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December 27, 2015

2015 A Year of Resolution and Evolution

December 27, 2015 | By |

New Years Eve 2014: I arrived at my condo minutes before midnight after a night out volunteering in the ambulance. I sat out on my balcony with a bottle of Carabao as the skyline began to light up with fireworks and began thinking about life, as people sometimes do, the universe and everything.

In my work I regularly deal with the poor and needy and sometimes it takes a toll on the soul, sometimes when friends invite me out to an expensive restaurant I don’t enjoy the experience as I should because I often have a negative view on consumerism and waste. If the food is impeccable and the company is good I can enjoy myself but there is always the visions of past that haunt me, I always know in many places around Asia tonight children sleep in hot open air houses with little or no food, unhygienic conditions and infested with mosquitoes with diseases that could kill them. I forcibly try and forget the visions otherwise I think I would go mad with grief and sorrow. This lifestyle is harder than anyone can really know unless they have lived it, and I really understand why people suddenly give it up and go back to what I consider relatively “normal” lifestyle. I’ve seen plenty of friends get fucked up by this lifestyle and so I try to handle it the very un-psychological way by just blocking it out. For the most part this works.
Treading the line between first and third worlds is like living in limbo, you never feel comfortable or at home anymore, no matter where you are.

Since “Fight Club” inspired me to become interested in minimalism I think I have grown more, and as Tyler Durdens once said

Fuck off with your sofa units and strine green stripe patterns. I say never be complete, I say stop being perfect, I say let’s evolve—let the chips fall where they may.” I

like to think I have evolved….

As a teacher in Thailand we are supposed to not only teach our subject, science being mine, but also espouse the teachings of Buddha and King. “Self-Sufficiency” has always been the hallmark of the King and one I do like to support, particularly with my middle class kids who, like me as a child, want for nothing. My 6 year olds often have the latest cell-phones and gadgets, and often talk about wanting more. I like to share my stories of children in Thailand and Myanmar who have nothing, and try to balance it with the Buddhist philosophy of walking the middle path. Most of them lap this up and are happy to engage their parent’s questionable expenditures much to the horror of their parents.

As I gazed at the fiery display over Bangkok I decided then I wanted to experience more what it is like to be without and so my 2015 New Year’s Resolution was to not buy anything non-essential for a year.

So my New Year started with an invite from my Japanese friend Koju who was having a Kobe beef and Sake party at his restaurant, he said it would only cost 1500 per person…. I shyly began to explain about my New Year’s resolution and that I could not spend that kind of money for alcohol, although I might be able to explain it away with Kobe beef being a food which is essential to all life… that was pushing it…. but before I had tried to rationalize things he calmly said “well then I need an assistant chef and dishwasher so if you will help out you can come for free”! J

My first hurdle was so easily overcome! I was so happy and thought, this can really work! Could I revert to a life of barter? Was that cheating? I guess it was in a way since if I was to experience being without then I probably should not be using my skills as a teacher, medic, or dishwasher! So I added this to my new list of rules….. to be enforced ‘after’ the party. J

As the weeks rolled on I had to basically make up rules as I went along since I had not planned this at all. It made me think a lot about what I had and how lucky I was and how some more insignificant parts of my life became more significant. Firstly I realized how blessed I was with friends who understood and supported my resolution. They would often offer to pay for things but I did insist I paid my way at least, so “going Dutch” was the norm now (or “American Share” as they say in Thailand, I guess that came from the days when the US army was around and Thai’s first experienced this act).

One day just before the end of term, my belt broke and so was thinking about how to solve this problem without buying a new belt, I had glued it back together but I knew this would not last long. The very next day to my surprise I received a present from my graduating students, of course it was a belt. They had no idea I needed one so it was a kind of Twilight Zone experience. One more hurdle overcome.

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Over the months a very strange thing happened, I noticed I had begun to care more about my belongings, I would check my shirts after they were cleaned and make sure they were ironed to perfection. I hate ironing and it was one of the new chores I had that I normally farmed out to the lady downstairs. Despite trying to be free of attachment I actually became more attached to my belongings knowing they would have to last me for the year at least. Whether it was attachment or desperation did not matter, I felt it was giving me a greater sense of appreciation to the things around me.

Now, we are on the eve of 2016, I have not purchased anything for myself and honestly have not really missed much! I feel glad I have done this and even decided to continue to do without, but not quite to the same extent. I still want some headphones so I can listen to music in my classroom when other teachers are teaching, I would like a new shirt for going out since my Facebook pictures look like they have all been taken on the same day, and a few other non-essentials.
This experience plus my years in Thailand helping the poor and needy have made me feel I cannot go back to a life of unabated consumption but neither can I live a life of destitution, I love my air-conditioned room, my Sunday morning Yum-Cha breakfasts, and my holidays with my brother to foreign lands, these are some of my personal “essentials”.
I could never be a monk, I have tried it and failed but what I do want to do is continue helping people less fortunate, in a way this is part selfishness as I get so much satisfaction from it, fortunately the recipients seem to get more from it so I can live with my own selfish part.

Once or twice a month I see 2 old people walk past my ambulance standby area pushing their giant pile of recyclables they have collected during the day. This gives them their 300 or 400 baht allowance for daily living costs. Once or twice a month I ride over to where they take their rest on Sukumvhit road and ask how they are and offer some money to them suggesting they take a rest for a day or so, Im never sure if they do or not but at least they could if they wanted. The old man always gives me a blessing, and that smile is more than worth the 500baht.

My suggestion to people who want to experience minimalism is first go to your closet and look at all the clothes you have not worn for a year, pack them in a box and donate them to a charity. See how you feel, if you feel good, do it again with other stuff in your house, continue doing this until light and fluffy. My friend Oz in Canada did it after I recommended it to him and he said he felt a load had been lifted from him. It really is enlightening.

Alternatively you could try philanthropy being a way out of minimalism whereby you get to be good but keep all your goods, research and choose wisely who you donate to.

Altruism is probably a step too far unless you are spiritual and believe in Nirvana (not the band) and can also be detrimental to yourself but whatever you decide to do, just do it, I promise you it will lift you mind and spirit to new levels.

Most importantly say no to wanton consumerism and waste and don’t give me that bullshit about if we all stopped buying the universe would come to a standstill. There are millions of articles by economists to debunk that theory (eg: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/04/09/what-if-everyone-became-frugal/)
Use your time and money more wisely, if not for the world then for yourself. Oh, and one more thing, just for fun, do watch and analyze ‘Fight Club’ as part of your transition.

Evolve and have a Happy New Year everyone J