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Microeconomics and Tacos

Winter Vacation 2008/2009

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For dinner tonight, we went for Mexican food again. This time we went to a more upscale restaurant, not the smoky pub like last time (the food at the smoky pub tasted better, though). We were seated outside at our table, and there two other couples were there too. Over the course of dinner we had one child come up and try to sell us a rose, one child come asking for money and another two sisters come and offer to sell us roses. The sisters were the last to arrive; we shook off the younger sister (who was maybe six years old) and she moved further into the restaurant. The older sister (about nine by our estimation) followed her little sister part way into the restaurant and stopped next to our table. I took a good look at her and thought, Wait. I teach students her age English in Japan. My students (well, their parents) pay ¥2500/hr (~CDN$25) to take a class with me and this girl of the same age is trying to sell me a rose for ten baht (~30¢). Why? Is it as simple that one was born in Japan and the other Thailand? That doesn’t seem right.

This isn’t the first time we’ve run into this in southeast Asia. When we went to Angkor Wat in Cambodia two years ago, we went to see the sunrise. It was early and dark; I could barely see three feet in front of me. But, I definitely heard the little voice in the dark that said, “Coffee, sir? One dollar.” I didn’t buy coffee then, but after the sunrise I bought a cup from one girl. While it was brewing I was swarmed and surrounded by five or six other girls selling scarves, pants, postcards, etc., all before they went to school. Why? Is it that tourists have a harder time saying no to children? That doesn’t seem right.

While I looked at the girl standing by our table clutching the bouquet of roses, I tried to figure out what she was thinking. Was she thinking, “Why aren’t these people buying roses? They have lots of money.” Or “Mom’s going to be mad that I didn’t sell a rose.” Or “I want to be like these people when I get older.” Or is she trying to take care of and help out her little sister. Or does she not know anything different and this is normal? I mean, I had a paper route when I was her age but I spent my money on hockey cards. Or I saved my money to spend it on hockey cards later. I only assume the money that they would get from selling roses would go to support their family.
This raised the question of how we, as tourists with money, deal responsibly with children selling us roses (or anything else). Do we not buy a rose in the hopes that the children, or their family, don’t become dependent on the money? Is it too late to stop the dependence anyways? If we don’t want a rose do we ignore them until they go away? Do we say “No, thank you”? Do we humour them? Or do we buy a rose hoping to create a dependency on selling roses and pray that they never get involved in the sex trade? Or as Courtney suggested, do we buy all the roses, give them a book and tell them to go home and read? What is the correct answer? More importantly, is there a correct answer to this problem?

Is poverty something that we, as individual tourists, can help to alleviate? If we buy all the roses from the children and give them a book, most times their parents will just give them another bouquet of roses to go out and sell. If we can’t attack this problem on a case-by-case basis, how can we solve this problem? Poverty is an issue that can definitely be solved. It’s just how to do we do it. I don’t know how; I hope people that are much smarter than me have some ideas.

All of these thoughts ran through my mind in about one minute. Discussions of philosophy and microeconomics over tacos and nachos.

Over the rest of the day we did do other things. We visited Wat Bupparam in the morning before proceeding to the river to try to catch a scorpion-tailed boat cruise down the river. We were too late to catch the boat we wanted, so we just walked back toward Ta Phae Gate in the blazing hot midday sun. We stopped at a couple of shops to poke at souvenirs along the way.

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This afternoon we got a taxi up to Wat Doi Suthep, located approximately 1600 m up the mountain. Our red truck taxi dropped us off at the bottom of stairs.

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306 stairs, specifically, and up we went. We didn’t realize there was a cable car until our way down. As we were hefting ourselves up the stairs everyone in front of us stopped and waited on the side for military members and a gathering of people to pass. Later we heard the Queen of Thailand was there today. We eventually made it to the top but it took us a while to recover from the ordeal.

This temple is one of the most visited and important temples in Chiang Mai; there were a lot of tourists, both Thai and non-Thai. One of the stories about this temple is that an elephant was carrying some relics up the mountain. When it reached the top of the mountain it trumpeted 3 times then lay down and died. Needless to say, they decided to build the temple in that exact spot. Here are some shots from around the temple complex.

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There were a lot of bells surrounding the central viharas, which everyone felt the need to ring. And they rang
them all.

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It got annoying the second time I heard all the bells. GAH! It would be fine if it happened once but almost everyone rang the bells. Well, here’s me ringing ONE bell.

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On our way down the mountain, we sat next to a retired teacher from Montreal and his friend, also a teacher from Montreal. He retired last year and has been travelling around SE Asia for a while. We did a little more shopping and finally got our new clothes finished. Now we are relaxing and putting off packing. We are heading to Luang Prabang in Laos tomorrow afternoon.

Posted by agc_cwm 20:02 Archived in Thailand

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