So you’re a Doc, a foreign cuisine and Corona happened (How much can you give?)

My friend dm’d me some time ago with a message, ‘found an accommodation for £35 a day in Manchester’. And asked me whether this was right and if it could get any cheaper than that. I was actually quite surprised to see an advertisement even out at that price. From my previous experiences with many bed and breakfasts before and hotel stays for courses/conferences, exams and interviews; I hadn’t yet found anything cheaper than 50 quid in a decent place. And this was Manchester we were talking about. 

I looked into the site. Website looked genuine by itself to be honest, but one of the pictures used for the advertisement had a naked mannequin lying on the sofa in the sitting hall which was kind of strange. We use those kinds in our hospitals for simulation teachings. They cost thousands of bucks to be honest. Wasn’t really sure what it was doing in a regular  accommodation and the purpose of its display on the site. Whether they wanted to show that the stay was medical profession friendly, whether it didn’t occur to them at all that it looked like an eye sore sticking out of picture compared to the rest of interiors or it was possibly… there is no way of putting it out in a less vulgar way ‘a blow up doll’. So may be they were advertising some kind of kinky place? Haha. Who knows. Checked on google for reviews couldn’t find any, so advised my friend against the stay. 

He then gave me a list of set dates and requested  me to look for accommodation for his wife and her female friend. A 3 month tenancy is difficult to find. Most landlords want a tenancy contract of 6 months, as far as I know here in the UK. Understandably, as a landlord you want to be assured of a continuous source of income for a  fixed period and not have to deal with the hassle of refurbishing/ repainting the walls and redoing the carpets for next movers just after a few months. One would be mental to pour money down the drain if they are paying to stay in a hotel that long. Best way to get that length of stay is either in university buildings if you are a student or a hostel right? Staying in  hostels could still be cheaper even than 35£ I assume, depends on how many individuals you’d be sharing the space and the bunk beds with; but it comes with its own range of problems. For candidates preparing for medical exams, its not exactly ideal. 

I had to consider that they might struggle to pay the rent if it was anything beyond £40 per day. When I first came to the UK,  I lived in a shocked state for a period, converting all the zeros we had in Nepalese rupee to single digit or double digit in pound value. With 160 rupees you can survive a day in Nepal and for some people it is hard day labour pay! Watching it disappear  into a single coin of a pound is scary. None of my friends in Nepal  would ever believe me that I’m paying 1,60,000 Nepalese rupees to live on my own in a one bedroom flat per month. Nope. If I start converting the value of the cheapest burger in  McDonald to Nepalese rupees I will starve to death. I will never eat anything.

Doctors have good salary in Nepal compared to general population and they make a good living. Private works are bountiful, amount of hours you put in equates to amount of money back. A directly proportional relationship, because tax is minimal. But since the conversion rate to pounds is high, it equates to almost nothing in the UK. Both my friend and his wife are doctors and from upper middle class families. In Nepal, they have a decent lifestyle. So, without offending them, I was trying to figure out a way to give them an idea that living cost even for a few months with Nepalese money is going drill a hole in their bank accounts.

My sister once told me when she was new to the UK, she entered a local shop to buy a pack of gums. Came out of the shop, sweaty and quite perplexed after looking at the price tag on its little pack. ‘Hell No! 50 pounds!‘, she answered still in shock, when one of her friends queried why she had returned empty handed. ‘50p is not 50 Pound!‘, he then had to explain, breaking down the value of each currency into rupee equivalent so she’d understand. A pack has 5 gums in Nepal depending on which you buy. My favourite one come in many flavours, banana is my top choice. And it only costs like 5 rupee which is not even equal to one penny!

I wrote a message to him saying a bus fare in London for one travel will cost £1.55 which equals to Rupee 240 in Nepal. Just so that, he has a rough idea about how much money he would need to afford for rent and other expenses especially with travel in mind. The academy his wife and friend were coming to join for studies could only afford limited stay for weeks, rest of 2months they’d have to look.

Finding rent for friend is hard. Trust me, finding rent for a friend’s wife and her friend is even harder. Especially , if you have never spoken to friend’s wife or her friend before. Of course it would have been better if they could find other similar people to live with from the academy and rented a house together which I did suggest. Because prospect of finding spare rooms for 2 women, who are used to certain lifestyle, in a country with very contrasting social dynamic than they were used to, is going to be a headache. And there is that trap of course where ‘a favour for a friend is a favour, a favour for an extended friend becomes a complaint’.

There have been stories about new foreign doctors having to sleep in parks, walking along the town strolling their suitcases hopelessly from hotel to hotel door in COVID times, when all the hospitality services were suddenly forced to shut down. It will never come down to that with me around, but a little planning guys before hand for your own shakes would be good.

I live an hour away from Manchester where they’d be staying. It is going to cost me 70 quid for train travel alone ‘one way’. Had it been in Nepal, my mom would have said ‘what is the fuss? Go get your friend. It is only 1 hour away and have them stay here!’. One- I don’t drive Mom. Second, I cannot travel back and forth with that money, I could leave them that money so they can stay in B & B in Manchester for the night. Because, travelling back and forth is going to cost all of us fortunes especially if they have to attend lecture everyday! And third, I work so many hours, if my guest can cater for herself that is fine, but 2 guests, with one master door key is a nightmare. I do not want to land lord’s mobile again. And, and we know what happened to my cousin? His friend stayed with him rent free for so long while he was doing him a favour and one day just walked out with all his bank cards!

This is a country where a man does not pay for lunch, children don’t pay for their parents in restaurants and people who invite guests don’t pay for their guests in party. In Nepal, we are generous’. She makes a disappointed face.

But, look how expensive everything is here! If I pay for my 3 friends lunch, even if they eat only 20£ that is 60£ add mine it is 80£. And you know, for that 80£ how hard I had to work? For an entire day? I was on a train at 06:00 clock in the morning, I was back at home at 01:00am! And 20£ was just train fare’.

Yes I know. I know. It is like the systems were built in this country to divide friends and relationships. To break families into nuclear so that you earn more tax out of each household. I mean who kicks out children off their home at 18? Because they are getting expensive to feed? You should look after your brothers and sister. And they should look after you too. You were not raised like that. You will always have each other. I didn’t have anyone.’

I know. I know’. I just nod along her comment when she is like that. Remembers some things about her past and makes odd statements which apparently are supposed to be her words of wisdom for me. While I scroll past comments of strange people requesting money for charity, colleagues and acquaintances I have never sat down with to have coffee before asking for random favours, junior medical students querying about plab exams and visa requirements in UK. Mom is finally off her phone after chatting with her relative and is now inquiring, if we can make some donation to a local school in her village again.

A part of me is like ‘Stop. You grew us up with 11 children in our house. None of whom are grateful to you now. Not to you that is fine, but not even to us. When it was us, who had to share a quality of our lives and major portion of it to them. When there was never enough to eat for us because you were hoarding the whole village in one roof.’

But I cannot. She had some ambitions she ventured out to do but never really quite got there. She dwells on things she couldn’t do, couldn’t achieve and missed opportunities on.

There is no limit to how much people will take away, if you never learn to tighten your grip and force yourself to stop. Mom was always a people pleaser. Never could say no to her friends and relatives. She was crossed, didn’t speak to me the whole day, when I gave only her half of my first stipend. My first stipend! The other time, when I did give her full 2 months stipend money she donated it to that local school in her village. Like honestly, she starved us, her children, many times (money context ;)). I never had pocket money to spend off on anything when I was growing up. But she never could say ‘No’, if anyone asked for help. Sat down late nights crying, unable to pay our private school bills because they wouldn’t return her money on time. Her own sister had swindled her off all her inheritance and her husbands by extension while her children were studying in private schools under our roof; and now had just booked a flight to Nepal because they had swiped all the house’s rent too. But she is thinking of some charity?

It’s funny. She thinks I am about to reach some success point. And keeps asking me, when I am about to earn ‘loads of money?’. Hahaha! ‘You need to buy yourself a house’. she says. ‘It is a good investment. Paying rent all your life is not good’.

How do I explain to my mom and her relatives that despite earning 4,80,000 Nepalese rupee  a month, I’m not saving any. Every one back in the country believes I am living rich fancy lifestyle now that I’m earning in pounds. They expect that I donate generously without request, offer help in any forms, fill in my granny’s shoes after my moms, keep the family name. Stop right there. Yup. I am her daughter and my father’s daughter. But I was raised differently. I learned, I can say ‘No’. I owed no one, I had no obligation to please anybody. I am where I am, of effort I have put in. Of support from my family. Only people I will be generous will be to my family and only handful of my friends, by choice. I am not being selfish. I am just being fair. It would be great if people liked me for what I am, I am a good person, I will be a good fellow but, if there is one thing I am not trying to be is ‘people pleaser’.

In my bank account— after about 1000 for rent and utilities, 800 for mortgage, £10 for Tesco phone bill, £20 for BMA membership, £7 for Apple subscription, £45 for hobby subscription, £9 for insurance, £60 for monthly food shopping, £79 for a Pastest exam subscription, £448 for exam, 70£ for travel. I had about 400£ to spare. I go out and there 100£ is easily gone. A little shopping on clothes- another 100£. My time and effort costs me a lot. Especially with the lifestyle we have as medic.

Unless one is used to lifestyle here particularly ours it is quite difficult to make them understand. Like why wouldn’t I visit my friend’s wife on Manchester? It is one request for that friend but for me it is a handful of requests I am juggling with. Will people ever learn to be grateful for effort I am investing on? A couple of hundreds here and there. I am genuinely hoping I don’t become my mom. ‘Money is like dust’ my dad quotes often, ‘it is important to know the value but it is not everything’. I try live by that principle. It is a thin line though isn’t it? I watch him counting pennies closely, one by one, out from his little purse every time we go to shop for milk together. It is difficult, isn’t it? To learn ‘never to be too selfish, at the same time never to be too kind’. I am learning all that experience by experience too. Be careful when you extend your hand friend that they don’t grip your arm and drag you down. Kind people get hurt the most.

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