At the first shop. the young shopkeeper took one look and said, ‘You need a new wheel. You see, the spokes are all rusty and we would break some of them taking the hub out and blah, blah, blah…’ He led me towards some carbon fibre wheels worth $250 each.
‘Cheap ones please,’ I protested. ‘I’m not ready for the Tour de France yet.’
‘Yes, I know. These are the cheapest wheels in our shop.’
‘Let me shop around, I might come back…’
When I arrived at the second shop it was lunch-time and the shopkeeper was not there. An old Malay man came from out the back, with bike grease all over his hands and arms. I explained the problem and he said,
‘We don’t have any ball-races here, but let me take it apart and service it and have a look for you. Ten dollars. Come back in a couple of hours.’
I seemed to hesitate so he offered, ‘If I can’t fix it, then I won’t charge you.’ He also explained to me that wheels come in pairs these days; two for $180. I shook his hand and thanked him heartily.
Coming back the next day, the old man was pleased to see me, greeted me cheerfully, and handed over the wheel. He explained that it wasn’t the ball-race that was the problem, but that the cone was ‘Already not good.’ I tried to press money on him, but he said, ‘You pay out the front.’
Out the front, the shop assistant asked me if I wanted to wait a long time for my receipt.
Recognising this particular game from a long time ago, in another country, I said, ‘Yes I will wait for my receipt.’ At which, he produced it reasonably promptly and I scrutinised it closely in front of him, before saying ‘Thank You’, walking out, and throwing it in a bin.
So, becoming a local. It’s all about who you can trust and who you can’t. When things start to go sideways, then why? And what can you do about it? Which odd things are common to everyone here? And which odd things are simply because of the individual that you are dealing with. To me that is the buzz of cross-cultural living. It’s a great buzz and I am astounded by how many of the ex-pats here would just pay-and-pay, then feel aggrieved, then moan to their friends about being gouged.
Coming to you from a place where market forces are tested on a daily basis, and the price of anything is what someone is prepared to pay for it. I have started to notice that there are at least two economies operating here, possibly three. I know some families that get by on around $1500/month. An ex-pat would likely spend 10 times that amount in a month without really trying. Even at the supermarket, if you check there are tins of beans with known Western labels on them for $5, and tins of beans with Chinese labels on them for $2.
Even odder, to me, is that some ex-pats make a virtue of paying through the nose all the time, because they are not prepared to come down-market. They prefer to live a high-rolling, haemorrhaging–money lifestyle. And absolutely refuse to step outside the ex-pat laager.
Cross-culturalism is a fascinating pass-time for a straight-line thinker like me. And it’s not just about what you can accept as different. There are a whole bunch of new and fascinating experiences that you could not get back home, which we should throw ourselves into, and drink deeply thereof. And have our lives enriched thereby. As above, sometimes just getting your bike fixed can be a study in human nature and psychology. Loving it!