0298 – The art of bargaining, and the opening of eyes

So… I’m kinda broke right now. I’ve been spending so much money on all my past and planned travels over the weekends that I’m now out of money. O.o Waiting for my next paycheck to come out in a few days. It’s a strange feeling, this living paycheck to paycheck thing. It’s a rather new sensation for me–fortunately. It’s kind of stressful but also refreshing in a way; to be able to really experience the harsh reality of money’s role in our society. This year’s been rather woeful financially. Lots of unexpected expenses, not that much income. But those unforeseen transactions are bringing me to India, then Bhutan, and then Liberia, so I’d say it’s probably worth it (or so I hope). Nevertheless, it’s really never healthy to have to think about money all the time, so my heart goes out to all the honest souls out there trying to make ends meet. I’m starting to realize that my impending adulthood really won’t be easy.

India also makes me think about inequality. It’s pretty apparent. There’re people struggling every day, and there’re also people who make more than enough. A new state-of-the-art building can be located right next to a run-down settlement.

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Some of them really know how to bargain. Here’s my recollection of an encounter with a beggar in Mumbai:

Beggar approaches the taxi stuck in traffic.

Him: “10 rupees sir.”

Silence.

“20 rupees.”

Silence. I was confused.

“50 rupees, 50 rupees.”

We started to chuckle.

My friend said, “You’re not very good at this, are you?”

At this point, the taxi driver was laughing as well.

He continued.

“100 rupees!”

“1000 rupees!!”

He didn’t get anything from us.

This story, while amusing, also serves as a point of reflection. Beggars are everywhere in India. It’s not that I don’t give, but from what I know about philanthropy and donations, it is much better to give strategically, i.e. give to those who’re working for their living, or give to institutions that enable a change in their livelihood. But it also makes me think about this: how much money do we need to live? How about to be happy?

Daniel Kahneman’s research suggests that beyond a certain income, where we have enough to meet the necessities and simple needs, more money doesn’t really bring happiness (I really simplified that. Full article here.) Anyway, in practical terms, what does this mean? I’ve talked to friends and strangers who say that many people in countries like Laos, Cambodia, and India are happy, because they haven’t seen much of the world and don’t have many different lifestyles to contrast with their own.

Some Indian residents sleeping on the roof of a building outside my friend’s room. (c) Ana Carolina Leal Talarico 2012

My cab driver was happy. I asked him if he’d ever leave Bangalore, and he said no. But he’s happy here. He’s okay with it. He’s working earnestly–and with a smile–to make a living. It’s very respectable. Interesting to think about.

I wonder… is it because as I see more of the world, I see more choices and more variety, and so I become more… picky and persistent about the way I’d like to live? I’m now used to comfort offered in Westernized societies, but I could live without them, especially if I don’t know about them. So then, the question, in my opinion, becomes: What should I do with the life and experiences that have been bestowed upon me? My eyes have certainly been opening a little wider as I see a new place. We’ll see where I go with all this, but in the end, I just wanna find where I belong.

“You sometimes think you want to disappear but all you really want is to be found.” Anonymous

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