The paradox of a simple life

August 26, 2014

This morning during breakfast I met a young man who is a son of a business associate. Mid way into our Bak Kut Teh meal. He shared with me his philosophy in life – all he desires out of life, is to live simply….free from the mindless pursuits of materialism, power and influence.

This young man even shared with me a secret.

I have always been his role model in life. Naturally, I was flattered though I expressed reservations concerning his choice of selection.

Eventually we got around to the details of how he might set about living this simple life.

When he told me all he wanted to do was to live off the land. I told him, he would need to buy land to do that. Furthermore not any piece of land was good to go! It would have to be a large enough parcel and just not a veggie plot. As to turn the wheel of life from the land sustainably requires critical mass to enable one to leverage on economies of scale. Only then can one be in a position to reliably materialize a good return on investment by being able to smooth out the vagaries of high peaks and valleys of the free market. Without this one strategic capability, farming is simply not an economically viable proposition – one will always be forced to live under the yoke of the caprice of falling and rising commodity prices.

To put it another way. To do all this requires millions of dollars! As since arable land is a finite resource, land prices can only go up and up and never down.

The young man kept quiet…..

Later on. He turned to me and asked, but you seem to live off the land quite well…you don’t even need to shop for provisions in the supermarket….your cost of living must be near zero or nothing….. Since it is well known to all in the village you are an accomplished hunter. Surely, I can learn to do that as well! I will live off the land!

Again I said to him. But you first need millions of dollars before you can do that! As when you are out hunting. It’s opportunity cost! Who then is going to work on your estate? Who is going to do what needs doing to materialize a profit? Surely, you don’t expect the fruits to magically find their way to the market without ever once having to invest in the whole idea of managing an estate professionally like any other enterprise. After all farming is the only business in the world, where the farmer buys everything at retail and sells only at wholesale, so again you need millions of dollars before you can even aspire to lead a simple life.

At the end of the conversation the young man turned to be with a dejected expression and murmured – life is not so simple after all is it?

I told him in my humble opinion – only the rich and wealthy can afford to live a simple life. For the rest of us, life will always be a grind.

The young man was not happy….he walked away huffing and puffing. That’s only to be expected when delusions are shattered. But once he takes the time to think it thru, he will be back again. Of that I am 100% sure!

As I watched him strut off abruptly. I wondered, ‘am I still his role model?’

Maybe not. But in this case that is not such a bad thing.


‘Some years back ago. I was asked to perused through an academic paper slotted for an agronomy conference (till today I have absolutely no idea why anyone with half a brain would ever ask me to help them). Nonetheless, I obliged as the paper related specifically to the field of oil palm which required some subject matter expert inputs.

After reading thru. I highlighted to the author to replace a genre of words (which I had considerable difficulty wrapping my head around. I am not kidding. I just don’t understand them! I don’t even know what they really mean.) such as ‘right sizing’ which is word that I have always believed should rightly remain only,’down sizing.’ As that’s a far more accurate description since it connotes the absence of choice and is a situation forced upon one.

The whole paper was riven by such ambigiuous and disingenuous terms. I can’t remember all of them, there were really too many, but this one stood out.

When this learned man e-mailed me and asked why I had taken such a unusual degree of exception to his choice of vocabulary.

I told him quite plainly, it’s a bullshit word that’s commonly used by bullshit artist to sell bullshit products. I went on to add, if he was really serious about the whole business of influencing the farming community to place a purchase order for his firms brand of fertilizer, he would do well to cultivate the good habit of restricting his vocabulary to a variety where a spade is called nothing other than a spade.

After a few heated exchanges of e-mails, this academic ended calling me an ‘incorrigible recalcitrant.’ I for my part shot back a barbed repartee by calling him, a’glorified carpetbagger.’

At the end of the day, this chap did what he felt was right…justified….and wise Result: he crashed and burnt to a cinder lah! The planters gave him a royal thumbs down en masse and soon his reputation was in tatters which I considered regrettable because the blend of formulation for this variety of fertilizer was very effective based on my field test.

I guess what I am trying to convey from this story is how at times it’s best for one to just be plain and forthright even if the truth stings. Especially if you’re engaging people who have no patience to put up with sugar coated nonsense and all they really want is the low down.

Because let me tell you why! No amount of spin doctoring is going to alter the reality that a dog is a dog! You can certainly try to sell that idea as the next best thing since sliced bread. But the danger is if one goes too far, then what it reflects is a crafty and manipulative mind that’s out to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes and that’s certainly going to do you more damage than good in the long run.

It is. What it is! And nothing can ever change that and doing otherwise would be akin to calling a spade anything but a spade.’

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