It's 12pm on the 31st of October, 2022. I've just finished the last of the Money Maverick Academy Preview - when my LINE buzzes. LINE hasn't been a particularly good app for me this year. I used to look at it every day for 5 years. I've maybe looked at it twice in the last quarter.
It's weird that an app that I used to depend on so much...has become meaningless when you don't have someone you want to communicate with.
...at least until it buzzes again, and I'm making sure it's not a mistake. Three words, "Don't be late" with "don't" being misspelled. The next message says "See you in the hotel," with a winky face. The last time I saw Nana was in December, 2021. She was briefly in Bangkok before flying back out to Korea.
Nana's been messaging me on and off for years. She sends me messages more on Facebook since it's easier to share - complaining about the stock market endlessly to the point that even I feel I have to step up my game. Our friendship isn't normal. Nana is an Escort - although if we're both honest, it's really just higher-end prostitution.
She hasn't finished high school - my parents paid for my private degree because I was too stupid to qualify for local or NIE.
She's a mother and working almost as long as I've been alive, but she had little to her name. Me, I saved up her entire lifetime savings while I was in National Service before I even got a full-time job.
We became unlikely friends through a one in a million, chance meeting.
I'd been through little suffering and much blessings compared to her, and it was only a little over 3 years ago that I was able to share what I could with her.
Between her savings, street-smarts and determination to apply what she learnt from me; she was able to achieve Financial Freedom after 2 years. You can read all about it at the link here or below.
I'd become accustomed to her treating me with a certain amount of admiration - from being her teacher and introducing her to Finance. It's a part of Financial consultancy where I have no mixed feelings about, only pride.
But maybe because our relationship was built such a foundation, we rarely talk about our personal lives. That's why it was so jarring, even for me - to see her interview with Seth.
To have a much clearer view of her hurts and struggles - laid out for the rest of the world to see, immortalized on the blog. I felt ashamed that I had never taken the time out to get to know her like Seth had.
I had told Seth I wanted to do it, but I kept putting it off...all the way till he had bought the blog, talked to her himself out of genuine sincerity and curiosity, and I bought it back from him, and still, nothing.
It was a human-interest article to me, not an investment in getting to truly know a dear friend. I was rightfully ashamed.
READ ALSO: Financial Freedom Lessons From A Thai Escort
I knew she was the first person I wanted to catch up with, before 3 days of business meetings ahead.
She asks if I want a beer. I tell her that I can order it through Grab or something once I check into the hotel. I'm wrong, because Bangkok has strict alcohol laws now and she thankfully amused, not mad, by my spectacular failure.
We sip on my Coconut-Welcome drinks in my hotel room and catch up.
Coming Back to Full Time Work in Bangkok
NANA: You know, I'm staying here tonight.
LUKE: What. No. My mum and my girlfriend would kill me.
NANA: (rolls eyes). Next room. My roommate has her boyfriend over in our apartment for tonight. Because I tell her I'm seeing you. You know how far Bang Na is?
LUKE: It's a little steep at 600 baht a night. (For Context, Nana spends about 80baht a day on herself most days)
NANA: Oh yes. But I also have the local discount.
LUKE: You got a discount on a room that already costs $25/night?
NANA: We're not all millionaires.
LUKE: Neither am I now.
But why are you still in Bangkok? I thought you were just passing through.
NANA: No, I'm working here now.
LUKE: How come?
NANA: My mum, she's sick.
LUKE: I'm really sorry. How bad is it? NANA: She's ok. Eating well. She just can't really walk. She and my sister are in my house back home. My son visits them on some weekends. The medication is a lot and my sister isn't working, so I decided to go back to work.
Korea was nice, but not a lot of customers after a while.
LUKE: You were there a long time.
NANA: About a year. I had gotten used to it, too used to it. Maybe if I make a lot more money I will retire there instead.
LUKE: Why Bangkok?
NANA: My agency didn't think that the group (of escorts) was doing well enough to leave us there one more year (laughs). So, they wanted us back.
Continuing Escort Work
"If the 'release' (ejaculation) is in an area or in a way that could compromise your health more, you can charge more. Because it necessitates the need for the testing anyway..."
NANA: I was based in Bangkok for a while before coming to Singapore, so I'm happy to be here. When I was in Korea, I had many regulars in Thailand and Singapore message me on LINE telling me they miss me.
While my agency figures things out for us, I have private days with the regulars. I only accept full days now, and it has to be at a hotel. That way I only make one car trip a day and I know how much I can make. It's also nicer to be with customers who you are familiar with. I'm enjoying them and sex a bit more now because we get to know each other physically and mentally, since it's a full day. Food is free too.
I think I've been pushing safety boundaries a bit because we are comfortable (with each other), but it's usually very hard to enjoy sex otherwise. This is likely the best it's ever been (in her career).
LUKE: Anybody who you think might see this as something more?
NANA: None of the men are really (physically) attractive to me. (she laughs). But they're comfortable and sometimes everyone is happy. They are very kind to me. And my English, I think it's better.
LUKE: How much do you make in a month here?
NANA: For driving or for work?
LUKE: Uh, both.
NANA: I did about 60,000 baht last month on work for a few days, but it can be a lot more or less sometimes. It really depends how many days I get and how much some of them are willing to pay me, and what they want to do with me, or to me. Since it's not so much, I do a lot more driving and I made about 30,000 baht. It is not as much but I feel more free.
LUKE: What kind of activities determine a higher price, or how do you command a higher salary?
LUKE: Like, how do you get one person to pay you more for one day when someone would pay you less. Like you have one client that pays maybe $500 a day, but like anyone over a $1000... NANA: Ah. Hmm.
LUKE: I mean I'm just curious, and Seth didn't cover that in the previous interview...(I think)
NANA: (Did) I talk about shots the last time?
(LUKE pulls up the article, uncomfortably) LUKE: ...Oh yeah, you did. NANA: Sometimes the type of shots also matter. But you know that. LUKE: Urm what? NANA: You don't do different with your girlfriend? LUKE: UH. I may or may not have a rough idea what you mean but I'd REALLY like YOU to explain it and NOT me.
[The description is very graphic and it has been dumbed down to a reasonable level]
NANA: Well if the customer wants to 'release' in a different part of the body, we can charge more. The agency is very careful about that, so there is properly why we do it (reasons). Because we take regular tests for preventing diseases, pregnancy.
LUKE: Okay. So basically, if the 'release' is in an area or in a way that could compromise your health more, you can charge more. Because it necessitates the need for the testing anyway, which I assume...also costs?
NANA: Sure, yah.
LUKE: That's interesting. I forgot that we talked about that once briefly. Very practical.
NANA: There are other things too. If the travel is far. If there are other things, they want to do that are not 'girlfriend' sex.
LUKE: "Girlfriend" Sex? NANA: Like your girlfriend will usually find difficult or cannot do. LUKE: Okay. NANA: (proceeds to describe things that really shouldn't be written here) LUKE: Yeah that's definitely not stuff a regular girlfriend...girl, generally, would agree to.
NANA: Sometimes it can cost more than several days of standard work.
LUKE: Do you have any aim, or exit for when you might stop working altogether? NANA: Not really. I've liked the last few months very much for work. The clients are much better than in Korea, although Korea is nicer to live in. We will see. My agency actually sent us to Taiwan last week for 3 months. LUKE: Uh, but you're here.
NANA: No, I'm there. LUKE: What? NANA: I'm joke with you. (becomes exasperated). Ugh nevermind. LUKE: I thought only my girlfriends 'Ugh Nevermind' me, but apparently, it's all women.
Perks of Financial Freedom So Far
"I don't worry (about money) too much, so I can enjoy working in Taiwan."
NANA: Well, I drove here. I live almost 90 minutes away by train and its late, so it takes about 40 minutes even though traffic was good.
LUKE: You drove here. You have a CAR now?
(I'm basically incredulous already, and the interview only just started. This was recorded briefly before the conversation above)
NANA: It was quite cheap, used car. It costs a little under 110,000 Baht. Although I have some regrets because I can rent out better quality cars for 12000 baht a month or so. Then I can drive and make 30000 to 35000 baht instead.
LUKE: Like Grab?
LUKE: How did you afford it?
NANA: I could always afford it, but I wouldn't have much for my family and home after. So now that the house is done, I have some Financial Freedom, I can spend my work pay on such things. Then I find that I like to meet people and driving them around. At first, it was 'just as well', but over time it was quite good.
LUKE: How about for your main line of work? Are there any differences since you became financially free?
NANA: I get to choose my customers now, and I don't take married men with children anymore. Too much potential drama. Actually, I did not even want. But they wanted to **** me and I needed the money.
LUKE: Any examples?
NANA: A few years back there was this woman who called the agency to complain about me. She said she will call the police, that I passed on a disease to her husband. Of course, she was angry about him cheating, but the disease was no good.
I don't have disease, so I say no, it's not true. Because (being) part of an agency is we have regular tests and immune (izations) and medicine. We don't need to show her anything, but if really have I won't get into trouble.
That's the good thing about an agency, because they have things to protect you. So, there's proof that the husbands reach out to us directly, what they say, when they call, like that. There's no mistake.
But while I am here, I like being independent. I don't have cut to the agency. Of course I miss my friends, but I will go soon as well. LUKE: So how come you're the only one who didn't go?
NANA: It was cancelled. They said it is because I only had 4 months left on my passport but I need 6 months. But they should have seen that right? So they cancelled the ticket. But they said I should pay for it.
I was like why me? YOU pay! Why me? F***ing dodos. So my passport is renew already, and they doing it now.
LUKE: Heh. Dodos.
NANA: I don't work as hard as before anyway, so I really just want to help my juniors and try to have a good time there. Money and sex can be important, but I will pace myself, just enjoy Taiwan. In Korea, I did like that in the last 6 months. The agency was ok with it as long as we hit minimum targets, which is not difficult. Sometimes the agency sends a message asking if we finish already, during a two-hour slot. The man is not so good. Maybe he smokes or smells bad or treats us roughly. Maybe we will convince him to just take one shot, give him back some money and get him out so we can get paid again for the next one. It's not so good, sometimes the review can be bad - but usually the agency knows we do it because we don't want that person back as a repeat customer.
Most of my juniors have never gone out of Bangkok or Pattaya. The agency will not send unless they think we can do it - the hours and getting men to come back. I don't worry about this part too much - so I can enjoy Taiwan more, I think. LUKE: (laughs) I'm sure you have a lot of reason to be confident. NANA: I mean because I have enough money now. I can afford to fail. What were you think (ing)?
NANA: But I also think so that men will come back for me more now. Maybe because I am more relaxed. My customers like me more. I'm happier, I'm better (in bed), so they come back more, and I get paid more.
Financial Freedom Lessons - and Challenges
"It's not good if you love someone - and they are with you, but they are not happy and you're happy...so I (went) back to work."
LUKE: Having been Financially Free for a while now...no, I'm not really sure how to phrase this question.
NANA: I don't feel very free. (laughs) LUKE: I mean, you could retire if you wanted t -
NANA: But I don't, I wouldn't. (she shakes her head). It's hard, it's too hard to do that. I don't think my sister will be able to find work so easily.
LUKE: Well especially after looking after your mum. NANA: We already talked about this. You're not very good at this. Seth is more good. LUKE: (seriously) Wait, what did I say?
NANA: You're not sensitive. I know you don't like my mum.
LUKE: I don't like her enough for you to have to go back to work on her behalf. Because she didn't treat you well.
NANA: You remember last year, when your girlfriend did not come, and you were sad. Do you feel lost? Still?
LUKE: Um, less so lately? But it was bad, really bad for a long time. I was even relieved not to be writing, although I missed it. The first few months were okay...
NANA: You were not okay. I have your texts in January.
LUKE: Mm. Well, it got worse for a long time before it got better.
NANA: I mean, what I mean is when you single, your free right? You told me.
LUKE: Well yeah. I kind of realized that...I wanted Financial Freedom at 36, but I was planning for a house here, a house in Thailand on my land, passive income for 50 years for me and her, two children to university, accounting for taxes, forex... NANA: Yes. A lot. Yes. LUKE: When we were broken up, I realized I needed a lot less than I planned. I did think about retiring already.
NANA: SEE! I mean that. Why you not free? 'You can retire if you want to.' I can say it too. Aha. But now you, see? LUKE: Okay I get it a bit. I didn't feel very good, so I just kept working.
NANA: It's not good if you love someone and they are with you, but they are not happy and you're happy...now you see. You want a good life. But not for you. If you are alone, it is not a good life.
LUKE: Yes, that's what I meant.
NANA: So I go back to work. LUKE: I don't know. I just thought, especially after the last time, you were happy. NANA: I'm ok. I am ok. The last (few) years have been most good. To have what is mine now, to go back to, is good. It's everything. I never felt really safe in my life, but now I'm ok.
LUKE: That's good. NANA: Why, why why. You seem disappointed. LUKE: I just thought you were a lot better. I read the article, and I remember when we were talking a lot in 2020, before you flew off to Korea. Plus, it kind of seems that quite a few people I taught investing to sold off their stocks to buy real estate, which turned out to be an even better move than what I did...
The pictures of the house, the stock market returns - I just thought things were a lot better. NANA: YAH, things are a lot better. But I need look after my mum.
I tried to tell you, when we talk last year. Like you think "Now (after financial freedom) everything is good, is ok, no need to work, life not difficult." But is not like that. I did not think like that, even after I sell your stocks and buy and make the house. Is not the end. It might never end.
LUKE: Wait really? NANA: Life is not easy. Things happen. I choose, too. I'm okay. LUKE: I'm just trying to deal with that. Like you were financially free. I've had debates about what Financial Freedom means, with some of my friends. My thinking is to plan for everything you want.
Like if I want two children, I'm not financially free until I have enough money for two children. I don't, maybe even can't - go back to work. I don't think everyone agrees with me. NANA: My point is you want things, they change. You can keep working because you want a family.
Or you can be free alone, until you die.
LUKE: ...Damn. NANA: Uh huh, yah. You don't want to be alone right? LUKE: Nope. NANA: Now you see. LUKE: Basically you're saying I'm not actually financially free, because I don't have enough for the things I want.
NANA: You were never free. Is just a number, just free as (a) number. Because you only think you want less things, but you want the same. Can be different girl. Same things.
I tried to tell Seth also. It's nice to see. Nice to know. Feels good. Helps sometimes. Not real(istic). There are things that I want and things maybe I want next time. Now, I want to help my mum. So back to work.
More Specific Challenges
"Application can be bad. Everyone wants to know where my money comes from, so it doesn't look too good (buying a house). Even until today...my family still thinks I am a hairdresser."
NANA: I want a house in the city, but it's hard.
LUKE: Because it's expensive? NANA: I don't think so. It's okay. I have saved much. But I asked a friend (real estate agent) about it, does not look so good. Application can be bad. Everyone wants to know where my money comes from. LUKE: I thought we looked into that once for your hometown, it still seemed okay. Although building made more sense in the end.
NANA: Bangkok is different. There is a lot of paperwork. A lot of questions. I can't tell them what I do. Even until today, after so many many years, my family still thinks I am a hairdresser.
LUKE: Oh NONE of them know? NANA: No. Really better not. My family, they will be sad. Even David is not sure, but he is smart, and he can see from the beginning, so it is easier for him to accept.
I can maybe get a small apartment outside the city, but it won't make money... LUKE: Oh you're looking at it as an investment also. I'm pretty embarrassed I only just caught that.
NANA: I think property in Bangkok is quite reliable. But I don't think I can get a good loan. I am not even sure if I want a loan but renting it could help a lot. I am also worried about taxes. LUKE: Well, if you sell your stocks, you get taxed on it, but it shouldn't be a lot because it's based off PIT to my knowledge. I'm not sure about property.
NANA: PIT? LUKE: Personal income tax. I dunno, it's different from Singapore but my Thai client in 2019 asked me to look into it. I'm not
NANA: I've not paid taxes before, so I'm anxious. My friend said it might not look so good if I have a lot of money but not tax.
LUKE: At all? You've been working for so many years. NANA: I was in Pattaya, that's cash. And then went I went my agency in Bangkok, they settle it. Any ideas? LUKE: I don't think there's any quick solutions. Starting a business is the slightly more obvious one at face value, but I'm not sure how worthwhile that might be if you're not fully decided on this.
Thoughts on Financial...Stuff
1) On the Stock Market
NANA: I don't have too many stocks right now. Most was sold for the house. I have some for growth, but since I'm working, I'm not focused on income at the moment. Market is not so good anyway.
2) On Inflation:
NANA: Things are expensive. But they have always been expensive. I'm not too sure it matters a lot. These changes do not seem too different to me - every time it happens, we will just complain and adjust. It works out in the end. I do not think things become unreasonably more expensive. But we complain a lot. Most is not real.
3) On Her Dreams:
NANA: Sometimes I'm thinking about having another child.
LUKE: WHOA. Really?!
NANA: I don't know. I think this time can be a lot less suffering. Some of these guys can be good fathers.
LUKE: I thought you said you weren't attracted to them. NANA: Doesn't matter. LUKE: Okay...?
4) On Retirement: NANA: We'll see. But I am enjoying my work after so many years. 'Like' is like a strong, word. I think being happier has made it better for me and my customers.
To know that I can keep myself safe, or I can stop anytime I want, is good.
Most of my talk with Nana left me deep in thought. Often conversations with her have that effect. There are days where I have to be the smartest person in the room for the sake of my profession, but I would never feel acknowledged by someone as mature and tough as her if she didn't express her gratitude and kindness towards me so often. After leaving her to her own devices, I run around doing business in Bangkok for a few days before enjoying a life of cheap KFC and eliminating my sleep deficit.
I'm due to head back on the 9th of November, but surprisingly Nana is still around one week after the interview and asks me out to Loy Krathong. It's a festival with some cultural significance and I figure it could be good to see for my last night there.
She's a bit more playful and adventurous compared to how serious the interview got. Throughout the day, she holds my hand and drags me around everywhere. She points things in the market to me. She teases me with weird concoctions bought, that she slurps down greedily after I refuse.
It's obvious to me that this behavior isn't normal, even though we're close friends. She can sense my discomfort after a while. We end the night off early and she road rages on the way back to dropping me off at my hotel, and things feel normal for a moment.
As I get out of the car, she looks a little sad. Sad enough that I entertain a ridiculous thought for a moment before I realize it's not about me, it's about the kid and her rest of her family. Tonight is a night for family and loved ones, but she's stuck with me - who barely has an appreciation for the tradition.
"I'll see you tomorrow?"
She nods, looking glum. I'm not sure what to say, so it just slips out.
"Everything's going to be fine."
She chuckles. "How do you know? How you sure?"
I know she's jesting, but the year has been really rough for both of us. Financial knowledge has made it just a little easier, but it's the non-saving/investing decisions we've made that have left us in tougher positions financially.
It's hard to think about how good you have it when some days are especially hard. But I take comfort knowing that neither of us made an irrational personal finance decision for ourselves - it's about the people in our life we love or loved. And isn't that what life is all about? Not money, but love.