We left smoggy Hong Kong bound for Koh Samui – another destination that I did my best to avoid in my gap year. Back then, every public-school hippy that I knew spent a year there, growing their hair, smoking their body weight in hash, and really learning about poverty first hand, "man".
Even worse, they would then return from Thailand to London and swan about the Fulham Road in their ethnic garb speaking a peculiar type of pidgin English, boring anybody who would listen about how they were finding all of the consumerism and greed of the Western world to be really twisting their shakras, man. Fortunately, most of them had such poor personal hygiene that you could smell them in time to avoid them. Pretty soon they all went to university and ended up either in the City or the Tory Cabinet, but they never forgot their year of living dangerously.
For me, the idea of spending a gap year in India or Thailand bumping into the very people I loathed in London was never an option. I ended up working in Urban Outfitters in Washington DC, and living with the girl whose merchant banker husband is financing my current trip. I believe he might even have been one of those smelly hippies himself, but I am prepared to forgive him as he is my host and is now a very hygienic global financier.
We keep being told by the smiley staff that we are much "calmer" then the previous guests. We took this as a compliment on our parenting skills and incredibly happy marriages, until a lady giving my wife a massage showed her a photo of the previous guest. It was Mike Tyson. God only knows what Iron Mike gets up to on holiday, but from the looks on the local Thai faces it was something very much akin to the plot of the movie The Hangover.
We joked that he'd probably accidentally left his pet tiger behind, but this freaked out my son who now wanders around the place with a toy bow and arrow constantly at the ready.
I met Mike Tyson once. It was at the Tides Hotel in Miami. He wandered down to the terrace with an entourage of 10. He did not have a tiger, although five minutes later, the rapper Jah Rule appeared from the penthouse lift with his pet lion. It sat next to him at the table eyeing Mike Tyson warily. I sat even more warily between the two camps and tried to look unimpressed and watched the yellow Ferraris glide past on Ocean Boulevard.
Like most places in the world, the reality of this "island paradise" doesn't quite live up to the brochure. To wander down the Lamai Road is to take a slalom course through a throng of middle-aged, over-tattooed westerners, all in hideous tie-dye trousers and accompanied by disillusioned Thai brides half their size. It's very much got the feeling of picking your way through the stragglers on the day after a music festival. Mind you, this view might have been tainted by the cloudy weather of the first three days. Today the sun shines bright, the sea is crystal green, and I'm off down to the beach for some Zero-Zen, meditation "me" time – I've really become a much deeper person out here... man.
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