember what it was like to be there, in the cubicle staring out at Canary Wharf, thinking it couldn’t be done.

Chalong Pier, Phuket, Thailand.

But it definitely can be done.


Anonymous said...


Asian Jamaican said...

I love, love, love your comment about careers being like relationships!!! You've grown so much since we first met & I am so proud of all you have accomplished last year. XXOO Jen

Anonymous said...

Hey! We miss you in Lebanon!!
When you described your hotel room with no bathroom and no hot water, I remembered when I used to travel for business and stay at five-star hotels with generic interior design, generic paintaings on the wall and generic bathrooms. At least your hotel room has a style of its own and the bathroom has, well, character!

Brandon said...

Hey Ali, great seeing you in Phuket! Glad you were able to take some time out of your packed schedule to hang out with us last week. Btw, I noticed the pic of our office in Canary Wharf is a pic of me and my cubemates...are you stalking us??

Anonymous said...

The hotel looks brill - aside the toilet arrangements. Loved this blog, Ali. Your popmpous BFF