“I don’t like dealing with money transactions in poor countries. I get confused between the feeling that I shouldn’t haggle with poverty and hating getting ripped off.”
– The Beach by Alex Garland
We found we didn’t haggle or bargain much in our travels. We shopped around, but once we decided on something, we paid it. I suppose since we weren’t supposed to give money to beggers, the next best thing is to help hardworking people to earn a decent living. While we bargained in the marketplace (just because it is expected), everything else was so cheap we simply paid the asking price. We negotiated prices before we got into tuk tuks but always ended up paying more in tips. In a country like Thailand, what you want to give to beggers, tip it to the next hardworking person who gives you great service.
I read The Beach by Alex Garland while in Chiang Mai (though I wish I’d saved it for the islands). It was really cool getting into the story (which is darker than the movie) and struggling with some of the same cultural Thai/Western differences as the characters in the book.
About a week into our stay in Chaing Mai, we needed somewhere in the shade where we could sit for hours and just have some downtime. There isn’t much shade to be found if you just wander around aimlessly. It’s hot and at that stage we no longer had a swimming pool to lounge by. We saw a patch of green on our map so directed a tuk tuk driver there. It was Buak Haad Park and a couple days after the Flower Parade, there was evidence in and around the park of the festival.
We hired a big mat to lie on, found shade under (but not too close to) palm trees and settled.
A woman stopped by with a basket of things to buy. She didn’t speak English so we had a quick flip through her wares. She had two products on offer: medication for quitting cigarettes or Viagra. Not really what we wanted for a relaxing afternoon in the park.
A fruit seller had a thing or two for us. Fruit here was so cheap. And good. The fresh pineapple came with a sugar and chili dip that was pretty cool in a yummy exotic way. I don’t eat fruit much at home. Maybe it’s laziness. If only fruit back home came in pre-cut in clear bags, good portions, sticks and dipping sugar/chili…
A couple nights in a row, after a night of drinking in Chiang Mai, we visited the McDonald’s by Thapae Gate and ordered 7 cheeseburgers. On the walk home we ate some and handed out burgers to those sleeping rough and to any tuk tuk drivers that we saw working in the wee hours. It was fun being the cheeseburger fairies.
There weren’t many beggers in Chiang Mai and I tried not to give money to those I saw. There was a boy that appeared on our section of Thapae Road every morning so we bought him a yummy fruit shake. Personally I feel that food is a gift. I think it’s more meaningful than money. There’s a whole lot written about they culture and psychology of begging so I won’t get into it, but the general idea is if you give money to a begger (no matter how sad or cute and no matter how kind), you encourage begging. Children that grow up with begging can choose to beg or go to school. Begging is a very short sighted way to make a living. It doesn’t hold a real future.
I like to think that the reason the boy on Thapae Road was only ever there in the mornings because he went to school later on. That is what I hope for.