The other night, I was bargaining for a bus ride from Kathmandu to Pokhara at my hotel front desk. We were short on options, because it was already 8:30PM and we wanted to leave in the morning. Kat read online that the average bus fare was $3.50 per person for a comfy tourist bus, and our guy was charging us $6.00. I presumed that the hotel would get a nice cut of our payment, so I tried to haggle downwards.
A shortened version of the conversation:
Me: “We read online that the bus fare should be 350 rupees, can we do 400 rupees?”
Hotel: “No, where did you read that? What bus agency? It’s 600, standard price.”
Me: “Can we do 500?”
Hotel: “No, 600, standard price.”
Me: “Can we do 550?”
Hotel: “The difference is 50 cents, why are we negotiating over a dollar?”
Me: (after some thought and frustration) “Okay, we will just book the ticket here.”
(Before I am judged as a spineless bargainer, I will preface by saying that we have made some sick negotiations, ranging in hundreds of dollars.)
I felt very defeated and cheated, because I was sure that they were getting an unnecessary chunk of our bill, and we could’ve gotten a fairer price elsewhere if we had more time and daylight to look around. I also questioned my own ability to bargain, and felt guilty for suggesting that he lower the price by 50 cents.
On further reflection, I contrasted the unfairness of the situation for us with the drastic differences in our economic contexts and social mobility. We later learned that our hotel guy is studying to become an accountant, but paused his education in order to work to pay for expensive tuition in India. I am not looking at him through pity or poverty, but even if we got the shit end of the stick for a bus fare, in economic terms I am among the most fortunate citizens of the world.
I chose to be unemployed to go traveling. Even with a forever-dwindling account balance, I have several years worth of an average Nepali’s yearly salary remaining. The amount that I saved in a year and a half was enough to pay for several months of living abroad at a standard not too far from home.
Entertaining the thought of reincarnation and being born, I lucked out on a 4-5% chance of being born and raised in America, and an even lower chance of growing up in a middle class home, and still lower odds of graduating from college. Realistically, a lot of this has to do with the fact that my mom and dad took a huge risk in sailing to New York and busted their asses to provide for me. However, I am sure there are many parents out there who take risks of similar magnitude and work just as hard as my parents do, but don’t end up with children who have as many opportunities, simply because their environment doesn’t offer as many open doors.
I could enumerate the many ways in which I am personally fortunate, but the main point is that WE are very lucky. Even if various demographics in America have more advantages than others, as a whole it is much easier for us to capitalize on our internal and external resources than it is in other countries. I’ve been able to meet a lot of people who are financially poor but wealthy in spirit. It’s not just that we should be grateful to live with an infrastructure that tends to our basic needs, but that we should be motivated to live in an environment where it is really easy to grow, to be happy, to maintain a sense of adventure, to connect, to give and live life more fully.