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What is Paw Pieng?
If you ask Thai people, “What is paw pieng?“, the answers may vary.
This article was the only one I could find after a quick google search.
It talked about being self-sufficient and self-reliant.
The context was that Thai farmers were borrowing money to buy genetically engineered seeds to plant their crops.
The problem was the modified plants didn’t bare any seeds for the next planting so farmers had to keep buying seeds.
Farmers also bought fertilizers and pesticides and barely made money when they sold their crops because they spent all their money taking care of it.
This led to Thai farmers being, and staying, poor while the rest of the world developed.
When I asked my dad, “What is paw pieng?“, he talked about how when he was younger, a lot of Thai farmers would just plant fields upon fields of rice.
This limited them to only reaping their crop and making money twice a year.
Not to mention, because they planted only rice, they had to go to the market to buy everything else to make food.
When seasons were bad, the farmers didn’t make enough money.
They would take out loans and go into debt to feed their families.
Then, the 9th king of Thailand tried to educate the farmers on diversifying their land use to include different crops and animals so they could make money year round.
My dad told me one suggestion from the 9th king was instead of 100% rice fields, divide the land in half.
On one half, plant rice.
On the other half, dig a pond, capture some water, plant peppers (for spicy Thai food), basil, bananas, papayas, and raise fish and chickens.
This allowed you to still make money from your rice twice a year.
But now you have more consistent income from selling fruits, eggs, spices, and fish year round.
And if markets were bad, you could at least survive and feed your family from your farm.
While it took some effort, in the long run, this helped farmers save money and generated more consistent revenue.
It eased the anxiety of wondering if they were going to have enough money to eat.
What Paw Pieng Is
Before we delve deeper into how paw pieng can help you on your FIRE journey, here are some other examples of what it’s about:
- It’s about being content with enough.
- It’s about helping yourself and others.
- It’s doing deeds that are deemed good for you and good for society.
- It’s about taking care of yourself and others.
- It’s about taking care of the land.
- It’s about reducing and reclaiming waste.
- It’s about being resourceful and innovative with how we reduce and reuse waste, AKA energy recapture.
- It’s about being more self-sufficient and self-reliant in all aspects, not just financial.
- It’s about being more conscientious about our actions.
- It’s about being more considerate to ourselves, others, and the world around us.
What Paw Pieng Is Not
- It’s not about living as frugally as you can.
- It’s not about accepting mediocrity.
- It’s not about wanting more for the false security that more is better.
- It’s not about trying to make as much money as you in any given situation like how business school taught us (AKA maximizing profits).
- It’s not about extracting all the benefits you can from a given situation.
- It’s not about being greedy and trying to make as much money as possible.
- It’s not about trying to cut costs as much as possible either.
- It’s not about being stingy and always trying to save money wherever you can.
- It’s not about never offering your employees any benefits because you want to save money (which runs into cutting costs and increasing profits).
The Origin of Paw Pieng
The original meaning of paw pieng from Thai farmers in the mountains and the rice paddies pertained to a way of living with your farm and farm animals.
For example, if you raised ducks in duck ponds, you should put fish in the ponds.
The fish eat the duck poop and you can raise and eat the fish without having to feed them yourself.
If you raise pigs and cows, you can use their poop as fertilizer to grow fruit trees and vegetables and live off the fruit and vegetables.
You then feed the fruit skins and any leftover vegetable scraps to the animals or compost for fertilizer.
How I interpret the old meaning is it talks about living off the land and living with the land in a more natural, holistic way.
In modern lingo, you can say it’s about ” waste (or energy) recapture.”
You recapture waste that’s normally thrown out or left alone.
You then use it in a way that helps to produce good outcomes for you and society.
Like instead of using chemical fertilizer manufactured in a factory, you use the natural fertilizer that farm animals poop out instead.
The Irony of The Old Meaning
What’s ironic about the old origins of paw pieng is that somewhere along the line, Thai farmers forgot about it.
Slash and burn agricultural practices created barren land in the north to northeast of Thailand.
A lot of rice, fruits, and vegetables in Thailand are sprayed with such heavy levels of pesticides and chemical fertilizers (which has been linked to negative health effects) that I worry about my health when I eat in Thailand.
My relatives in the rural countryside still only plant fields of rice and haven’t spent the time and energy to diversify their crop income.
They’re still stuck on getting income twice a year, and struggle to make ends meet.
The farmers who took the 9th King’s lesson to heart, however, diversified their crops and have since made more, and consistent, income and don’t live crop to crop as much.
The Modern Meaning Of Paw Pieng
Isuzu, the most popular Japanese pickup truck in Thailand, has been airing commercials about paw pieng for years.
Repurposing Waste For Additional Income
One Isuzu-sponsored paw pieng commercial showed how in one family, the dad owned a mechanic shop that had leftover metal scraps.
The daughter took these metal scraps and turned them into art and furniture to sell.
Instead of letting the scraps pile up unused or throwing them out, she repurposed them in such a way as to add not only beauty to the world and enjoyment to the people buying her art and furniture, she also created income for herself.
The modern meaning of paw pieng has moved away from the farm and applied to a way of life about repurposing waste in such a way as to create additional income.
Eating The Cost & Creating Happier Employees
One commercial also talked about how companies should offer lunches to employees to help them save on food cost.
The company is able to expense and deduct the cost of the food while the employees cannot.
While it doesn’t sound as good from a profit perspective because money is being diverted to food cost, from a happiness perspective, the employees are happier because they get to save money on lunch.
Benefits of happier workers: they tend to be more productive, less accident-proned, and stay with the company longer.
This in turn helps to increase your profit while also creating a more pleasant work environment.
So you can “eat the cost” now and reap the greater benefits later.
Whatever the case may be, paw pieng can help us all live a less wasteful life.
It can help us be more content, physically and mentally healthier, and wealthier.
This in turn can help you on help you on your journey to FIRE.
How Can Paw Pieng Help You On Your FIRE Journey?
Remind You To Not Beat Yourself Up Over Missed Financial Goals
Remembering paw pieng can help you to not beat yourself up when you don’t reach your financial goal for the month or the year.
It’s realizing you did the best you could in the circumstances you were in.
Remember the quote by Lao Tzu, “Nature does not rush yet everything is accomplished.”
Those Thai farmers couldn’t rush their rice to grow faster.
All they could do was tend to them the best they could and hope for the best.
You’re in this FIRE journey for the long haul.
It doesn’t help you to be so tough on yourself now when you probably still have a few more years to go.
Be more kind to yourself.
Everything will be alright.
Remind You To Look For Ways to Make Additional Income Out of Current Waste
Did you know that when you prune your trees and shrubs, if you stick those cut branches in dirt, they can grow into new plants?
Imagine if you stuck those cut branches into pots, let them grow for a bit, and then sold them at farmers markets for side hustle income?
It’s minimal work, for what could be a potential source of income, all from repurposed waste.
It’s remembering to always be on the lookout for how you can turn the waste from your average day into income.
You can then use this extra income to pay down debt or invest to reach FIRE faster.
Remind You That You Don’t Always Have To Be Hustling
Paw pieng Is about being able to take deep breathes, stay calm, and realize that you don’t always need to be hustling to reach FIRE as fast as you can.
I came to terms with this after I spent most of my life’s savings trying to start a business in Seattle in 2018.
It didn’t work out and this set me back on my FIRE journey.
But you know what?
Everything happens for a reason.
That experience helped me grow personally and as an entrepreneur.
Paw pieng is about cultivating the wisdom to know when you need to rest and take care of yourself.
Thai farmers take a break during the hottest part of the day because they know the heat is dangerous if you’re not careful.
You can imagine a non paw pieng farmer trying to hustle as hard as he could, ignore conventional wisdom, and continue working and planting during the hottest part of the day in order to make more income.
Is it worth it if he hurts himself in the process, leaving his family to fend for themselves?
Remind You To Take Care Of Yourself
Paw pieng can help remind you to take care of yourself and those around you because you don’t always have to be killing yourself by working so hard to reach FIRE “a year or two sooner.”
Does it make sense to work and hustle as hard as you can, sleeping less, not exercising, not eating and hydrating properly, only to drop dead before or shortly after you reach FIRE?
What kind of example will you set for your loved ones?
Life will take its due course.
A tree cannot grow faster than nature intended for it to grow.
Sometimes you have to be okay going with the flow of the universe.
You’re smart, and you work hard enough.
You’ll reach it, no worries, because that is your intention.
You think, live, breathe, eat, drink, and sleep FIRE on a daily basis.
You’ll be fine.
Remembering paw pieng can help you take deep breathes, relax, and stay calmer and saner on the road to FIRE.
The Consequences If You Forget Paw Pieng
The reason why the 9th king of Thailand promoted paw pieng during his reign from the 1940’s till recently was because he saw the average Thai person struggling financially.
Not only were rice farmers barely surviving off their crops, more farmers were going into debt because of easy credit.
Massive Debt From Easy Credit & Illegal Drugs
In the late 1900’s, the government made it easy for credit card companies to give credit cards to uneducated farmers in the rural countryside.
The uneducated farmers used their newly minted credit to buy alcohol, motorcycles, cars, and other things they didn’t need and ended up in massive debt.
They couldn’t get out of this debt and things got bad.
Some went bankrupt.
Some resorted to selling illegal drugs to make enough money to pay off their debt.
The ramifications from illegal drug trade and the wasteful spending are still being felt today.
My brother worked at a car auction company in Bangkok that auctioned off a lot of motorcycles and cars that were impounded because their owners couldn’t afford the monthly payments.
Suicides From Massive Debt From Over-Speculation
In the 1990’s, there was a bubble in land prices all over Thailand as people bought and sold on speculation.
My dad told me stories about how he and his friends would buy a plot of land for say $10,000 this week and next week it would be worth $100,000.
Those are made up numbers but you get the idea of how rampant the bubble was.
People ended up borrowing money from the bank, bought land they thought was going to go up in price, and sold it for higher profit soon after.
They repeated this process over and over.
It was the boom times and everyone was laughing all the way to the bank.
Then, the bubble bursted and people lost millions of dollars.
Under seemingly insurmountable debt, it was common news all over Thailand to hear how some people killed their families before committing suicide.
They saw no way out of the debt hole they dug themselves in.
My dad lost millions, declared bankruptcy, and we came to America to start a new life.
Don’t Forget Paw Pieng
In the hubris of easy money, people forgot about paw pieng.
Just completing one or two deals was more than enough money for their families to live on for many years.
But people wanted more.
They took on more debt, to make more money, and in the end, they were hurt even more.
There’s a saying, “They borrowed money they didn’t have, to buy things they didn’t need, so they could impress people who didn’t care.”
When is enough for you?
Asking yourself this question can help you keep perspective during the boom times of a speculative bubble.
A Lesson From Dad Plus Examples of Paw Pieng
A Lesson From Dad
Speaking from his financial mistakes, he now advises we use less than what we have and don’t overextend.
One example of non paw pieng he gave was if you have a credit card, you’re the type to always max it out.
If you have cash, however much you have, you use it all.
You’re always itching to spend it all on something, even if you don’t need it.
You’re ignoring building up a cash reserve for emergencies because a stuffed Pikachu doll is more important.
Not Knowing Paw Pieng Is:
- not knowing how to manage yourself,
- not knowing how to manage money,
- not knowing how to manage others,
- not knowing how to manage your life,
- not knowing when enough is enough.
More Examples of Paw Pieng:
An example of non paw pieng, if a shirt is still usable, you throw it out and buy a new one.
Paw Pieng is about being able to reuse that shirt if possible, say as a towel in your kitchen.
Or a hand towel in your bathroom.
The shirt is repurposed.
This saves you money from buying new towels.
It also reduces stuff going to the landfill.
Repurpose Food Waste
For example, if you eat out and throw away leftover food.
With paw pieng, you eat however much you have and not waste food by throwing it out.
This can sound like force feeding and gluttony, so maybe you can pack it up and eat it later.
It might also have to do with exercising self control, knowing yourself, and not ordering too much when you eat out, only to have a lot left over?
How Will Paw Pieng Make My Life Better?
What do I want you to get out of this?
Be content with enough.
My dad talked about how some farmers would have a lot of produce after the harvest.
After selling what they could, they might have some left over so they would give it to those in need.
But a Thai monk once told me that it’s not about giving away everything, because then you might end up in hot water and needed a reserve.
It’s about having enough,
giving away what’s extra,
and if there’s still something left over,
you can sell it to make some extra money.
It’s about living with a peace of mind and striving for self-sufficiency if it’s within your means (because some people live in apartments in cities and don’t have access to plots of land where they can grow their own vegetables).
My dad always said that, “Contentment starts in the heart.”
Live peacefully, live graciously, live contently with enough.
That is the art of paw pieng.
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