Tag Archives: India

“You Can Get Everything You Want But Not At The Same Time”

3 Sep

When bidding for apartments, I was frustrated about the choices. When I told this to a co-worker, she said “You can get everything you want, but not at the same time.” Guess what? She wasn’t just talking about apartments.

So this is Maxim #3 that I live by because it works so well for so many aspects of my life. Of course, there is a better way to phrase it, as I heard CGP Gray say in a recent video, “There are no solutions, only trade-offs.”

If you’re wondering what “bidding for apartments” means, this was back when I worked at Woodstock School, which is up in the Himalayan mountains next to Mussoorie, India. Unlike most international schools, they offer free room to their teachers because a) they’ve got a lot of leftover missionary homes to give out and b) they can pay their teachers a whole lot less. However, instead of choosing an apartment, you had to bid for them, and just like any socialist system, rank and seniority mean everything. So as a new teacher who had only been there a year, my choices were between the really nice places that involved a 15-30 minute walk to work everyday (we lived on the side of a mountain, forget driving or biking), or the close place that was smaller and had a yippy dog downstairs.

Thankfully, someone was leaving and I bid for their place (called the “Shoestring”). Plenty of space, but dingy. 15 minute walk, but it was at the same level as the school (not up or down). Had a couple of strange neighbors, but not annoying, although the turnip liquor still was difficult when he fired it up (hillbillies are the same the world over). In other words, I made trade-offs to find a good solution.

Of course, that was true about the school itself. Gorgeous location, wonderful students, free room, cheap to live there… but they paid incredibly little. When I was there (2003-5), we got paid $300/month. In the US, that’s below the lowest poverty level. In rural India, that meant upper middle class… and I mean rural. We were fifteen minutes from the edge of civilization–you walked around the corner and there was NOTHING for miles. What there was when you crossed those miles are very limited. I had two servants (who also worked for others and made a good living) and saved up enough in one year to go home to America. Of course, I had to sleep on friends’ couches, but I spent little while I was actually on site.

Later on in life, when I decided to follow the money and become a travelling consultant, I got paid a ton of money (1.5 to 2 times my previous job). I stayed in great hotels, got my meals reimbursed, and my credit score went through the roof. However, that meant I only was home with my family for 2.5 days a week. Now I work at home (have before the pandemic started), get paid far less (but more than my job would be in an office), and work far harder. But I basically get to work wherever I want… and sometimes that’s a cafe, a restaurant, or a bar. The pandemic meant that my kids and wife were with me all the time which killed most of the incentive for this job in the first place. Now I dream of an office… who knew?

So that’s when I understood that everything was a trade off in life. You want the hot car? You either earn more or get crappy everything else. You want the hot girl? You either earn more or get in great shape yourself. This is why this statement has become a maxim of mine and reminds me that I can’t have it all — I have to make decisions about what I’m willing to sacrifice to get what I deem a priority.

Do you find this to be valid? What are you willing to give up to “have it all?” Tell me about it in the comments below!

Shrug Shoulders, Smile Awkwardly

4 Aug

When I was living overseas, I figured that if I ever wrote a travel book, I would have to call it “A Land Where No One Makes Change.” Where I lived in the Indian Himalayas, everything was a cash economy. Yet strangely, no storekeeper EVER had change for your big 500 rupee bills. Were they lying? Or was there a deeper reason?

To preface this, I was working in Uttarakhand State about 15 years ago, but I just bet this is still the case. Lot of things changed while I was living in Mussoorie. First off, they changed the state name from Uttaranchal to Uttarakhand (Northern Valley to Valley of the Gods… I think), we finally got a real pizza place (Dominos is frickin’ gourmet compared to sweet tomato sauce on baked bread), and our very own cafe (Barista). I’m sure I wouldn’t recognize the Buz (bazaar) if I went back.

However, I bet few people have credit card readers, and most of the stores will have difficulty making change for a 500 rupee note. Now, for my Western readers, if you do the calculation, that’s only US $6.67. However, the purchasing power of that note in the hills is closer to $13-20! To explain, I was making $3600/year – that put me in the poverty range back home in America, but made me upper middle class in the mountains. I had two servants (a housekeeper and a laundry man) and a 43-year-old Bajaj green scooter that I called the Hulk (it was mean, green, and dangerous to ride).

Of course, I didn’t pay for my apartment or utilities, so there was some benefits. However, I saved up enough cash even on that little to pay for a round-trip plane ticket back home! THAT’S how far my US Poverty Level salary extended. So when you’re going to a storekeeper than maybe makes… oh, Rs.100-200/day and has to pay rent, food, fuel, and take care of their elderly mother singing bhajans (hymns) all day, that burns out fast. Gee, I wonder why they couldn’t make change for a note that equaled a week’s profit?!

So when I see signs in the US saying, “We can’t make change,” that’s where my mind goes. It didn’t help that the ATM machine only kicked out 500 rupee notes, so if you wanted change, you went to the “grocery stores” or you waited in “line” at the bank. NOTE: neither of those statements are accurate. “Sardarji’s” was the size of a big closet and crammed to the ceiling with packaged groceries, with fruits and veggies on top of other shelves crammed with stuff. If something didn’t sell, it stayed there… forever. That wasn’t even the name of the store: it was “Harkrishan Store” and it was run by a father and son who were both Sikhs. So since “sardar” is the (insulting) nickname for Sikhs, you soften it by giving it the honorific “-ji.” Also, no one ever lined up at the bank teller; they just moved as a mob to get to the front. Not always the case in India, but at my bank, yes.

In the US, I rarely use cash–everyone has card readers, except for the rare exceptions of the dive bar I frequent weekly–and that has more to do with the economic hit they took for being closed for three months. They couldn’t afford to pay their fees!

Have you been having trouble making change? Have you run into this problem before? Let me know in the comments below!

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