I was born in Estonia, in the beginning of ‘80s. I really want to skip the part where we were living in soviet times, when there were no possibilities to travel abroad or to buy groceries without a coupon. My childhood was happy, especially because we didn’t have mobile phones or computers. Life was somehow easier compare to nowadays, where access to bank loans and betting are just a click away. It seems to me, in that sense, you had less chances to ruin your life.
At school, I was terribly bored. I wasn’t the best student and was sometimes receiving remarks from teachers about being late and not paying enough attention in classes. My favorite hobbies were playing basketball and football, fishing and cooking. Actually, for as long as I can remember I loved cooking, so it was clear for me that I wanted to be a chef when I grow up. Therefore, I finished cooking college and became a chef.
Moving to Ireland
As you will see, I was making quite a few questionable decisions in my life. The first one, that will change the course of my life forever, was when I decided to live and work as a chef in Ireland when I was 19 years old and didn’t speak a word of English. Here is why I decided to make such a radical move.
I have to thank my parents for giving me so much freedom (maybe sometimes too much) when I was in my teenage years. Being on my own, without much control from parents, was becoming a problem, because I started hanging out with the wrong crowd. All of my friends where drinking a lot. Being young, inexperienced, with a need to fit in, I didn’t want to say no to temptations. After many hangover mornings and some visits to police stations, I realized that I have to get out of that circle.
Being desperate for a change, I took a risk and applied for a job in Ireland through one agency in Tallinn, where both the accommodation and job were provided. I don’t know how, but I got accepted barely knowing a word of English. Maybe they thought chefs don’t talk to customers? I was so nervous for going there, but at the same time excited because of the fresh start. I was hoping that being fluent in Estonian, Russian and German will be enough to get me started, together with €100 my pocket.
Going to Ireland, was the first time I was leaving the country, first time at the airport and the first ride on the plane. I remember sitting at airport in Tallinn, thinking “what am I doing now, is this really happening?“, hoping that I’m going to be fine and that I made a good decision. It’s amazing how some thoughts stay with us forever.
From the moment the plane landed, I fell in love with Ireland, especially Dublin. Everything was so green and people were warm and positive. I thought this city could become my home and it did, for the next seven years.
The first disappointment came a few days after I landed, when I realized that the Estonian agency put me to work in “Abrakebabra”, a fast food restaurant. I was promised to work for a fancy restaurant, because I finished culinary college and got a degree. I couldn’t change the job, because my residence permit was connected to it. I lived in a house together with six other people who were in the same situation. At least I got my own room and I quickly adapted to this arrangement.
The Irish pub culture surprised me. It was very popular for all the workers to go after work for a pint…every day. After a while, I got used to this too, as well as to partying hard.
It was quite easy for me to make new friends, also because of my love to both watching and playing football. I’ve been Manchester United supporter all my life.
A memory, that taught me to be extra careful with the expression of my passion, was when one day, wearing proudly my clubs red t-shirt, I walked into the local pub I didn’t visit before. Suddenly, like in a movies, the place went quiet. Everybody was staring at me and I wasn’t sure what was going on. While ordering a pint I noticed that this was Liverpool supporters’ pub. Next thing I remember, was me running out as fast as I could. Luckily, nothing bad happened.
In Ireland I made my first bet. A few of my friends and I were in a pub when someone noticed horse race on a screen. We all decided to try our luck and make a bet. I didn’t know anything about betting, not even terms like “odds” or “even money”. Standing there, in front of the bookie, listening how he passionately tried to explain the ways we can spend our money, I thought I have nothing to lose. He said that we can still win, even tho the horse we put a bet on lost. The next thing I remember was that I had 50 euros in my hand which I put on the horse called “Russian Roulette” (10 to 1 where odds for that horse). 5 minutes later, I was standing with 500 euros in my hand. “Easy money”, I was thinking, but I didn’t have an urge to gamble again. That was the first and last time I gambled in Ireland. The urge didn’t come in Australia either, where I moved next.
Moving To Australia
Even though life in Ireland was nice, with secured job and good friends, it wasn’t enough and I needed a change. I was getting sick of the rainy whether and short summers. I needed some warmer climate and was sure that “grass was greener” elsewhere. Luckily, my best friend thought exactly the same and liked adventures as much as I did, so we decided to go together to Darwin, Australia next. We flew there with only a luggage, fishing rod and €1000 of savings, hoping we will find a job straight away.
I could write countless pages about my experiences in Australia. For instance, job hunting, working for prestige restaurants, spending time with aboriginal community, going to work in the meat factory and getting arrested, traveling to Bali and Philippines, living in a truck and tents with my best friend for a few months, working on a boat for a multi-millionaire, being offered a modeling job from respected scout that I rejected, having a car accident… but I will leave them for some other posts, because now I just want to give you a brief overview of how I was living my life before it became “possessed” by gambling.
After three years, our visa expired and we had to decide where to go next. My plan was to move closer to my home country and start to think seriously about my future. I was 30 years old.
Moving To Finland
I decided to go to Finland, because I had better chances to make savings than in Estonia, and at the same time, I would be able to visit my family more frequently, which I was missing.
It was hard to start again from scratch, the third time in 10 years. I barely knew Finnish, just had some basic knowledge from the Elementary school, had no savings, job, friends, and I was pissed, cause I actually never wanted to leave Australia.
First few months in Helsinki, I was very insecure. I doubted my skills as a chef, so I started my career in Finland as a dishwasher. It was easier. I didn’t have to stress or think much about it, but I was in the kitchen and could see how different it is compared to what I was used to. After 3 months, I grew stronger, gained confidence, and started to work again as a chef. My biggest achievement, was that I managed to finish the prestige culinary college in Helsinki and became officially a head chef.
Compared to crazy days in Australia, my life in Finland became quite opposite. It was way calmer, maybe even boring. I was doing lots of sports, rediscovered my love for hiking, fishing and camping.
Finnish and Estonian cultures are similar, but being abroad for so many years, I forgot how cold we can be. It is harder to approach people and make friends. It took me some time before I managed to make few friends.
I wasn’t happy. I was putting myself under a lot of pressure, because I didn’t have any savings or girlfriend. I did have countless experiences, but they couldn’t get me a car or house that I started dreaming of.
After working hard for a few years I finally managed to make savings. I could finally afford to buy a car, Volvo C30, and I think I was the proudest owner. Four years after moving to Finland, I met beautiful Serbian girl, who stayed and worked in Helsinki, after her Master studies. Three years later, I proposed to her and she said “Yes!”. We wanted to expand our family and equally wanted a baby. Life was amazing again, at least I thought.
In the next blog post, I will tell you how I started to gamble and when I realized I have an addiction.