It’s all about the money …

I often joke that I will one day be a poor old lady, living in a cardboard box wallpapered with beautiful photographs of all the incredible places I have travelled to over the course of my international career. Teaching overseas has many perks; besides the fabulous holidays, we are rewarded with small classes of enthusiastic children who love coming to school and a good lifestyle. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the moment and forget about that fact that if I was in the UK I would be contributing to a teacher and state pension to take care of me in my later years.

A few years ago now, I decided to take on some responsibility and make some provisions for the future. An email went out at school to say that an IFA (International Financial Advisor) would be passing through the school and could talk us through some possibilities. At the time, I had been wondering whether I should pay voluntary National Insurance contributions. I decided against it, reasoning that the baby boom generation would swallow up all the money in the pot and that there would be nothing left for me come retirement age. Instead I signed up for an offshore account with a major insurance company. I understood that it was low risk and therefore not so high yielding but because it was with such a familiar and, as I believed, reputable name, I had no qualms about signing the papers. The paperwork is sitting in the UK, but I believe I signed up to pay in a modest amount for the next twenty years or so.

Today the ‘Millionaire Teacher’, Andrew Hallam, came into school and opened my eyes. I discovered that the free advice I received was not really free at all. Of course I knew there was commission, but I don’t think I really understood how much. I’d probably be as well off shoving the money under the mattress … if it didn’t go mouldy in the humid Singapore air. I will leave the real technical explanations to the expert http://andrewhallam.com/ There are actually links citing the brokering company I used and the offshore account I use.

For the record, I don’t blame the school I worked at for me signing up to this. I believe that they were trying to help us and that as teachers, we are often a little green about financial decisions. I was not put under any pressure and made the decision for myself. The good news for me is that I haven’t invested too much in this but I do need to think of some alternatives. Maybe I will even try out a few stocks and bonds when I have learnt a little more. It’s all a bit scary sounding to me, but not as scary as the prospect of turning into an old Singaporean auntie, shuffling round the food courts cleaning tables when I’m 90! So, my international friends, take a look at this and think about the future! What do you think are the best options for us nomadic workers?

A taste of Thailand

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One of the highlights of my recent trip to Chiang Mai was a Thai cookery course. You can do a half day in the city or take a full day on a farm. I opted for the full day so that I could see a bit of the area.
First we headed to the market to buy a few ingredients, including the all important sauces. We then took a train for around half an hour and saw some of the lush countryside. After the train we took a short bike ride to the cookery school.
I enjoyed learning about all the ingredients and combinations of flavours. It’s a good job I went for the full day because it gives you a little time to let the food go down. By the end of the day I’d made spring rolls, pad Thai, a red curry, tom yam soup and sticky rice with mango. Needless to say there was no need for dinner that night!
Today I had my first attempt at solo Thai cooking. I chanced upon a tom yam pack of herbs and spices in Cold Storage and decided it was a sign I had to try. It’s actually easy peasy. The secret is in the kafir lime and the lemongrass that cut through the spice and give it such a delicate flavour. I think I has a touch too much fish sauce, but overall I think it wasn’t bad for a first attempt.

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Therapy?!

Picture the scene. A shopping mall in a suburb of Singapore. Not the glitzy malls of Orchard but a local mall for local people. A friend orders a Diet Coke and is presented with a kaya toast. It’s one of those days.20131207-143643.jpg My left toe has been bothering me ever since I tried running on the sand barefoot in Boracay so my friend convinced me to try a Chinese reflexology massage.
I have one foot wrapped in a slightly manky towel whilst the other foot is getting routinely punched and pummeled. There’s a Japanese man in the seat next to me. I think he’s in pain but he keeps emitting a series of low groans. His masseuse is a grossly overweight Chinese man with huge spongy forearms and pudgy gnarled hands. I can see that one if his fingernails is long and pointy. My friend sitting opposite has a worse view of his builder’s crack. I hear another orgasmic cry from the man next to me and then he’s done.

I add this to the list of things I don’t need to try more than once!

What Not To Wear …

One of my little obsessions when I go away is taking photos of other tourists. One of my friends nearly lost her mind with me when I spent half the time on safari in the Ngorongoro Crater taking photos of tourists in safari suits and people wearing breathing masks! I have to say that Angkor Wat provided no end of entertainment. Whilst we all like to create an atmosphere of tranquility in our photos like this:

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The reality is often more like this:

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Seeing Angkor Wat at sunrise involves getting up in the middle of the night. Here are just some of the people who clearly got dressed in the dark:

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Angkor Wat Half Marathon

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Such a flying visit to Cambodia, yet I crammed in so much that it’s little wonder I am exhausted on a Tuesday evening.

In short, I developed a taste for Amok – a delicious Cambodian fish curry, discovered that a Khmer Massage is a euphemism for amateur chiropracty, squealed as fish nibbled my feet in a suckerfish pedicure and bought far too many silk scarves at the market.

Of course, there was also time for plenty of sightseeing. We arrived at Angkor Wat on the Friday evening in time to climb a hill to watch the sunset. In the morning, we woke up way before the crack of dawn to go and elbow wrestle with the crowds for shots of the sunrise over the temples. I gave up on taking photos in Ta Prohm as I managed to get stuck between a coachload of Chinese tourists coming from one direction and a coachload of Russians coming from the opposite end of the site, all of whom aggressively competing to take Lara Croft style Tomb Raider shots. Angkor Thom was my favourite because of the sheer scale and the level of detail in the carvings.

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As for the race itself, it could not have been better. The weather was cool and dry, a lovely change from the humidity of Singapore. Even as the day heated up, the route through tree lined roads meant that the conditions were still very comfortable. I felt stronger than ever and enjoyed running along with the friendly crowd. Admittedly I was a little upset to be overtaken by somebody wearing a fleecy tiger onesie – I guess he was sporting ‘go faster stripes’! At around the halfway mark, we passed through some villages where the local kids’ cheers and high fives gave me energy. The final third of the race passed by the temples. It helped that we had seen most of the course the day before as I was able to pace myself by imaging the road between the different landmarks. The final stretch was the longest because my running app told me I had hit 21km and yet the finish post was still far in the distance. I struggled through the last 700 metres but managed to push through to the end. I finished up with a time of 2 hours 16 – 13 minutes faster than my last half.

So the question is, where shall I do the next one?

Daily Prompt: Food for the Soul (and the Stomach)

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I had been mulling over what to write about the recent typhoon in the Philippines when I came across the title for the ‘Daily Prompt’ and thought it was apt. By now, everyone must have seen the devastating scenes from … Continue reading