My case against haggling

Imagine coming to a country where the majority of the population earns less than USD150 per month. You earn 10–20 times more than them.

You start your morning at one of Phnom Penh’s only Costa Coffee branches. You gladly pay USD3 for your coffee.

Then you go to a market. A crowded, poorly lit, stuffy place. Single mothers ply their trade, taking their small kids along. Children have their lunch of rice and tiny pieces of pork and chicken next to a small radio that plays western Top 40 music from 3 years ago.

After browsing for a few minutes, you encounter an exquisite handmade local craft. A small wooden statue. You saw something that looked similar at one of the “hipster” art shops near your office before. It was sold for USD100, and while the price was quite steep, you knew that it was reasonable – especially for something that beautiful.

But at this Cambodian market, the statue, that probably took a day or two to make, costs you USD15.

85 percent cheaper. But here’s a thing. You’re a backpacker who tries to save every single cent so you get to splash out on more booze tonight, so you haggle and bargain really hard.

So you tell the trader, “7 dollars or nothing”.

Desperate for cash, the trader agrees to sell you the wooden statue for USD7.


Because you want to save USD8, which is equivalent to 2–3 cups of coffee at home, the trader takes home USD8 less today.

She has USD8 less to spend on her children’s education.

She has USD8 less to spend on providing nutritious diet of fish and meat for her family.

She has USD8 less to spend on buying medicine for her children when they fall sick.


This is the kind of unhealthy attitude that is sadly very prevalent amongst backpackers in Asia.

Respect the locals and their trade, and the locals will respect you.

***

This post was originally uploaded on Quora. Feel free to follow Faizal Hamssin on Quora if you want to subscribe directly to my answers there.

Of having something but not everything

We all want the best of everything.

Me too. Sometimes I feel that I want to have everything in my life sorted and in order. Just the way I like it.

I want to have a fulfilling job that pays well, while maintaining a healthy amount of friendship with people who appreciate me as much as I appreciate them.

I want parents who understand me, a partner that deeply values me, a home that is fault-free, a car that does not act up on me.

I want to look good and still eat to my heart’s content. I want to not have breakouts.

I want to go on big trips to exotic locations without having to worry about emails from my clients. I want to be able to pay the bills on time every month without having to worry about how much aircon I have been using. I want to go shopping without having to be afraid about the consequences it will have on my finances.

I want Life to be perfect. I want things to fall into place, to run smoothly. I want perfection, because, perfection allows me to be content.

But that’s not what Life is.

***

We as human beings have a degree of control over how things are going to turn out to be in the world.

We are given a degree of freedom to chart our own course.

But at the end of the day, it’s not us who decide how fate should treat us.

And this is when God’s wisdom is at full play.

***

The compassionate God does not give us every single thing that we want.

No one in this world gets everything. There must be one thing that we want so bad, but do not have.

No one lives a perfect life. A billionaire may die alone. A high-flying career man way not have the time to do what he truly enjoys doing – painting. A woman may receive boundless love and affection from someone who appears to be perfect, except that he also happens to be debt-ridden. A successful couple may have everything sorted, except for the very fact that one of them is barren.

You see, for every blessing that we receive, there is something that we yearn for, but do not have.

I used to blame fate for playing game with us – how could we be made happy and content with all the good things that have happened to us, only to feel sad one day because the thing that we really want in this life is just not ours.

Why must our lives, no matter how hard we work and how meticulous we have been, are still imperfect? Why must there be imperfection?

***

Then it occurred to me that imperfection is important – by not having everything, we discover the feeling of yearning for something. We know what it feels like to lack something. We know how crushing it feels like to need something without getting it no matter how hard we try.

This, eventually, leads to empathy. Because we have been through that situation, we understand the feelings of people who want or need something, but do not have them.

We become kinder to them. We treat people, including strangers, with kindness because we know that there is one thing that bonds us, and them.

That we’re all struggling, and that the personal journeys we all take are all marred with difficulties.

That we all live imperfect lives.

And this, the empathy, is a beautiful thing.

Speak soon,
FH

My first snow experience

Tell me of that particular first time experience that you would like to go through again.

I want to go back to the day I saw my first snow. I was 20 at that time, it was a chilly November in Seoul. It also happened to be my first solo trip ever – I planned to go there with my friend over our summer break, but he had to bail out last minute for a completely legitimate reason (but Pau, I must say I’m still salty over this lol).

I remember running around the palace courtyard like a child. The snow wasn’t particularly thick, and it melted after a couple of hours just before noon, but the very sight of the snow-covered traditional Korean palace roofs truly warmed my heart.

I felt like a child, I felt alive.

My first snow experience!
That was me, 8 years ago. Notice the hair – if only I knew better!
Of course, the automatic toilet in my room completely caught my attention

However I must admit, my love affair with snow was short-lived; I still remember getting caught in the middle of a blizzard in NYC, and it was not pretty.

But the sight of it, still warms my heart.

The significance of Seoul

My parents have never appreciated travels as much as I do; mom wouldn’t mind going places, but dad hates long-distance flights. It’s something that he does only when he absolutely has to. So I grew up being envious of my friends and classmates who always shared with me their travel stories with their families; They would go to London and bring back some Harrods pencil cases (very much en vogue at that time!).

I didn’t go out of the country that much.

So when I did start travelling, it was a great experience. Traveling alone was an intimidating experience at first, I felt like I was thrown into a different planet where few spoke English, but I ended up having a good time.

I found out that I could be an independent person; it taught me that I could still have a blast, alone.

It taught me that I could do things alone and still have a lot of fun. It taught me to trust strangers, and the people you meet along the way.

I want to go back to that time, when things didn’t seem to be as clearly defined as it is now.

The time of discovery, the time of adventure (peppered with some misadventures sometimes), the time of not having much to lose cause I was 19 anyway.

I’m 28 n0w, and I have a mortgage to pay every month and a job that only allows me 4 weeks of vacations a year*.

Life’s not too shabby nowadays – being adult can be fun too, but of course it’d be nice to go back to 9 years ago, to relive those moments once more.

*I know I shouldn’t complain; some of my friends out there only get 2-3 weeks off a year! :p

Speak soon,

FH