Is “Enough” Enough?

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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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“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.

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And btw, I am still in lust for that Honda PCX 150, but my 10 year-old Honda Dream still works great. Maybe once it dies I’ll reach for the brass-ring. Until then I have more than enough to be a happy retiree here.

I Remember His Majesty

October 16, 2016

I want to express my deep condolences to the good people of Thailand for the passing of His Majesty King Rama IX.

In his honor, I thought I would recall the two times I got within arm’s length of His Majesty. You might wonder, but these are true stories.

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The first time we “met” was by pure accident. Pikun and I were married on Loy Krathong Day 1971. But we were in the middle of a teaching semester and had no time to take off. So we planned on a “honeymoon” around the New Years, 1972.

I had a friend who did a lot of upcountry travel at the time and he had just visited a Lisu hill tribe village way up north on the Kok River, near the Burmese border. At the time the Kok River was quite isolated and one had to go way off the beaten trail to find it. Today it is smack-dab in the middle of Tourist County and the river is now a tourist highway for leisurely rafting trips. Not so back then. It was considered a “wild river”.

My backcountry friend knew we were planning a trip to that area so he gave us a picture of the headmaster of a tribal school in a village he had just visited (photographs were hard to come by then and were prized possessions). He said to give the headmaster this picture and he would probably feed us and let us stay in the village and sleep on the school floor overnight. Our honeymoon wasn’t going to be Paradise Island, but it was to be one we would never forget.

The Lisu village was on the Kok River. You had to take a long tailed canoe taxi a couple of hours down the river from the town of Fang. It was New Year’s Day by the time we got there. It was a steep climb from the river to the village and along the way we encountered some very strange goings on. Every few feet along the climb were heavily armed Thai military, M16s at the ready. We didn’t say anything right away. Quite often during those days bandits roamed this area so we thought maybe this was the soldiers’ station. But it soon became apparent that this was more than that.

As we reached the top of the climb, in view of the school building, I noticed that the whole village was out on the school playground. They were dressed in their most beautiful traditional clothes and they were all at attention. I had a feeling this wasn’t in our honor, although that would have been pretty cool. It turned out to be even cooler than that.

I turned to the last soldier on the trail, “Excuse me sir. Is there anything special going on here?” “You don’t know?” he asked surprised. “His Majesty is visiting the village today. It is New Years and every New Years the Royal Family visits the tribal villages and gives out gifts to the people.”

Just then we heard the beat of chopper blades and looked up to see two helicopters descending onto an open flat area. Within a minute or two of landing, out came the King, the Queen and all the whole Royal Family, accompanied by a load of military brass. As I looked around I noticed that Pikun and I were the only people there who weren’t either villagers, military, or part of the Royal Family. And I was secretly hoping we were not going to be arrested.

As we were shaking in our hiking boots, the Royal Family casually walked within a foot or two of us, over to the waiting villages to hand out their gifts. The King was wearing a military uniform as was the Crown Prince. Queen Sirikit was wearing a big floppy hat and looked as beautiful as a queen in a fairy story. Pikun and I were both left breathless.

After a few minutes greeting the beautifully clad Lisu tribesmen, the Royal Family came back the same way, boarded the choppers and flew off to the next village, never knowing how they had helped us to celebrate our wedding and had given us a honeymoon story like no other.

Queen Sirikit

Queen Sirikit

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Our second encounter was a bit more formal. Later that year Queen Elizabeth, Prince Phillip, and Prince Charles came to visit Thailand and they planned on staying at the royal Phu Phing Palace on Chiang Mai’s Doi Suthep. That meant that the whole city would turn out to greet them. Every school would wait along the Royal procession. We were all given British and Thai flags, placed along the road and waited.

Down the road they came, slowly, the King’s very famous Yellow Royals Royce leading the way. As they drove down the road they were greeted by our shouting, flag waving students  There was Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip of Great Britain sitting alongside their Majesties the King and Queen of Thailand. And Queen Elizabeth was doing her patented Royal wave. We of course all waved back. The motorcade made a turn and went to the recently completed Huay Kaew Road and up the mountain to the royal palace.

As a side note, the day before the Royal motorcade, Pikun and I had taken a motorcycle trip up the Mae Saa Valley. We almost literally bumped into a pack of about 50 elephants. They were all in a field and doing all sorts of elephant tricks, playing football, pulling logs, playing music. Lots of stuff they do for tourists now, but rarely ever seen back then.

It turns out that we had come across a dress rehearsal of the elephant show that was to be given especially in honor of the British Royal Family the next day.  According to The Telegraph report at the time:  (Queen Elizabeth saw) elephant logging in Chiang Mai. A sacred elephant she was due to feed ‘sat on a police car in a fit of temper, and was sent back to the zoo’.  I am sorry I didn’t get to see that.

queen-e

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His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej was on the Thai throne as long as I have been on this planet, 70 years. No one did more for his country, and no one was loved more.

 

It’s been a while since I have sat down and did some writing. Maybe it is “writer’s block”. But probably not, since I have written lots of stuff on Facebook – mostly about the election campaign shenanigans going on back in my home country. Which brings me to the reasons I have been too occupied to write about a retired life here in Thailand.

  1. It’s the rainy season. And when it rains that means lots of tree trimming and weed pulling. In Thailand a gardener doesn’t need to encourage things to grow, they have to cut things back so they won’t take over the garden.
  2. My addiction to politics. I can’t seem to pull myself away from Facebook, YouTube, et.al. And when I hear about ridiculous stuff politicians say I can’t help but comment. One more month and I will have to go cold turkey.
  3. The NFL is playing – and what’s more, the Seattle Seahawks have a really good team this year. But to watch a Sunday afternoon game I need to get up at 3am Monday. Mondays are not good days for me.

So because of these obstacles I haven’t been near MS Word for a while but there isn’t a presidential debate today, and the Seahawks don’t play this week, and most of the alien trees have been chopped down and I have a bit of time today.  I thought I might share how I connect up to watching the debates live and news shows live, and the NFL live, since most of these aren’t on Thai TV (although for some reason the first debate was telecast, and they always seem to get the Super Bowl, with Thai announcers though).

Some of this may have appeared in earlier posts but no harm in updating and repeating.

 

Downloading TV shows and movies

 

In a post in Oct 2011 “Keeping Up With Popular Culture While Living in Thailand ” I covered how I download “torrents” from the Internet.  You’ll also see what I was watching on TV 5 years ago. Some good stuff that’s gone now.

Some of the sites I used are now closed and new ones have opened. If you are interested in downloading TV shows, sports, and movies, as well as music, and eBooks (all illegal and we don’t suggest that you would ever do anything illegal) do a Google search on “download torrents” and find out what is presently available.

 

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TV News

(Mostly American centered news, maybe some people from other countries can tell us what they do)

 

CBSN – Live programming and podcasts. They have televised all the debates live.

MSNBC – Some live programming but many podcasts of their regular shows.

Fox – For people interested in real news this is not recommended.

ABC, NBC – Podcasts

Reuters News – Very good 15 minute news summaries.

Democracy Now – Very good left leaning news and commentary.

CNBC – Economic and Wall Street news.

Ajazeera – Contrary to what you might think, a very good news site. Used to have live TV but have changed recently to written news.

 

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Radio News

 

BBC World Service – Podcast updated twice daily

National Public Radio – Morning Edition, and weekend editions, and more.

Diane  Rehm Show – Probably the best interview show ever.

You can also do a Google search on your own favorite radio stations from back home and most of them now will steam their shows in the Internet.

 

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Sports

 

You can download torrents of all sporting events (not quite legal of course). But then you will be a day or 2 late. I used to do this and had to avoid reading the news, especially the sports for 2 or 3 days so I wouldn’t know the results ahead of time. That didn’t work too well. Now I have a new way to do it and I watch sporting events live.

I know some people who pay the NFL to get live streaming. A friend visiting from the U.S. just told me he pays $99 a year and can see all the games, and replay them anytime. I don’t know if it is  available in Thailand, but you can check out NFL Game Pass for availability

 

Betting sites will have live sports feeds where odds are displayed, and one can bet on results. I don’t gamble but I go to the sites to watch just about any sporting event live. Do a search on “vipbox” and see what you come up with. You’ll have to deal with lots of popups and ads but once you get the hang of it It will be fine.  I have not had any problems with viruses or Trojan horses (yet).

 

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YouTube

Then there is always YouTube.com for just about everything. Sometimes a debate or sporting show will be available within minutes. It is also where I see The Daily Show, Seth Myers, The Late Show, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. These are shows where I and lots of Americans, get their news fix for the day.

 

 

When the rain came I thought you’d leave

cause I knew how much you loved the sun

– Rod Steward, Mandolin wind

It starts around 3:30 pm with the buildup of clouds over Doi Suthep in the west. The puffy cumulous clouds shoot up thousands of feet, turning dark with the promise of a daily afternoon rain. The last two rainy seasons have been anything but rainy. One or two hard rains in all that time, when normally the downpours are daily. The reservoirs are the lowest they’ve been in 50 years, when normally they are overflowing at this time.  The rice fields struggle to produce one good crop when some years there are three.

Today the clouds build and build and darken, but then they begin to dissipate and like in those National Geographics movies of the Serengeti that are still popular on Animal Planet, we gazelles and wildebeests stare up at the clouds wondering if this year the rains will come again.

The rains bring big changes in our lifestyles here. Gone are the smoggy days of March and April, gone are the 40ͦ C days of the hot season. Now the mornings are glorious. The temperatures, perfect. The other day at the golf course, looking up at the beautiful cloud formations over the mountains, I thought, if I am a really good boy in this life, and I get to heaven, this is what the weather will be like.

But there is another side to the rainy season.

Since the rains begin in mid-afternoon they are sure to catch us all as we head home from work or school, right during the evening rush hour. Now we aren’t talking about a Seattle-type rain where you have to put out your hand palm up and still wonder if it is raining. It isn’t even like taking a shower-type rain. It is more like a bucket being poured over your head-type rain. And when it happens as you are riding your motorcycle home, it could be a bit of an inconvenience.

For some reason, motorcyclists tend to speed up as the rain pours down. Maybe they are thinking that if they get home faster they won’t get so wet. That never works. I always pull over, look for a shop awning and just wait out the storm. The downpour usually lasts only an hour or so. I’m retired. I have no appointments to keep.

Highway underpasses are popular places to stop and keep dry – but they are dark and cars speeding home during the downpour sometimes don’t see them, often with dire consequences. Roads outside of town get covered with flowing water. I once thought I was going over a mere puddle where the water had overflowed the rice field on my right and was emptying into the one on the left. When the water flowed over my spark plug and my engine stalled I had visions of being washed away, my body being found in a distant rice field. Luckily I was able to walk the bike out of the flood. Now that I am older I realize that relying on luck in a flood like that is not a great game-plan.

Houses get washed away, animals die. One night a few rainy season ago we lost our entire flock of ducks who were in an enclosed pen by the side of our stream when, after a huge downpour, a flash flood came by. It rose to more than 3 meters above normal and as incongruous as it may sound, all our ducks drowned. My heart is out to the people whose homes get treated in the same way during rainy season floods.

For those who don’t get along too well with creepy crawlies, the rainy season will be a bit more challenging. This is when the insects proliferate, especially the ants. Ants look for a place to get out from the flooded ground, and what better place than right in our homes. Currently, I have counted 6 different ant species living in our kitchen. And of course there are those biting red weaver ants who live in the tree right outside my kitchen door.

Much more dangerous are the mosquitoes and the diseases they bring. The rainy season is the time for dengue fever and Japanese encephalitis, aka “sleeping sickness”. Both are often lethal especially to younger children. Insect repellent is probably a good investment at this time.

Snakes like the cool of the rainy season. We have had egg-eating snakes that have spoiled my breakfast omelets many a rainy season morning. They steal my bantam chicken eggs and swallow them whole by unhinging their jaws. Later, after cracking the egg inside their bodies, they regurgitate the whole crushed shell in one piece. I found a 2 meter long black egg-eater in my tool shed once. It jumped up and ran between my legs and headed straight for the canal, being quite familiar with our back yard. Some species of egg-eating snakes are toothless, the better to swallow those eggs. I’m hoping that this was one of them.

Then there is that 3 meter python that lives in the canal. I really want to catch him, revenge for our ducks and chickens that have gone missing. But then again, 3 meters? Maybe I don’t want to catch him after all.

I write these blog posts in my head. Then when I get to my computer, the words just pour right out. I am now writing this post in my head as I drive my 125cc Honda Dream home from an afternoon at the U.S. Consulate here in Chiang Mai. I usually avoid driving in the afternoons but couldn’t avoid it today.

Those clouds that were earlier dissipating over Doi Suthep are beginning to darken again. I can feel in my sinuses the barometric pressure building. We gazelles and wildebeests look up expectantly. Will it rain? Should I speed up to get home before I am soaked, or look for a shop awning?

The hard rains always start with very large drops. When you get hit by a large droplet, you know that a few seconds later a bucket will be dumped on your head. A misty few drops splash across my helmet’s faceplate. Maybe I’ll get home before it rains.

And as I think that, a huge drop of rain slams against my helmet.

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