Time is surely one of life’s most precious commodities. Why don’t you quickly think about a lasting memory from childhood. A moment, good or bad, you can vividly recall.
Time has flown since, has it not? If you think carefully about it, within the context of your life, then you’ll agree that it (time) should never be wasted. Chances are that, as you read this, the building next to you may have been around before your mother was born and will remain long after you depart. Yet most of us (myself included) often squander it as if it has no limit. How foolish of us. We should look after it more carefully than we do our money.
Everyone’s time is precious and every day we ought to remind ourselves of its scarcity. When I do, it makes it easier for me to say “no” to events that waste my time. There are so damn many of them and they come in different forms (useless meetings, unnecessary conference calls, poorly made television shows, get-togethers I’d rather avoid, etc.). Similarly, remembering the value of time gives me joy to say “yes” to activities that feed my soul.
I can think of few more satisfying ways to spend my time than to travel. The very act takes us out of routine, which causes life to fly right past us, and breathes excitement and novelty into our being. Wonderful things can happen when one sets off on a journey.
Arousal of the senses
You’re travelling abroad in a foreign land, surrounded by foreign people, in foreign dress, serving foreign food in foreign ways. Your body, mind and soul are completely open and vulnerable to all forms of stimuli. Take me. I’m yours.
And once in a while, during your beautiful dance, for that is what you do when you travel (the rest of the time you’re pretty much sitting down), an astonishing statistical unlikelihood occurs. It arrests you at once and leaves you momentarily dumbfounded.
That is precisely what happened to me several years back in a beautiful little island off the east African coast.
I had just finished a very busy stretch of work and needed a little break to clear my mind. In true classical fashion, I spun a desktop globe, closed my eyes and seconds later stopped it with my index finger. I moved closer to my finger. Aha. Tanzania. I booked a flight and soon after took off on a little backpacking expedition.
A little less than a week into the trip I boarded a ferry from Dar es Salaam to the island of Zanzibar. The name alone is reason to visit.
I arrived to the island, checked into a little hotel and smiled as I looked out onto the beach from my room window (picture above). I was just steps away from the water. Nice.
That evening I went to the old city, also known as Stone Town, a place full of mysterious alleys, bazaars, mosques, Hindu temples, Christian churches and riveting architecture.
I was exploring on foot when the smell of spices in the air drew me toward a set of food stalls lit up by paraffin lamps. I surveyed what was on offer and then moved in to order some grilled seafood from one of the smiling merchants. In my excitement, I accidentally stepped on another traveller’s foot.
“Hey,” cried the young woman, turning toward me in anger. But anger turned to confusion, which turned to surprise and finally into a big smile.
No way! It was Heidi, a Norwegian friend from the London School of Economics. I hadn’t seen her since our farewell party, after which she went on to join Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She had just finished a month-long work engagement in Kenya and decided to holiday in Zanzibar for a week before returning to Oslo.
“Hey,” I cried.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“What are you doing here?” I asked. It’s funny how people always ask this question.
We had dinner together and then went for drinks on the beach. It took little effort for the island’s charm and mystique to heat up the mood as the night progressed. Before long, we found ourselves in more private quarters. Let us just say that carnal desires are amplified in Zanzibar. Travellers: beware of her charms.
You? Here? How?
When you’re travelling abroad and you run into someone you know from back home it’s always a bit disorienting at first. It’s a lovely experience but the first few seconds are bewildering.
The moment your eyes meet you pause. Your mental faculties cannot fathom what’s happening. It doesn’t make any sense. Person A belongs to Place X and your brain has wired the two together. So seeing Person A in Place Y causes a momentary glitch. But as soon as your brain does what nature intended it to – think – you get over that neural hurdle and become elated because there is a familiar visitor with whom you can share that special moment.
Naturally, as you travel more and more, the likelihood of this happening increases.
How in the bloody hell does it tie in to investment banking, you ask.
A citizen of Paris Berkeley Capital
When I worked for the bank, my home, territory, and place of constant residence was a large, imposing building in Canary Wharf. The logo of the bank was my flag, it’s motto my national anthem and its people my fellow citizens and comrades. I spent far more time in the building than anywhere else. And like many patriotic bankers, though I always yearned to go off in the distance, as far away as possible from my desk and Bloomberg terminal, when I did I always ended up missing home (i.e. Paris Berkeley Capital) and was, later, glad to return.
My fifth month on the job was particularly harsh. I recall one week when I worked late three consecutive nights. I arrived around 6:30am to work and left no sooner than 3am from the office. As much as I disliked my work life at the time I had developed an unexplainable attraction to the building. It’s difficult to explain but suffice it to say that I was very comfortable in the office. I felt I truly belonged there. It was more familiar to me than any other place on earth.
That third night – a Friday – I left the office to meet some friends near Brick Lane in East London. I recall looking out the car window at my building as the taxi drove off. Emptiness crept in. I am leaving home.
Taste of freedom and beauty in the familiar
A half hour later I was in a nightclub, standing at the bar waiting for the female bartender to take my order so I can join my friends in the next room.
“Who’s next,” she finally called out.
“I am,” me and another voice cried out simultaneously.
Huh? I’m next. I looked over to see the face of this intruder. No way. It was Ralphie Klitstein, one of the traders at Paris Berkeley Capital.
“Hey Ralphie” I shouted in excitement before walking over toward him. “What’s up?”
“Hello there,” he said.
We shook hands.
I couldn’t help feeling ecstatic so I pulled him in and gave him a big hug. “What are you doing here?” I asked, standing there filled with positive vibes.
“What do you mean?” he said. He was looking at me with a confused expression.
See, Ralphie was a trader and left the office around 5pm most days when the markets closed. Therefore, he had relatively normal working hours (though extremely stressful) and went out often. I, on the other hand, worked long hours and rarely made it out. Before that night, I hadn’t been out in over a week. It was kind of a ‘special’ moment to run into him there.
“It’s just great to see you,” I said. “Here. Of all places.”
He threw me a strange look. “Are you drunk?”
Control yourself. I had to tone it down. It was clear, he didn’t feel the same way. “Getting there,” I said.
We exchanged a few words and I figured it was best for me to leave him to it. But before I made my exit he said something I didn’t quite expect to hear.
“Did you come here with Daniel?” he asked.
“Daniel?” I asked, not sure who he meant.
“Yeah, Daniel” said Ralphie.
“Which Daniel do you think? The Analyst in your team.” Ralphie then pointed over my shoulder.
My Daniel? I slowly turned around and my eyes fell on the man himself. No way.
Daniel was one of the Analysts on our team. I had spent countless hours working with him over the last several months. He was a fixture in the office. You barely saw him away from his desk, unless it was to grab food or go to the toilet and none ever took more than 10 minutes. He was the kind of Analyst who worked 100+ hours a week. He practically slept at the office. Worked every weekend. Etc.
To see Daniel outside the office was borderline miraculous. I thought about taking a photo with my phone. He stood alone in the corner looking around. His eyes were wide open like a child’s at a giant toy store. His smile was like that of a 16 year old who just set foot into the Playboy mansion. His eyes met mine and an already large smile grew even bigger. A frisbee could fit in his mouth. We looked at one another like two men who had escaped prison, went their separate ways and ran into one another by chance on a tropical island far from the hell they had left. I smiled, too, for I could empathise with Daniel. I know what you’re going through buddy. I walked toward him. It felt like slow motion. It wasn’t until I got close to him that I noticed how rough he looked. His face reminded me of that of a sole survivor of a nuclear war in a post-apocalyptic film. For a split moment, I thought I caught glimpse of a tear coming down the poor guy’s face. Maybe this was his great escape and he could only share the joy and happiness with another inmate. Mind you, his sentence was far more severe than mine.
“You okay?” I asked.
“Sure.” He wiped his face with his hands. “Really dusty in here.”
“Ya,” I agreed, playing along. I felt bad for him.
“I’m happy to see you,” he said.
We saw each other for hours and hours each day but this was a special encounter. We were momentarily free men.
“Look, if you want you can join us in the next room,” I said to him.
He smiled again. “Thanks but I have to get back to work,” he said.
“Back to work?”
“I just popped by for 20 minutes,” he said.
“That’s it? 20 minutes only?”
“I wanted to have a drink somewhere cool for my birthday.” His mobile started ringing and he looked at the number with alarm. “Shit. Have to get back to the desk right away.” He handed me his half-finished cocktail and took off. “Bye.”
Daniel had earlier left the office to enjoy a celebratory drink alone to mark his birthday. Yet before he could finish it, he was called back to work. I didn’t even have the chance to wish him a happy birthday.
A banker’s holiday: a local club
For Daniel, running into me outside of work was a statistical outlier. All that matters is that it made him happy.
To many young investment bankers who join departments notorious for having very long hours, a venue even a half hour car ride away from work can be as tantalising as an exotic faraway island like Zanzibar. Well, almost.
Some believe that spending the vast majority of your daily life stationary, say, within the confines of a moneymaking powerhouse, makes you appreciate even more the little things in life like running into a friend out and about. Who knows. What’s for sure is that too much of anything, including long hours at work, can drive you a little crazy. I experienced it firsthand when I ran into a work colleague in a bar in North Goa.
Partying in Goa
I was with my cousin when we bumped into Dominik, a senior Equity Capital Markets banker. In his late 40s, single and always ready to party, Dominik was so excited to run into another Paris Berkeley Capital banker in Goa that he didn’t even say hello to me. He just shouted the name of our bank, “PARIS BERKELEY CAPITAL”, from way across the dancefloor and ran over to the bar, pushed three young men out of the way – one of them nearly fell down but luckily grabbed hold of the bar counter on his way down – and ordered three shots of tequila for each of us. From that point on, he went completely mad.
Neither myself nor my cousin remember what exactly happened that night apart from the fact that we both woke up the following day on the beach surrounded by people tanning on beach beds. Dominik, however, was missing.
I didn’t hear from my more senior colleague for two days. Finally, I received an e-mail from Dominik. He had woken up on a ship headed to Salalah (Oman). Allegedly, at some point in the night, the three of us had met a ship worker who was leaving town that morning and Dominik handed him the equivalent of USD 2,000 in Rupees to get us on the ship before it left the port. Given the state we were in, it must have sounded like a good idea at the time. Thankfully, my cousin and I were so drunk that we passed out before we could get on the ship.
When investment bankers bump into each other outside of work, the consequences can be disastrous. Sometimes memorable. Other times best forgotten.