An auspicious day – and a very Buddhist business plan
by Tony James
Running a rice mill, even as a proverbial ‘sleeping’ partner, never before entered my head as a career option or a feasible feature of retired life.
But life in Thailand takes many mysterious twists and turns and on an ‘auspicious’ day a couple of months back I found myself adding this exotic occupation as the latest and hopefully final item on a CV reaching back more than half a century; a lengthy chronicle of wasted time and opportunities.
For me the mill is merely an investment. I take no part in its actual operation. That would in any case violate the terms of my retirement visa. It is my long-time neighbour and friend Yung who is responsible for the day-to-day running of the venture.
Standing some five metres high the machine, together with a dedicated and sizeable ‘shed’ to house the equipment, represents – in local terms – a significant investment. Its long-term earning potential, I am assured by reliable and independent farang sources, is equally significant. This, however, is dependent on exploiting the mill’s by-products to support additional agricultural operations, especially livestock – and pigs in particular. The residue from cleaning raw rice provides the perfect FREE feed for fattening piglets, and free fodder means clear profit – well almost!
“Trouble at t’mill…” held at bay
Business plans were once a daily element in all of my working life as a business journalist in Britain. I seemed to be forever writing stories and features stressing the importance to new start-ups of a sound ‘business plan’. Local culture and custom, however, now presented a challenge to the farang model! All those words printed with such authority on the subject are, to all intents and purposes, utterly meaningless in this Buddhist environment!
An antithetic philosophy prevails. Cash-flow forecasts and profit predictions are seen as nothing more than guesswork, hollow hopes for the best. In Isaan such matters are known to be subject to the whim of higher powers, the lingering ghosts of the departed – the undead. So surely, the reasoning goes, the soundest plan for your business is to ensure the departed are on side. And if you choose an auspicious day for the launch, advised by wise monks, then your venture will have everything going for it!
At first I was inclined to insist on the farang approach. It soon became clear, however, that this was a forlorn scenario. Farang practicality will always, in these parts, lose out to traditional ways and Buddhist intuition. So on our auspicious day a local shaman is engaged to conduct a ceremony to ensure our local spirits are placated, some could have been displaced by the construction of the mill.
Placating displaced spirits…
An undeniable logic
Brooding on the gulf between oriental and occidental ways, I find a mystifying but undeniable logic in this Buddhist approach to launching an enterprise. Nobody, not even monks – and certainly not farang – can foretell the future with any certainty. So why do we farang with our fatuous business plans insist on trying? With that thought in my heart I put my trust in the departed and join in the ceremony in a spirit of optimism!
Tony James, a former UK based business journalist and editor, has a home in the village of Ban Somboon deep in the Isaan countryside close by the border with Cambodia. He recounts the peaks and pitfalls of learning to live in a Khmer/Thai village in ‘First Tales of a Thai Village’ available in both paperback and e-book (kindle/mobi) from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com.au as well as most other Amazon sites. James continues his tales of Thai life in a monthly blog ‘Idle Times in Ban Somboon and Chom Thian’ viewable at www.theidlescribbler.wordpress.com