Is “Enough” Enough?
Originally posted on November 17, 2016
His late Majesty, King Rama IX of Thailand, is universally mourned and loved by Thais, especially for the care and guidance of his people which he exhibited throughout his reign. The major suggestion he gave his people on how to live a happy life, which everyone in Thailand knows, from school children to golden age retirees, is embodied in the Thai term “Paw Piang” (พอเพียง).
“Paw Piang” is a simple term meaning “sufficiency, or “just enough” but as a lifestyle it carries so much more meaning. And interestingly enough, besides being a great suggestion about how Thais can live a happy life, it can apply directly to how we, as retirees in Thailand, can also enhance our existence here.
The concept of living a life with the understanding of what is “enough” can be traced way back. Twenty-five hundred years ago, one of the Lord Buddha’s basic teaching tenets was that we find the “Middle Way”. This is spelled out in the “Noble Eightfold Path”, the following of which would lead us to a life of liberation by avoiding extremes and avoiding a too austere life. Wisdom was to understand “moderation”.
At about the same time in history, all the way over in Greece, moderation was being emphasized by another of the world’s great thinkers. Socrates enjoined us to do “Everything in moderation”, to choose the mean and avoid extremes. One of Plato’s four virtues, moderation, had a similar emphasis.
The concept of “Paw Piang” therefore is not new, but adapted to the Thai people and their way of life, it still works.
To adapt to a “Paw Piang” lifestyle Thais are encouraged to understand their current situation, to not overextend themselves, like not going into debt and buying a top of the line SUV when they really can only afford a Honda Jazz. If you have the money, go for that Honda PCX 150 motorcycle you’ve always dreamed of; if not maybe settle for a Honda Dream. They should do what they can to live more sustainable lifestyles, raising chickens for eggs, having a small vegetable garden for their own use and maybe growing a little more to sell at the market, developing handicrafts. “Paw Piang” doesn’t discourage people from reaching higher, it encourages people to know themselves and reach for the achievable, not for that “pie in the sky”. Many Thais, but not all of course, have taken this philosophy of moderation to heart.
As a young man of 22 living in Thailand I thought that moderation was about the last thing I was interested in. I am not sure what the opposite of “Paw Piang” is in Thai. Some English antonyms for “moderation” are “extreme”, “wildness”, “outrageousness”. The younger me knew them all very well.
I know now that I was lucky to have survived the many extravagances a young man in 60s and 70s Thailand participated in. But today, as a retiree who really wants to be around a lot longer because I am so curious about how things are going to turn out, I realize that I can achieve that, live contentedly, and learn a lot from the “Paw Piang” lifestyle.
I have often written on these pages that if one is planning on retiring here in Thailand you should first try a staggered retirement, test the waters, see if Thailand is right for you, see if you have the psyche, patience and flexibility to live in a foreign country, and then see if you can afford a lifestyle here and that you would have “enough” to live a comfortable and stimulating retirement.
It turns out that many retirees, after answering these retirement-prep questions in the affirmative, and then moving here, change. They decide that they don’t have “enough”.
Foreign retirees sometimes think that, with the absence of business regulations here, they could make lots of extra money, whether they need the money or not, by starting a business in Thailand. Restaurants and bars are the big dreams of some who ignore the fact that they may be in their 60s and 70s and have never run a restaurant or bar before. As with most foreign-owned business ventures in Thailand they often run into big problems, and they often lose the money they were counting on to get them to the “end”. One example: There are 6 foreign owned pizza restaurants within 1 kilometer of the PC I am writing this post on, and none of them seem to be making a profit.
Then there are the foreign retirees, men in their “golden ages”, who once again feel a young man’s urges that they thought had been long gone. In his 6 or 7 decades on this planet he begins to feel he hasn’t had “enough” of all that. This occurs especially when a young Thai nubile, who may or may not have ulterior motives, tells him how handsome he is, and who is more than willing to allow him to express those young-man urges once again.
I like the story of the 80 year old Chinese sage when asked what it is like not to have to worry about women and sex anymore answered with ”It’s like getting down from a wild horse.” That’s “Paw Piang”. Nevertheless, you’ll hear more than one story about old foreign “sages”, aided by the latest in chemical assistance, hopping back on to that wild horse, sometimes with marriage, sometimes with another set of children, usually holding on to that wild horse for dear life, often with quite deleterious effects on their health, sanity, and their life savings.
I sometimes wonder why a retired person who could be happy with a small room-with-a-view wants to get back into real estate. I mean, would you join a “fight club” at this age? That’s what real estate is. Even though we as foreigners can’t own land, so many people think that what they currently have is not enough. Land is fairly cheap here so the possibility of becoming landed gentry looks inviting. Often the deeds to the land that they “own” have the names of Thai spouses, almost spouses, Thai companies, or Thai acquaintances. I have literally seen an older foreign real estate mogul want-to-be end up with life savings gone, pot to piss in gone, along with that small room-with-a-view.
I had drunk my lifetime quota of beer and alcohol by my mid-thirties, and have abstained since then. That is probably one reason I am in pretty good health (knocking on my wooden desk). But so many foreign retirees do the opposite of “Paw Piang” when it comes to alcohol. I have seen many a foreign retiree indulge to the point that they have used up their alcohol quotas for the next few lifetimes. I don’t give much direct advice, I tell stories, but one piece of advice I would give is a bit Socratic. One should consume alcohol in “moderation”.
“Paw Piang” works for me. I have a great life working in my garden, playing golf once a week, Skyping with my kids, drinking Thai Frappuccinos, learning the piano, hanging out with old buddies once in a while, satisfying my addiction to Game of Thrones, watching my Seattle Seahawks, studying the Thai language, going down south to the beaches once a year, writing these posts and maybe occasionally helping an Expat understand this place a bit better, and each morning waking up to my roosters crowing and a brand new day. It works for me, but we are all different and I find that “Paw Piang” is relative.
We were on a short trip with some Thai friends down in Karbi in southern Thailand. We took a short ferry ride to Kho Yao Noi, an island in the Andaman Sea with a number of resorts and empty beaches, not the white powdery type, but nice. We found a place on the beach with a beautiful view and cabins for 1,200 baht per night. Just about our speed.
While we were there we heard about a number of higher scale resorts around the island, a number going for 30,000 – 40,000 baht per night. You could even rent a luxury yacht for a “nightly rate as low as 365,000 baht”. We were told that there was a resort up on the hill overlooking us and the bay that charged its guests 400,000 baht per night. And a local showed us pictures of the European football great Renaldo, who had just spent his honeymoon up there. Whereas we took the ferry here, they had flown in by helicopter. We hired a long tail fishing boat to take us island-hopping, they had one of those super-fast luxury speed boats.
Now my first reaction was, “That’s crazy. 400,000 baht per night!?” But then I thought about it. I could afford the 1,200 baht, maybe a little more, and the next morning I would wake up with about $50 less in my bank account than the day before. That’s no problem. Since Ronaldo earns $70 or $80 million a year he would probably wake up the next morning, after having spent 400,000 baht the day before, with tens of thousands of dollars more in his bank account than he started with. That is the definition of “an infinite amount of money”, that is, he could not spend all his money no matter what he bought.
This is the essence of “Paw Piang”. I was staying at the appropriate place for someone with a finite amount of assets, and he was doing what was appropriate for someone with an infinite amount of assets. Interestingly I was not in any envy. I am sure that Ronaldo and his bride ate a beautiful gourmet meal that night. We, on the other hand, had given a fisherman some money in the morning and that evening he brought us a bucketful of fresh jumbo shrimp, crabs, squid, and fish that he had caught that day. The cabin owner cooked it all up for us. Holy sea bass, Batman! That was a great meal. I don’t think Ronaldo’s could have been any better.
I went to bed overlooking the view, although at a somewhat lower altitude, of the same Andaman Sea that Ronaldo was seeing, and I was enjoying every minute of it as I am sure he was.