A week or so ago, Kyle and I were fortunate enough to get to go to Bangkok, Thailand on a mini-vacation. It was a mini-vacation for me anyways, I went to training most of the time I was there, but Kyle got a full week off (lucky.)
Things to note about Bangkok:
1. It is hotter than Hades. Think of the hottest, sweatiest, sunniest, most humid day you’ve ever spent in Florida and then realize it is like that all the time, including before dawn and after dark.
2. They have amazing shopping malls. I thought we were good at this in the USA – we pale in comparison. Seriously. Maybe it’s just because I am shopping deprived, but if Willy Wonka had designed malls instead of candy factories, he would have created the Siam trifecta of malls.
3. The prices varied widely from what I am used to.
So let’s talk about this for a bit. In Nepal, the unit of currency is the Nepalese Rupee. Currently, the exchange rate is approximately 1 US Dollar = 100 Rupees. So 10 US Dollars = 1,000 Rupees, and so forth. It’s easy enough that even I can remember. In Bangkok, not so much. In Thailand, the unit of currency is the Thai Baht, and 1 US Dollar = 32 Thai Baht. So 10 US Dollars = 326 Baht. Anyways, all the currencies and conversions and shopping made me spend a good deal of time on the trip thinking about money.
In Nepal, I feel like things are uniformly cheaper than they are in the United States. Of course there are some things that are still expensive, but overall, in my humble and non-expert opinion, the prices make sense relatively. For example, I am now looking at my receipt from Saleways, my local not-publix. On my last trip, I got three mangos for 112 rupees, or just slightly over a dollar. I got a package of chicken breasts for 350 rupees ($3.50) and I got a package of cream cheese for 740 rupees (yikes! $7.40! But that’s normal since dairy here is often imported). Today I went to a “trendy” fair trade home goods type store called Duhkuti. I got a throw pillowcase for 400 rupees ($4) and pillow inserts for 375 rupees ($3.75, approximately) that’s around $8 for a throw pillow. Do you know what throw pillows cost in the states? Have you been inside a Pier 1? Anyways.
In Bangkok, some things were cheap – for example, I got a manicure and a pedicure for 450 Baht ($14). I also got an hour massage for about $10. However, When I walked into the GAP at the Siam Paragon, the first cardigan I touched was over 2,000 Baht – like $70! When was the last time GAP sold $70 cardigans? I also went into a few shoes stores – Bangkok has a plethora of stand-alone shoe stores selling ADORABLE shoes, but every pair was at least 2,800 Baht ($85.) Also, at the beginning of the trip I felt like a turd when I agreed to a 2,200 Baht “taxi” from the airport to the hotel – We had just arrived and I was thinking in rupees and I thought, ah $20, no problem. (It is a 45 minute drive.) When the fancy pants Mercedes rolled up to take us to the airport, I realized what happened – le sigh. Just in case you were wondering, we took a regular taxi back to the airport on our last day, and we spent about $6.00.
Nepal had a GDP Per Capita of $706 US Dollars in 2012 – according to the Google. In case you are wondering, I think the USA’s is around $50,000. I have to admit that to write this blog I googled the definition of GDP Per Capita, and I will share it with you here because it’s not exactly what I thought it was:
Gross domestic product (GDP) is the market value of all officially recognized final goods and services produced within a country in a year, or other given period of time. GDP per capita is often considered an indicator of a country’s standard of living.
GDP per capita is not a measure of personal income (See Standard of living and GDP). Under economic theory, GDP per capita exactly equals the gross domestic income (GDI) per capita (See Gross domestic income).
Thank you Wikipedia.
Take a moment and think of the last time you spent $700. Well, I spent more than that on a hotel in Bangkok for a week. Most of you probably pay that much or more in rent every month. Heck, I know some people who pay that in student loans every month…..now imagine that was the amount you had ANNUALLY. Wow, even that $3.50 package of chicken and the $8 throw pillow seem out of reach now, don’t they?
Being in Nepal has started to change the way I look at money. Back in the early stages of wedding planning, I was having a really hard time looking at $2,000 wedding dresses and $200 bridesmaids dresses and $100 per person dinners. In some ways I am kind of a tight wad about money (ask Kyle about the freak out I had spending $700 on an iPad) but I can’t pretend like I don’t have a ton of shoes and clothes – I obviously spend money when I want too. Anyways, I finally came to the conclusion that if any economy needs my wedding money, it’s this one. And that’s why myself and all my bridesmaids are wearing saris, and all my favors are coming from Nepal, and why I bought a ton of beautiful handmade paper and sat down at my kitchen table and punched myself a gallon sized zip-lock bag of heart-shaped confetti. Don’t worry, I’m still spending a goodly amount of money in the USA, but it helps me feel a bit better about spending the money if I can help an economy that needs it. And let’s be honest….boring pastel disaster dress you will never wear again or sari from Nepal? I am so, so glad that my bridesmaids are excited about the sari plan. Yes it’s going to be stressful shopping for them and taking them to the tailor and explaining they have to use the measurements and that they people aren’t showing up in person, but it’s going to be worth it.
Do you think living in a third-world country for a few years would change your relationship with money? How?
When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is. – Oscar Wilde
It’s a kind of spiritual snobbery that makes people think they can be happy without money. – Albert Camus