I have just returned from a wonderful, relaxing honeymoon in Thailand. Consistent hot weather, warm seas, delicious food, friendly service, plentiful public transport and lots and lots of shopping. Whilst our trip was brief and we only experienced a small sliver of Thai life, it was fascinating and thought provoking.
Some facts about Thailand:
- It is approximately the size of France
- The largest exporter of rice in the world
- Tourism accounts for just 7% of GDP
- Exports account for 60% of GDP
- There are more pictures of the Queen per capita than any other monarchy
- The population is 65 million of which 94% are Buddhists
- 7 million people live in Bangkok
- Thailand was never colonised by a European country
- There is no decent producer of bacon in the country
- The Chinese think that the Thai people are lazy
While travelling back on the 11 hour flight to OR Tambo International Airport I found myself contemplating the concept of value. You can buy just about anything you want in Thailand (except decent bacon) and the price of everything is negotiable. The scale of the markets and the volume of merchandise is hard to comprehend and one can become so caught up in the haggle that you lose sight of the value of an item. On one occasion I refused to purchase an item of clothing as I felt the going rate was less than the vendor was asking. Possibly I was right, possibly not but I ended up arguing whether the price for a t-shirt should be R70 or R80 which in retrospect seems ridiculous and a waste of energy.
Having grown up in a third world country with a fairly weak currency relative to Europe and America, Thailand offers seemingly fantastic value. Eating out in a restaurant costs half what it would in Cape Town as does accommodation. We spent 4 nights, literally on a beach in the honeymoon suite with excellent food, service and a beautiful coral reef to snorkel on for the same price as the City Lodge in Pinelands. I know that the t-shirt I bought for R70 won’t last forever but I don’t expect it to. So what is my value equation and how do I relate it back to my day to day life. Why does the chicken satay pictured above cost R25 in Thailand and R60 in Cape Town. Am I prepared to buy an item of clothing that will not last forever but is cheap. How do I feed my family if I only have R50 a day to spend on food? What am I prepared to compromise on in terms of quality in order to come out at the end of each month?
For me I think the most important thing is understanding the compromise you are making. If you know that the item of clothing is most likely going to require repairs, or the colour will fade or it will shrink but the price is low then your expectation is likely to be met and you won’t feel as though you have been ripped off. It is a lot harder to measure when it comes to food however as there are so many variable and the effects could be felt years after the actual consumption. What is the impact on your body after eating that burger or drinking that high fructose corn syrup carbonated beverage?
At least with a t-shirt you can discard it and wear another one. Not so easy with your pancreas or liver but how do you know what compromises you are making when it comes to your food? There is so much information, much of it contradictory and more importantly – what information has been left out?
An idea, to be suggestive, must come to the individual with the force of revelation – William James