Carpe Diem

February 1, 2016

“Follow your bliss” – Joseph Campbell

We just returned from Trang, way down south. We had to settle a friend’s estate. It was necessary but not very pleasant, and it left me thinking of the Latin aphorism “Carpe Diem”, “Seize the Day” and how I wanted to share this with you. Here’s the story.


I’ve known Allan for more than 30 years. He was an American Peace Corps volunteer in the south of Thailand back in the 60s; the same time I was here. We later met when my wife Pikun joined a Thai classical orchestra in Seattle. Allan, big, white, and bearded, looking like a typical northwest mountain man, but fluent in Thai, was a Thai classical orchestra member and one of the finest musicians I have known. Allan also travelled the States and sometimes abroad playing guitar and banjo and singing for a Croatian Folk band. He was a former director of Seattle’s Nothwest Folklife Festival. He and Pikun performed at Folklife for more than 20 years.

Allan had learned Thai music during his time in Thailand and later received his master’s degree in ethnomusicology from the University of Washington. He played the Thai flute at an expert level, and was also a phenom with the “khaen”, the bamboo mouth organ that is played in the northeast of Thailand.

For the last five years Allan had been planning his retirement to Thailand and a move to his old home in Trang. He honored me by reading every posting from this site that I have written. He finally retired from his day job with a company that cleaned up hazard wastes, began getting his Social Security, and went to Trang to set up a house, buy a new motorcycle, and then he returned to Seattle to pack up and send his belongings to his new retirement home.

On our last visit to Seattle this October, Pikun and Allan played one last concert together. Allan, following his bliss, got on a plane to Thailand, and on a three-hour layover in Taipei he had a massive heart attack and passed away, literally hours away from his long-planned and long-dreamed-of retirement. Allan was 68 years old.


Carpe Diem: (According to the Roman poet Horace) The future is unforeseen and that one should not leave to chance future happenings, but rather one should do all one can today to make one’s future better (Wikipedia).


If we are deciding to retire and move abroad we have to take time to do our due diligence. We need to check out where we want to live, maybe even do a test run to the target country, spend some time there to see if it will be the place where we want to live, possibly, the rest of our lives. We will look at our finances to see if we add our savings and pensions together that the move will be financially feasible.  Then, if all is right, we will get our affairs in order and make the move.

Although retiring is not an easy decision to make, now is not the time to procrastinate, because, by definition, retirees at our age don’t have a whole lot of time to waste.

There are lots of roadblocks on our path to retirement, and even more to our pulling up stakes, leaving our jobs, our home, our friends and family, giving our pets away and giving up watching our favorite sports teams and TV shows, and moving abroad to an “undiscovered country”. We will find new ways to keep busy, make a new home, stay in touch with loved ones, adopt new pets, and even finds ways to cheer for our sports teams and see our TV shows. But we won’t figure those things out for a while so they may hold us back from making a decision.

Here is another thing that might hold us back and delay our retirement. In the U.S. we can start getting our Social Security payments at age 62. But since this is an early retirement option we are advised by almost everything we read to wait until we can get our full retirement, now up to 69 years old. So lots of 62 year olds, even those who hate their work situation and whose bodies have just about maxed out will wait those 7 more years.

But doing the math might help us make up our minds.

Case in point: A Thai friend of mine who has been living in the U.S. for the past 50 years is hoping to retire back to Thailand, a country almost as foreign to her as it is to most of us.

If she retires now, at age 62 she will get $1,000 a month in Social Security. But if she waits until full retirement at 69 she will receive $1,600. That is a pretty big difference. But let’s get out the calculator.

The difference between 62 and 69 is 7 years. That means for 7 years she will get $1,000 a month, or $12,000 at year. In 7 years that will be $84,000 she will not be getting if she waits until age 69.

At age 69 she will get $1,600 a month. In order to make up the difference of $84,000 she would have to wait 140 months, or about 11½ years. That means that if she waits to start earning the full retirement benefits and she starts making more than she would if she took Social Security at age 62, she would be (69 + 11½) more than 80 years old.

She is still thinking about this and deciding. If she rents out her home in the U.S. and adds that income to the $1,000 in Social Security, will she have enough to live a lifestyle that would make her comfortable?

I had a similar decision to make. I took the money at 62 and ran with it. And although I would now be getting the full package I have had a pretty good 8 years since taking the payments, and I am happy I did so.


Like the question above, there are lots of things that could delay our decision to retire.  But remember, you have earned this new life that you are planning. Let’s follow Horace’s and Joseph Campbell’s advice and follow our bliss as soon as we can make it possible, because who knows how much longer we have.


Goodbye my friend Allan. I hope you are playing banjo or the khaen in some celestial dance band somewhere.

Allan Swensson 1947 – 2016


Allan and Pikun to his right in the back row

Chao Phraya Ensemble, Allan and Pikun to his right in the back row in their last performance together.

I find that the longer I stick around the more eulogies I give and the lonelier it gets, because for all of us, it’s always going to be something, isn’t it?

“It’s always something” – Gilder Radner (as Roseanne Roseannadanna)

Addition: A reader just sent me this YouTube link of Allan playing the khaen. Check it out.

10 Responses to “Carpe Diem”

  1. pat said

    Sorry to here about your friend. I hope he enjoyed his working years doing what he wanted to do and enjoyed his coworkers.

    That’s a good point about Social Security. You have to run the numbers every way. It’s a roll of the dice on whether to spend IRA/401k and wait it out. Sell house in the states and live off of that or keep the house for rental income (a risk), hav70e a spouse who earned less and who is younger and could, statistically, outlive the man and reap the benefits of a larger social security check.

    Maybe it is safest to take the money and run at 62. Preserve the retirement savings in a bond fund.

    I have coworkers who worked until 72, many who stay until 70 and complained about the office environment and displeasure with politics and coworkers. Many people are afraid to leave. Or they think they will live healthy forever?

    If we can live below our means, most of us should do just fine. One you have your house and car, the rest is basic, recurring expenses.

    Thanks for another great post, although very sad. We need to think about what we really want in life and pursue it.

  2. Hugh – so very sorry to hear of the tragic passing of your old friend Alan. What amazing accomplishments and how fickle of fate…. Susie

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. Frank said

    I would have loved to hear your friend Allan play the khaen. It sounds like you were speaking of my Thai wife. I will pass this on to her.

  4. dannyol said

    Sad story Hugh, and as you say, the older we get the more often we see friends die.

    I also ran the numbers and this is how I dealt with it: Quit work 2 weeks before my 62 birthday, had already sold the house and gotten rid of everything and landed in Chiang Mai a week later with only 2 suitcases.

    Now I have a bunch of stuff again and happy to live in a place where you have to make things up to worry about!

    • Mike said

      Hi I am an expat ,early retired was for me, and now I am 68 years old and have now lived in Thailand for 12 years full-time.
      Khon Kaen is where I lived most of that time and it is very much to my liking. Deciding to retire early was in part due to my late wife passing at age of only 45 yr old. Life is to short, if it is right to retire early for you do it if you can.
      Very sad this man was unable to get his dream.
      Chiang Mai is a great place ,I love the choice of food there and the Hot Springs.
      Good luck

  5. Lani said

    Wow. I’m sorry about your loss, but I’m glad you brought up SS. When I was in the US I had to help my mom navigate through SS (claiming hers vs my father who passed away when he was 33) and deciding to retire in a year or two or wait.

    I told her not to wait. I think the amount she would have gotten if she waited was so small that it wasn’t worth it. Plus, I told her, I don’t know of SS will be around when she turns 68, so you better get it now.

  6. Bruce M said

    What a sad story, Hugh. It must be wuite a loss, and a shock. So unfair, life is sometimes. So unfair.
    Peace to you,

  7. Robb said

    Aloha Hugh,

    Sorry for your loss. Thanks for the article. I’ll turn 60 this April and was caught a little off guard by the school, they flipped flop on the extension for teaching past 60. Still here since PC service and of course have been a squirrel. Live in the Thai way, but I know trips to BKK and western food will drop to maybe once every 6 months. I too would collect at the 62 mark..

    However, really, I would be too bored to retire at 60… I would rather be working.. Certainly saves the immigration hassles for a little bit.

    RPCV G 102

  8. Robert Robert said

    Your friend Allan was a year younger than myself. It does make one think about old age and making the most of it. I have written to you before. I always thought of retiring in Thailand, but after spending 25 years in Singapore and many more years in 11 other countries as a teacher, I decided to retire in my own country, the US. I’m in Washington state, and I like it.

    I still might at some point in the future spend time in Thailand, but it’s actually pretty good here- friendliest people! I’m still teaching about 90 minutes a day and it’s good to be intellectually engaged.

    I never miss your monthly blogs, Hugh. They always have a lesson in them. Thank you.


  9. Dan Soriano said

    Great insight and important things to think about. I am retired in Thailand with an awesome Thai wife. I am 64 from SD, Ca and pulled the plug at 62, moved to Thailand and have not regretted it a day since. Don’t wait too long.

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