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Not everybody views themselves as rich because they have a lot of money. Some people view being rich in terms of happiness. One man who considers himself to be very rich is Martin Wheeler, a man who does not have any amassed wealth, flashy cars or even a small company, but to him, he has it all. So what is it that makes this man’s life so complete?
Well Martin Wheeler found his nirvana when he implemented the King’s sufficiency economy theory into his life here in Thailand. He is a forty seven year old British man who has a solid comprehension of the King’s ideas. He lives on rice and organic vegetables that he grows himself and has totally detached himself from mainstream life, something that some rather more ‘well off’ people, in the more traditional sense, find puzzling. However some feel rather in awe of this man who has removed greed, money, competition and ambition from his life and now lives in Baan Kham Pla Lai in Khon Kaen with his wife and his three children. He has spent a total of seventeen years in Thailand, eight of those in the remote community he calls home.
So who is this man whose long quest for real happiness has finally been realized? Mr. Wheeler graduated with first-class honours in Latin from London University before he turned his back on his career and decided to live a simple life in Thailand. He spent the last of his money buying clothes, shoes and accessories to make himself look good to try to get job teaching English in Bangkok. As time went by he felt that he was betraying himself doing something that he did not like and eventually quit to start a new and more fulfilling life.
Wheeler is well educated but these days earns less than one hundred baht a day as a laborer. He and his wife currently own forty seven rai of land. Ten of those are used to grow jasmine and sticky rice, seven are for Mai pradoo, one is kept for vegetables and on the rest diptercarpeceae and dipterocarpus alatus trees are grown.
His motivation for his current way of life was that he truly believes there are things that are more valuable than money, he does not dismiss the importance of money and does buy things for himself and his family, but does not allow cash to have any influence over his life. He said “having more money makes our life more complicated and unhappy sometimes, I look at money as a drug that puts our life in danger”.
Mr. Wheeler wakes up at 5.45am and goes to his rice field at 6. If the sun is not too hot he spends between six and eight hours barefoot in the field, his feet often get hurt on sharp objects. While in the field he must pull weeds and take care of other crops. When the rice season comes he ploughs the field, occasionally with the help of local workers when it all becomes too much. But he is never discouraged and says he is happy with his choice of life. He produces around one hundred and fifty bags of rice annually that he keeps in the barn for his family to eat and to provide visitors with a meal when they come to learn about the concept of sufficiency and economy he practices.
Wife Rojana Wheeler also works in the field and does the household chores. She cooks rice that comes from their own farm and vegetables they harvest from their own land. Between then they spend less than two hundred baht a day on living costs and that includes water, gas and electricity.
Wheeler says that his quest for freedom and happiness led him to become a strict follower of the King’s philosophy; however he believes that many Thai people have a tendency to misunderstand the theory. He feels the main problem with the Kings theory is the word ‘enough’ and people’s interpretations of it and that is perhaps why it has not blossomed the way it should. The theory promotes similar ideals as Buddhism, where people are told not to rely on others and not to solely rely on themselves but to walk a middle path. Wheeler feels this is very logical and even though he does not follow any religion, he does enjoy Buddhist teachings, he explains that three prime guidelines can help to create a sustainable community, especially in rural areas.
First people have to mostly rely on themselves and the resources they already have. Secondly they need to distribute agricultural output via the one-tambon, one-product (OTOP) scheme and thirdly set up enterprising communities that will set up ways to work with the government and spur development.
Mr. Wheeler said “while implementing the concept problems may arise when people are immature, some may bypass subsistence agricultural production to focus only on producing OTOP products for commercial purposes. But this won’t help to create a solid foundation for the community”. He believes that the attitude towards being rich among rural northeastern people must change, they must accept the troubles they faces. A prime example is soil, that is not as fertile as in other regions, and in the dry season there are water shortages to endure, the chance of getting a good education in this area is rare and local people find it hard to make a living. He says these communities should look for ways to maximize the resources and all hands must work cohesively.
The community he lives in has been developed with the efforts of the Ubonrat Dam Hospital. The pilot project, based on the framework of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, gave a platform for community members to discuss and analyze the problems they have and seek solutions.
Mr. Wheeler has become a role model in his community and has showed people how to live happily and sufficiently, given the scarcity of natural resources in the area. Whenever a group of visitors come to his door, he and his wife cook and serve Isan dishes with home grown bananas. His speaking fees generate between 15,000 and 30,000 baht a month. Economically he feels that Thai’s are very lucky. Many lost their jobs during the recent economic downturn, however they still have food to eat and houses to life in they also have land where they can grow food and plants. Compared to people from his native Britain who have no land or house, they are well off. People in the UK rely heavily on staying employed because they have mortgages or live in rented houses he said.
Mr. Wheeler and his family live in a small wooden house he built himself. He provides education for his children, but only just enough for them to become strong enough to fly the nest, he has never forced them to take up any subjects around making money. He teaches them to know their abilities and not follow social trends and he does not want them to enroll in any mainstream academic programs filled full of fierce pressure and competition. And even though he knows that having English language skills is an advantage in today’s society, he has never forced them to learn it, when they are at home he and his family speak Thai and Lao. His eldest son is fourteen and studies in Khon Kaen, his younger son of twelve studies at the College of Dramatic Arts in Kalasin. When they grow up and have nowhere to go they can always come home and find shelter and the kind of happiness that money cannot buy said Wheeler.