x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Why I'm not worth the clothes on my back

I have the experience of going through one of the great financial catastrophes of the age: the 1997 Asian Crisis.

I feel a bit odd writing a column for a section devoted to personal finances. I don't have any personal finances. I own no stocks or bonds. I've never taken out a bank loan. I've never had a credit card, or even an ATM card. My personal property consists of some books and a guitar. I have a HSBC savings account into which my monthly salary is dumped, and out of which I siphon money for my wife and kids in Thailand. That's it.

I do have the experience of going through one of the great financial catastrophes of the age: the 1997 Asian Crisis. A few days before the crash I was standing in line at Bangkok Bank. At the counter, a computer wonk at my business magazine was withdrawing bricks of 1,000 baht notes and stuffing them into a satchel. "I'm taking my savings up to Hong Kong to be converted into American dollars," he confided. "Watch out, Jim. The baht is due for a fall."

I looked down into my bank book and said: "Gee, what am I going to do with my 4,000 baht?" My fortune was worth US$160 (Dh587). A week later, it was worth $80. And at the age of 51, I was out of a job. My magazine crashed a day after the fall. I landed a newspaper job in Phuket, another in Phnom Penh, another back in Bangkok, and now I'm in Abu Dhabi. So I've learnt some things about survival. One is: Be frugal.

Which brings me to the topic of clothes. I don't buy clothes. As a journalist, I wait for people to give them to me as freebies. Some resort owners think that just because they are putting you up for free that you're going to write nice things about them. And they're sometimes right. My wardrobe consists of free shirts from a half dozen resorts, team shirts from my three years playing in King's Cup Elephant Polo matches, and 27 shirts given to me for sailing yachts in the Phuket King's Cup Regatta and Phuket Race Week. These are generally Lacoste and Polo shirts emblazoned with the name of my yacht, the regatta logo, and corporate sponsors, so at times I look like a Formula One race car driver. Good enough for wearing in the press room.

I regret to say that I have never been given free shoes. But guys need only the standard three: broken-down loafers, running shoes and sandals. If you wait long enough for your daughter to get married, she will give you a pair of shiny dress shoes for the marriage ceremony. And socks. (I've never understood the strange relationship women have with shoes. I once travelled with an old friend from New York for 18 days through Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. In one of her seven pieces of luggage she had stuffed a huge bag full of nothing but shoes. It was the longest 18 days of my life).